The Arizona Rangers will never get the publicity enjoyed by their comrades in arms from Texas. But these men, each bearing a star on his chest and a gun at his side, were just as good at law enforcement, historians say.
They patrolled Arizona Territory, mostly near the Mexican border, at the dawn of the 20th century. With guts and guile, they nabbed outlaws of all kinds. Sure, they may have bent the rules but no one could say the Rangers didn’t catch the bad guys.
“They operated with ‘It takes one to catch one,’ so some of the guys they hired were a bit on the wild side. Sometimes, they got into brawls in bars in Bisbee and Douglas,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian. “But they did the job.”
In 1901, Arizona hadn’t escaped its Wild West past. Gangs operated with near-impunity, rustling cattle in broad daylight. County sheriffs were the primary peacekeepers, but jurisdictional issues kept them from effectively stopping criminals.
The Territorial Legislature then brought the Arizona Rangers into existence, sparing no expense to provide the best horses and weapons available. The men were experienced, many having served with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.
The Rangers, modeled after their Texas counterparts, began with 12 men and a captain. By 1903, there were 26 Rangers.
They were good — so good “they probably put themselves out of business,” Trimble said.
Once crime near the border dropped, the Rangers left themselves open to critics — and there were many.
Representatives of Arizona’s northern reaches didn’t like funding law enforcement officers who concentrated in the south, and the state’s sheriffs were jealous.
Also, the Rangers’ occasional work as strikebreakers didn’t endear them to the working class.
Finally, there was an international incident in which a drunken Ranger had a shootout with Mexican police in Naco, Sonora.
In every legislative session after the Rangers’ creation, a bill was introduced to disband the unit, Trimble said. In 1909, that bill passed.