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The Texas Rangers

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I was somewhat disappointed this season that the campaign to stop saying the nickname of the Washington Racists totally disappeared and NFL broadcasters reverted to using ethnic slurs on national television. I had real hope that the pressure would continue on Dan Snyder, terrible human, even if he no interest in listening to it. I guess buying Ari Fleischer’s services helped here or something.

Anyway, it’s worth noting that the United States’ love of memorializing its own racist history in sports nicknames goes farther than just the Washington Football Racists and the Cleveland Baseball Racists. It also extends to the Texas White Supremacist baseball franchise. Greg Grandin:

 In Texas, the rangers were established on an ad-hoc basis in the 1820s, to protect the settlers making inroads into Spanish borderlands. Soon, Mexicans and Mexican Americans replaced Native Americans as the prime target of ranger repression. For a century—from Mexico’s War for Independence from Spain in the 1820s, the Texas Rebellion, the Mexican-American War, and the upheaval caused by the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and lasted years—the borderlands witnessed all the elements that make, for a certain class, death squads necessary: concentration of wealth, military occupation, racial domination, ethnic cleansing, property dispossession, and resource extraction (the Texas legislature officially authorized the formation of four ranger divisions in 1901, the year the Spindletop oil field was discovered, setting off the Texas oil boom).

In response, the Texas Rangers: not America’s only death squad but its most celebrated, complete with its own reliquary, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.

There are historians working to document the horrors of the Texas Rangers. What are those horrors?

 Texas Rangers played a key role in these atrocities. On September 28, 1915, for example, after a clash with about forty raiders near Ebenoza, Hidalgo County, the victorious Rangers took about a dozen raiders prisoner and promptly hung them, leaving their bodies in the open for months. Several weeks later, on October 19, after a dramatic attack derailed a passenger train heading north from Brownsville, Rangers detained ten ethnic Mexicans nearby, quickly hanging four and shooting four others. Cameron County sheriff W.T. Vann blamed Ranger Captain Henry Ransom for the killings. Vann took two suspected men from Ransom and placed them into his custody and likely saved their lives. Both proved to be innocent of any involvement.

This was not Ransom’s first such action: a month before, on September 24, he casually shot Jesús Bazan and Antonio Longoria as they rode by the site where a raid had occurred. Ransom left the bodies exposed, shocking Rancher Sam Lane (himself a former Ranger) and young Anglo ranch hand Roland Warnock, who helped to bury Bazán and Longoria several days later. That fall, Ransom made a habit of running ethnic Mexicans out of their homes as he patrolled the countryside. At one point he casually reported to Ranger headquarters in Austin that “I drove all the Mexicans from three ranches.”

Former Rangers were also among the worst perpetrators of violence. A.Y. Baker, a Ranger involved in disputed shootings of Mexican suspects during the previous decade, had left the Ranger Force to become Hidalgo County’s sheriff by 1915. He also developed a similar reputation for casual racial violence. Many sources named him as the instigator of the September 1915 mass hanging. Decades later, a soldier deployed by the National Guard in 1915 who stayed in the Valley recalled he witnessed Baker “killing three guys, three Mexican fellows in cold blood . . . that’s the kind of man A.Y. Baker was. He was killing Mexicans on sight.”

A large portion of the United States military was mobilized and deployed on the Texas-Mexico border because of the violence unleashed by the Plan de San Diego. Military officers became increasingly alarmed at the conduct of the Rangers and other law enforcement officers. As mass executions began, the Secretary of State telegraphed Texas governor James Ferguson to enlist his support in “quieting border conditions in the district of Brownsville” by “restraining indiscreet conduct.” This oblique reference to lynchings was soon replaced by more pointed and adamant condemnations of state officials, such as General Frederick Funston’s threat to put South Texas under martial law so as to restrain vigilantes, Rangers, and local law enforcement personnel.

After a brief resumption of a few raids in the spring of 1916, the uprising associated with the Plan de San Diego ended. But the Rangers’ involvement in subordinating ethnic Mexicans continued. In May of 1916, José Morin and Victoriano Ponce were arrested in Kingsville on suspicion of plotting a raid, and disappeared after Ranger Captain J. J. Saunders took custody of them. Thomas Hook, a local Anglo attorney, helped residents prepare a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson asking for federal intervention to safeguard their rights. Soon thereafter, Saunders pistol-whipped Hook in a courthouse hallway.

The entry of the United States into World War I brought changes to the Ranger force that heightened this kind of retaliation against the exercise of political rights by Mexican Americans. The State expanded the Ranger force, increasing the number of Rangers from seventy-three to more than one hundred and thirty. Moreover, legislation empowered the governor to appoint three “Loyalty Rangers” in each county in order to monitor anti-war activity. In South Texas, these loyalty Rangers participated in an unprecedented assault on Mexican-American voting rights. In the 1918 election, for example, Rangers reduced the number of votes cast in Alice, Texas from some three hundred in an earlier primary to only sixty-five in the general election. “The former large number of Mexicans who have voted in previous elections was conspicuous by their absence,” noted one observer. “They did not congregate at the polls, but up town they gathered in small groups and discussed among themselves this new thing of being watched by the Rangers.” Voting across south Texas plummeted when Rangers were deployed. Rangers also harassed, disarmed, and humiliated Mexican American office holders such as Cameron County Deputy Sheriff Pedro Lerma. Rangers entered Lerma’s home while he was absent, “frightened his wife and daughters to death.” Other Mexican Americans in similar positions were forcibly disarmed; one was hung by the neck twice.

A new, more brutal white supremacy had come to the border.

So why are the Texas Rangers named after these white supremacists? Well, given that it’s the team of the Dallas metroplex, these racial crimes are a feature, not a bug. Unlikely we are going to see any grassroots effort in Texas anytime soon to rename the Rangers to the Texas Executors of Innocent People or the Texas U.S. Constitution Doesn’t Apply Heres. But at the very least, we can bring awareness of just how deep America’s racist past remains intertwined with its sporting teams.

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