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Some Famous Western Badges

Texas Ranger Badges

My story on famous western badges would have to start with my favorites--those of the Texas Rangers. Although the Texas Rangers got their start in 1823 when Stephen F. Austin appointed 10 "Rangers" to protect settlers from the Indians, it wasn't until 1935 when all Rangers got official badges. No one knows exactly how the badge got its start in Texas. The first Texas Ranger badges were made for individual Rangers in the late 1870s to early 1880s from Mexican coins at their own request or as gifts from grateful citizens-not officially supplied. Photographs taken in the 1870s through 1920s show that there were a great variety of badges but that very few Rangers wore badges.

Two Ranger badges are pictured below. The left picture is that of an early Texas Ranger badge worn by Ranger D. E. Haines during Prohibition. On the right is the current badge of the Texas Rangers. The current badge was adopted in 1962 and is a replica of the historic original badge that old-time Rangers had carved out of a Mexican five peso silver coin. Note that Texas state law prohibits possession of current Texas Ranger badges. The photo below on the right comes from the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, TX.

Unfortunately, the story of Texas Ranger badges includes a caution for would-be buyers due to the large number of fakes and replicas on the market. The Company A badge pictured below is the most common fake on the market today. Byron Johnson, Director of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, notes that there are some modern (post 1961 design) company-inscribed badges but none from the Frontier Battalion. It's not bad to have a fake or replica (you can buy these on the internet for about $15-$25) and in fact is fun to wear as a part of a costume, but paying much more than that thinking you are getting an original Company A badge is a bad purchase.

If interested in finding out more about these historic badges, I encourage you to visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum Website where I found most of this information and, with their permission, got the badge pictures. Be sure to check out the link on that site to Historic Badges of the Texas Rangers as well as their Short Course on Fraudulent and Illegal Texas Ranger Badges. The website also gives a wealth of other information on the colorful history of the Texas Rangers.

Arizona Ranger Badges

Arizona was one of the few states other than Texas to have a state ranger history. The Arizona Rangers were organized in 1901 to protect the Arizona Territory from outlaws and rustlers so that the Territory could apply for statehood. The Arizona Rangers were disbanded in 1909 having largely accomplished their goals. The modern Arizona Rangers were established in 1957 as a service organization in support of law enforcement.

Other State Rangers

The California State Rangers were mustered in on May 28, 1953 and mustered out 90 days later on August 28, 1953. The California legislature authorized the formation of the California Rangers for the exlicit purpose of tracking down and capturing the outlaw Joaquin Murietta (who had been raiding miners as the self-proclaimed avenger of the murders of his wife and brother.)

Many states organized "state rangers" to fight in the Civil War and were not state law enforcement agents in the usual sense. The Virginia State Rangers, for example, were authorized by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 27, 1862. These rangers primarily operated in what is now the state of West Virginia. Their mission was to operate in small detachments behind Federal lines. When the rangers were close to regular Confederate units they were to subject themselves to their commanding officer. Like the history of the Texas and Arizona Rangers, the history of the Virginia Rangers included some controversial history of service. Lee Wallace noted that the few known records that remain of the Virginia Rangers "reflect nothing to the state's credit."

Other Western Badges

Below are some other famous western badges. The first, a US Marshall's badge, was the type worn by Virgil and Wyatt Earp (also the type worn by James Arness as Matt Dillion in "Gunsmoke.") The Tombstone Sheriff badge was used in the Arizona Territory. The third badge, Lincoln County Sheriff, is reportedly a historically correct copy of the badge worn by Pat Garrett who shot Billy the Kid. The last badge, another one of my favorites, is that of Brothel Inspector. This is not a joke, folks. Brothel Inspector was an official (and interesting?) office!

Note: The above badge pictures and information were obtained from different websites on the internet. Replica badges can be purchased at both internet sites or gun shows.