For many years I was essentially unaware of the Texas Rangers. Then, with the show Walker, Texas Ranger, this elite group of law enforcement officers became a household word. Of course, the Texas Rangers have been an institution in Texan since they were unofficially created by Stephen F. Austin in a call-to-arms written in 1823. They were first headed by Captain Morris. After a decade, on August 10, 1835, Daniel Parker introduced a resolution to the Permanent Council creating a body of rangers to protect the border, something we continue to need today.
On May 2, 1874, John B. Jones began his adventurous career as a lawman, when he was appointed as a major in the Texas Rangers. Jones was born in Fairfield District, South Carolina, in 1834. He moved to Texas with his father when he was a small boy. He went to college at Mount Zion College in South Carolina, and after graduating he returned to his home in Texas to enlist in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Talented and ambitious, he eventually rose to the rank of adjutant general. Jones took the defeat of the Confederacy hard, and after the war, he spent some time traveling in Mexico and Brazil trying to establish a colony for other disgruntled former Confederates. After determining that the colonial schemes held little promise for success, he returned to Texas where his military experience won him his major’s commission with the Texas Rangers.
Jones commanded the Frontier Battalion, a force of about 500 men stationed along the Texas frontier from the Red River to the Rio Grande. His mission was two-fold: to keep hostile-border Indians out of Texas and control the outlaws within Texas. His first Indian fight came less than six weeks later. While patrolling near Jacksboro, Texas, with 28 men, Jones spotted a band of more than 100 Indians that he thought were hostile Kiowa, Commanche, and Apache. Displaying more courage than wisdom, Jones directed his small band to attack the larger force of Indians. In the ensuing battle, two of the Rangers were killed and two wounded, but they were lucky to escape without more serious losses. Jones, feeling quite chastened, acted with greater care in his subsequent battles with Indians. Soon, his force became highly effective in repulsing invasions.
Four years later, Jones took on one of the most notorious outlaws on the Texas frontier…a man named Sam Bass. For some months, Bass and his gang had been staging train robberies in Texas. Although most of the robberies failed to net much money because Bass and his partners were incompetent amateurs. Nevertheless, the people of Texas demanded that Bass be stopped. The Texas government turned to Jones, ordering him to use his Rangers to run Bass down. Seizing on the drama of the chase, the press dubbed the affair the “Bass War.” For four months, Bass led Jones and his Rangers on a wild chase through Texas. In July 1878, Jones learned that Bass was planning to rob the bank in Round Rock, Texas. When Bass did hit the bank, Jones and his Rangers were waiting. Bass was badly wounded in the ensuing gun battle, and he died several days later. Oddly it was Bass who later became a legend, portrayed as good-natured Robin Hood, while Jones has largely been forgotten. Jones continued to command the Frontier Battalion until he died of natural causes in 1881 at the age of 46.