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The Arizona Rangers

Image Copyright Arizona Rangers

The Arizona Territorial Rangers, the first organized state law enforcement agency, formed in 1860 with consent from the Provisional Territorial Government.  In order to attempt to protect the territory’s fledgling population from Apache raids, three companies were created throughout the territory.

After the Civil War came West and elements of the Confederate Army declared Arizona for themselves, the Arizona Territorial Rangers generally disbanded, and the eventual forcible eviction of Confederate troops from the territory allowed its government to delay official reorganization of the Rangers for almost two decades.

By the 1880s, Arizona’s residents struggled with an ongoing Indian war, cross-border crimes, and murders. Governor Frederick Tritle took office in 1882, determined to combat the general lawlessness within his territory.  On 24 April 1882, his signature created the 1st Company of the Arizona Rangers, which he strategically placed in historic Tombstone.  Despite having officially created the Arizona Rangers, Governor Tritle never gained authorization to spend money to fund, pay, and supply the agency.  Only one month later, wrote to the Rangers’ commander regarding their financial situation:

“Captain John H. Jackson, Tombstone, A.T.

I have written to several prominent parties who have large interest about Tombstone to try and get an additional sum of money to pay the expenses of keeping your force in shape for use. As long as you have enough money remaining to have watch kept on your horses and equipment, I hope you will do so and I will try every way to get some money if even in small amount.”

P.S.: As long as your company exists it will preserve order.

Yours Truly, F.A. Tritle.”

(And, thus began Arizona’s political history of promising its cops future money in exchange for their continued and loyal, but underpaid, service today.)

Arizona Rangers had to wait on Governor Tritle’s promise until 1901, when the territorial government authorized both the agency and funding to hire a single company comprised of fourteen men: one captain, one sergeant, and twelve privates.  As their more famous Texas counterparts, they were tasked to combat all manner of outlaws, but especially cattle rustlers.   Despite responsibility for policing the entire territory, the single company focused most of its efforts near the Mexican border.  The original Arizona Ranger badges, a valuable collectable today, were created from solid silver.  They displayed a five-pointed star with ball-tipped points, blue enamel lettering, and blue-etched engraving.  An officer’s badge displayed his name, while private badges showed only a number that allowed it to be recycled through death, attrition, and terminations.

In 1903, the legislature expanded the Rangers to twenty-six men; many had been Rough Riders and served under Teddy Roosevelt, which allowed their horsemanship, tracking, and marksmanship to again serve the public.  Along with their previous war experience, an internal training program ensured the Rangers remained elite and well-trained, while territorial coffers ensure they mounted very solid steeds and carried equipment modern for their era.  Famously effective at tracking and arresting outlaw gangs, the Rangers are said to have often surprised their adversaries with little or no warning.

As remains the case with cops today, the Arizona Rangers were occasionally called upon to deal with unusual problems.  One such example was their efforts to quell large mine-worker strikes in Arizona and Cananea, Mexico.  On 3 June 1906, The New York Times reported Mexican strikers destroyed a lumber mill and killed two men who defended it on 1 June.  The Arizona Rangers and a posse of 275 volunteers from the nearby towns of Bisbee, Douglas, and Naco, entered Mexico at the invitation of the Governor of Sonora, Rafael Yzabel.  NYT also reported eleven subsequent casualties among the striking miners.

By 1909, the Arizona Rangers had worked themselves out of a job.  History says that so little crime remained in the territory that its legislature decided against continued funding, and the Rangers disbanded again.  “Arizona Ranger,” a low-budget black-and-white film released in 1948.  “26 Men,” a television Western on ABC, was created in 1957 based on true exploits of the Arizona Rangers, and starred Tris Coffin as Captain Thomas Rynning.  Western singer Marty Robbins featured the Arizona Rangers in his song, “Big Iron,” in 1959.  The last Arizona Ranger who served prior to the 1909 disbanding, John R. Clarke, died in 1982 at the age of 97.

The Arizona Rangers still exist today as a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that works to support and supplement Arizona law enforcement officers.  More information can be found on their site at http://www.azrangers.us/index.html which significantly contributed to the research and material for this post.

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