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A Home for Texas Heroes: The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas

At this point, I think my love of Texas and its history has been firmly established, so it should be no surprise that I happily promote any institution or organization with Texas history as its mission. Our history includes everything, from great military heroes to cowboys, from famous outlaws to brave lawmen. When it comes to great lawmen in Texas, the first thing that should spring to mind are the best of the best, the Texas Rangers. For me, the very mention of Texas Rangers, brings to mind men like Bigfoot Wallace, John Coffee “Jack” hays, Ben McCulloch, and Frank Hamer, and the tenacious spirit these men exhibited in the pursuit of law and order. From their inception in the 1820’s to the present day, the Rangers have embodied the rugged individualism, bravery, and commitment to duty that Texans pride themselves on. Texas Rangers are a focal point of my western novels, and I have spent many hours researching their history and the men who have worn the badge, which was originally formed from Mexican Pesos. In all of my research, The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas has been an invaluable resource. Through artifacts, documents, genealogical research, and educational programs, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum keeps the spirit and mission of the Texas Rangers alive for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

As an author of western novels with a slightly romantic bent, the notion of “one riot, one Ranger,” has always appealed to me, and while this motto may be more apocryphal than historically accurate, the spirit of this ideal has been alive and well in everyone who has worn the Ranger badge. The historical records of the Texas Rangers are also the history of Texas, and they closely parallel each other as Texas grew from a lawless frontier to economic powerhouse, and thankfully, every one of them also offers an endless supply of great story ideas.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1976 as a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the Texas Rangers. The complex included a small library which housed a few documents, service records, and photographs. Through the years the collection has grown, and with it, so has the inquiries for research, so now the museum employs a full-time research staff. The collection of records has grown so large that it’s recognized by the Texas Legislature as an official repository of archives for the state of Texas. For this reason, the Museum holds a special place in the hearts of people like my wife, whose passion is genealogy, and whose family line includes a former Texas Ranger.

The museum is divided into several galleries, which give various perspectives on the Rangers and some of their more memorable missions. From their search for the captured Cynthia Ann Parker to battles against prohibition era gangsters to modern investigations, photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal accounts give visitors the real stories. They also have an extensive collection of firearms used by the Rangers and criminals alike, and for an avid gun enthusiast like myself, it’s worth the trip to Waco just to see the historic guns. There is also a gallery of western art, as well as one with photographs of current Rangers, and at the end of the tour, there is a 45-minute documentary on the history of the Texas Rangers.

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm, and the last guest is admitted at 4:30pm.

Admission is:

Adults-$7

Children-$3 (3-12)

Children under 6-free

Seniors (60)-$6

Military (with ID)- $6

Of all those that made Texas the great state it is, none have done more than the Texas Rangers, so no study of Texas history would be complete without learning about them and their exploits. The Museum offers a comprehensive look at the Rangers, but we should not forget that it began life as a memorial, so it also stands as a symbol of respect to a law enforcement agency and all those that have worn the badge. If a person is able to visit only one site of historical significance in Texas, they could not visit any better place to learn what Texas is all about than the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©12/27/2017

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A Most Unusual Christmas Story: The Cisco Texas Bank Robbery of 1927


Howdy y’all! The Christmas season is upon us, so first let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. For this post I decided on a Christmas tale of sorts, but let me warn you, it contains precious little cheer or goodwill towards men. It is a tale of violence, desperation, greed, and vengeance, but it did take place at Christmastime and involved a man dressed as one of the most iconic characters of the season, so I don’t feel I’m going too far afield by going with this story.

Marshall Ratliff was a career criminal from Cisco, Texas, who had been arrested and sent to prison by Cisco Chief of Police, G.E. Bedford. Like most criminals, Ratliff was short on brains, so after being paroled, he figured his best option was to go back to his hometown, where he was widely known, and rob the local bank. For this job he enlisted the help of Henry Helms and Robert Hill, two friends he had known from prison. The group had also retained the services of a safe-cracker, but after he came down with the flu at the last moment, he was replaced by Louis Davis. It should be mentioned, that as a result of the bank robbery epidemic that was plaguing the Southwest during the 1920’s, the Texas Bankers Association had offered a $5,000.00 reward for anyone who shot a bank robber during the commission of a crime. It is not known for sure whether this reward was motivation for some of the events that transpired, but as a student of history, I’ve learned one truth that seems to apply ubiquitously, always follow the money.

