OPINION — A look at the history of diversity among Texas Rangers

Published 11:05 am Thursday, April 29, 2021

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The Stetson hat….I love the reboot of Walker, Texas Ranger and was psyched when the show premiered on the CW starring Jared Padelecki (for obvious reason, fans of Jared’s will understand why).

This new version features a character played by Lindsey Morgan, who is the first Latina Texas Ranger. That prompted me to research to find out when women of any ethnic group as well as African American men joined the Rangers. The history of the Texas Rangers is interesting and distinguished.

The Texas Rangers’ beginnings date back to the first days of Anglo-American settlement of present day Texas when it was part of a newly independent country of Mexico. The Mexican government made a contract with Stephen F. Austin known as the “Father of Texas” in 1821 giving permission to bring 300 families to the Texas territory.

As there was no regular army to protect these colonists, on August 10, 1823 10 men were employed as a volunteer force to do the job. In the post American Revolution era up until 1840, the Texas Rangers provided protection against the Native Americans. There were various instances where the behavior of the Rangers was troubling, but over the past 100 years, even though members and salaries were reduced as well as disbandment with new reforms, it has resurfaced as an agency of new-found respect in law enforcement.

On August 10, 1935 the Texas Rangers merged with the Texas Highway Patrol to from the Texas Department of Public Safety(DPS) because of the extreme high crime rate in the state. Its initial budget was $450,000. New members had to go through a series of examinations and merit evaluations. In addition, seniority as well as performance in the line of duty influenced promotion. By the late 1930’s the Rangers had one of the best crime labs in the U. S. headquartered in Austin, Texas. At that time the basic function of the Texas Rangers was detective work.

Women were hired by The Texas Department of Public Safety as officers in 1972. Marie Reynolds Garcia is one of the women hired as a Texas Ranger. After being commissioned in 1977 with the DPS Garcia’s first assignment was the driver’s license bureau, eventually moving to patrol officer and then sergeant in 1990. Furthermore, in 1993 Cheryl Steadman was another woman employed with the Rangers. Like Garcia, Steadman began her career in 1984 with the DPS as a trooper in Houston. Moreover, in the nearly 200 years of the Texas Rangers, they made history by promoting DPS officers Wende Wakeman and Melba Saenz as the first female captains on August 18, 2020.

These dedicated and trailblazing women held the rank of lieutenant before their promotions. In fact, Wakeman was the first woman to make lieutenant with the Rangers in 2014. Wende joined the Texas DPS in 1992 serving as a highway patrol officer and narcotics sergeant. She will be stationed in Austin. Her new duty will be overseeing specialized law enforcement teams within the Rangers. Melba worked as a police officer in Mission, Texas then as a highway patrol officer for the DPS. In 2008 she joined the Texas Rangers. Saenz will work in Edinburg, Texas managing six Joint Pperations Intelligence Centers from El Paso to the Rio Grande.

In 1994 Christine Nix became the first African American female Texas Ranger, and before that she served as a Department of Public Safety officer. In 2004 Nix retired from the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers is a microcosm of races and ethnicities, which is a great thing.

Continuing the tradition of glass ceiling shattering and trailblazing is Lee Roy Young, who is the first African American ever hired as a Texas Ranger. A U. S. Navy veteran, Young joined the Texas Department of Public Safety in 1973 where he worked in Capitol Security in Austin for two years. One of the requirements for becoming a Ranger was that a candidate needed eight years of law enforcement experience with four of those being with the DPS. He worked as a patrolman and with the DPS finally joining the Rangers in 1988 at age 40. Lee Roy Young retired from the Texas Rangers in 2003.

On August 18, 2020 James Thomas was promoted to captain of the Texas Rangers and he holds the distinction of being the first Ranger to hold a doctorate degree. Thomas has a distinguished career as a highway patrolman, special agent within the Criminal Investigative Division’s gang unit, a special deputy U.S. Marshal and a lieutenant with the Texas Rangers. James will work in the Austin office along with Wende Wakeman. He will supervise the Sexual Assault Kid Initiative and Forensic Artists program.

Judy Moore is a Central High Museum Inc. tour guide who lives in Wylliesburg and can be reached at caesar502021@outlook.com.