Tracking the Texas Rangers
True West|April 2021
FOLLOW THE HISTORIC TRAILS OF THE LONE STAR LAWMAN THROUGH WEST TEXAS FROM SAN ANGELO TO EL PASO.
Mike Cox

“They are having a lively time in Tom Green county,” reported the March 24, 1877 Daily Fort Worth Standard. “Six murders in three months and no arrests.”

Beyond the violence in and around San Angelo, “Organized bands of stock thieves exist in such numbers, and the county is so sparsely settled, that the laws cannot be enforced…” However, help was coming: “The citizens and officers of the county have forwarded a petition to Austin to have the State send Rangers to aid the civil authorities.”

Peaceful compared to frontier times, modern San Angelo makes a great starting place for Old West history buffs hankering to saddle up and backtrail the early Texas Rangers across West Texas.

Old Fort Concho, now a National Historic Site, is one of the West’s best-preserved frontier forts. Downtown, colorful murals depict the city’s history, and in the lobby of the public library is a life-sized statue of the late Western writer Elmer Kelton. Several of his best-selling novels featured the Rangers.

From San Angelo, head west on U.S. 67, which goes all the way to Presidio. But there are some historic places to visit before you get there.

West to Fort Stockton and Pecos

One hundred sixty-five miles southwest of San Angelo on U.S. 67 is Fort Stockton, named for the old military post standing near the once-prolific Comanche Springs. The Army chose the spot because it was a watering hole along the Great Comanche War Trail.

Hostile Indians were long gone by 1894, but law and order remained a work in progress. Someone shotgunned lame duck Sheriff A.J. Royal on November 21. No arrests were made in the killing, and there were even dark rumors that a ranger might have had a hand in it. The assassination took place inside the 1883-vintage Pecos County courthouse, 400 S. Nelson Street. The desk where Royal sat when he was killed is at the Annie Riggs Museum, 301 S. Main Street. A museum dedicated to the history of the military post is in Barracks No. 1, Old Fort Stockton.

After you’ve tamed Fort Stockton, the next stop on your Ranger-channeling journey is Pecos, 54 miles away via U.S. 285. Just west of the river that gave the railroad and ranching town its name, Pecos claims to have staged the West’s first rodeo. While that’s debatable, so far as is known, no one has ever been killed over it. During the 1880s and ’90s, however, Pecos denizens had no trouble finding other reasons to shoot. Take former Ranger George Alexander Frazer and Jim “Deacon” Miller, a devout Methodist who neither smoked nor drank but ignored the sixth commandment, the one about not killing.

Frazer had served as Reeves County sheriff with Miller as his deputy, but they had a falling out. On April 12, 1894, six months after losing a reelection bid, Frazer confronted Miller in Pecos. Accurately calling him out as a cow thief and murderer, Frazer shot Miller in the arm and then put several bullets in his chest. Or so he thought. Unknown to Frazer, the Deacon wore metal body armor. Though badly bruised, he recovered.

More than two years later, on September 13, 1896, Miller found Frazer in a Toyah saloon and permanently settled the score with his double-barreled shotgun. A jury acquitted him, but his luck played out in 1909, when a lynch mob in Ada, Oklahoma, adjudicated him without possibility of appeal.

Since 1962, the former Orient Hotel and Number 11 Saloon at 120 E. Dot Stafford Street has been home to the West of the Pecos Museum. Bullet holes from a gunfight in the saloon are still visible.

Southwest to Alpine

Alpine, 67 miles farther west on U.S. 67, began as a stop on the Southern Pacific. Given the vastness of the Trans-Pecos, which covers 31,479 square miles and is larger than any one of 10 U.S. states, the railroad made the mountain-circled town particularly important for the Rangers.

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