On the morning of December 23, 1927 Marshall Ratliff walked down the main street of Cisco, Texas in a Santa Claus suit he had borrowed from the woman who owned the boarding house he had been staying at in Wichita Falls. Ratliff was a notorious criminal, and was very well known around town, so he decided that some sort of disguise would be in order. I’m not sure whether Mr. Ratliff had a sense of humor or if he just decided on a costume that would allow him to blend in.
It’s not surprising that as he walked towards the First National Bank, he attracted a large number of children anxious to speak with Santa Claus. To keep up his disguise, Ratliff eagerly indulged the kiddos and allowed them to follow him. Some even trailed behind him into the bank.

First National Bank of Cisco

Once inside the bank, Ratliff met up with Helms, Hill, and Davis, and all four immediately pulled their guns and demanded the bank’s money. While his partners held the customers at bay with their guns, Ratliff emptied the cashier drawers and then began gathering the money from the vault.

Chief George Bedford

Police chief Bedford was informed of the robbery, and immediately mobilized his men. Together they surrounded the bank and waited for the robbers to exit the building. No one is certain who fired the first shot, but whoever did, set-off a volley of bullets that seemed to come from every direction at once. Chief Bedford and officer Carmichael traded shots with the robbers as the entered the alley behind the bank. Many townspeople who had armed themselves, descended on the bank and began pouring fire into the building, striking one of the robbers, as well as several of the innocent bank employees and customers.
During the gun battle, Ratliff, Helms, Hill, and Davis, made their way out of the bank and into their car, using twelve year old Laverne Comer and ten year old May Robertson as shields. The only obstacle to their escape were Bedford and Carmichael, who stood their ground despite the hail of bullets being fired in their direction. Chief Bedford was shot five times and died on Christmas day, while officer Carmichael died from his wounds almost a month later. In all, there was an estimated two hundred bullet holes found in the bank, two police officers were dead, one bank robber, Davis, had been injured, along with six townspeople, though no one is quite sure who fired the shots that injured the innocent bystanders.

Officer George Carmichael

 

Henry Helms

The four robbers took off down Main Street pursued by the police and several cars full of armed townspeople. They traded gun fire with their pursuers for miles, eventually stopping to carjack another vehicle. Unfortunately for them, the kid they carjacked managed to pull the keys from the ignition before he left the car, so the robbers were forced to retreat back to their original vehicle. During this comedy of errors, Hill was struck by a rifle bullet, and they were forced to leave the wounded Davis and the money behind. The police and the mob ended the chase when they found the money, and Davis was transported to a hospital, but quickly died from his wounds.

Members of crowd that pursued robbers

The three remaining criminals made their way to Young County, which was patrolled by Sheriff’s Deputy Cy Bradford, who had achieved fame for taming the wild and lawless oil boom towns. He caught up with the robbers in an oil field. With a double-barreled shotgun and a handful of shells, Bradford shot all three fugitives, but was only able to capture Ratliff.
Helms and Hill were finally captured in Graham, Texas on December 30 without incident. Helms received the death penalty and was executed in the electric chair. Hill was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison, but was paroled in the 1940’s, and against all odds, he went on to become a productive citizen.

Marshall Ratcliff

Marshall Ratliff was convicted of murder for the deaths of Bedford and Carmichael and sentenced to death. On November 19, 1928, while he was awaiting execution in the Eastland County jail, a mob formed and dragged him out of his cell. Ratliff was taken to a lot behind the Majestic Theatre and lynched. A grand jury was formed to look into the lynching, but no one was ever tried for it, and the case just went on to become part of the vast tapestry that is Texas lore.
So ended what was the largest manhunt in Texas history, and what would become known as the Santa Claus Bank Robbery. I warned you it wouldn’t be your typical feel good Christmas story, but you’ve got to admit, it makes for quite an amazing tale and is quintessentially Texas. Until next time, thank you very much for supporting Under the Lone Star. Your readership means more to me than you can possibly know. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!

©11/30/2017