The Handguns of the Texas Rangers


Wilson Combat Texas Rangers Commemorative 1911.
Photo: Steve Woods, courtesy Wilson Combat

Founded with 10 brave men in the year 1823, the Texas Rangers are now celebrating their 200th Anniversary. Their first leap forward came with the very first Colt revolver, the five-shot Paterson. Historian Tom Clavin writes, “… back in 1839, the Republic of Texas had purchased almost 200 handguns for the Texas Navy. When Samuel Houston disbanded the navy four years later, Captain Jack Hays armed his company of Texas Rangers with surplus stocks of the pistols.” The Rangers became one of the first law enforcement agencies, perhaps the first, to issue service revolvers.

In 1844, at the Battle of Walker’s Creek, the revolvers proved their worth fighting a Comanche war party. Indian tribes had developed the strategy of probing their opponents’ lines and provoking a volley of shots, then charging while the Texians were reloading their single-shot muzzle-loaders. At Walker’s Creek, they found the Rangers armed with two rapid-firing revolvers apiece. The stunning Ranger victory promoted the Colt revolver and changed the face of the Indian Wars.

One Ranger in that battle was Samuel Walker, who approached Colt with the recommendation of a more powerful .44 caliber revolver holding a sixth shot. The legendary Walker Colt, the first of the company’s heavy Dragoon series, was born.

Two traditions were born with it. The Texas Rangers, forever after, would make a point of having the most modern, state-of-the-art weaponry. Also, the Colt company, whose founder, Samuel Colt, felt he owed his success to the Rangers, would thereafter give Texas Rangers precedence ordering firearms.

Left: Legendary Ranger Frank Hamer preferred the Remington Model 8.
This is one of his in .30 Remington at the Texas Ranger Museum.

This ornate Colt .45 auto was carried by a Texas Ranger. Right: Wilson
Combat Texas Rangers Commemorative 1911. Photo: Texas Ranger Museum, Waco

Issue Guns, Personal Guns

In his autobiography Six Years With the Texas Rangers, James Gillett wrote when he joined up in 1875, “each recruit was furnished a Sharps carbine, .50 caliber, and one .45 Colt’s pistol. These arms were charged to us, their cost to be deducted from our first pay. Our salary of $40 per month was paid in quarterly installments.” Those Single Action Army .45s, with 7.5″ barrels, had only been introduced two years earlier, and production was going primarily to the U.S. Army, but the Colt company saw to it the Rangers were accommodated. There were Rangers wearing single-action Colts to work still in the 1930s, including Frank Hamer, who carried his into retirement until he died in 1955.

In the 1890s, the .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 became a favorite, as did the more powerful box magazine Model 1895 lever action, initially in .30-40 Krag. The Thompson submachine gun became popular upon introduction. Some Rangers bought their own 1907 model .351 Winchester autoloading carbines, while others, including Frank Hamer, preferred a more powerful autoloader, Remington Models 8 and 81. When the Colt 1911 .45 pistol was introduced in the eponymous year, production was supposedly initially limited to the U.S. Military, but by 1912, the first one appeared in a Texas Ranger’s holster. The Colt company had strong institutional history and remembered its debts.

The 1911 pistol remained a favorite and can still be found on Rangers’ hips to this day. Legendary Ranger Manny Gonzaullas carried a pair of customized cocked and locked Colts, their grip safeties pinned down and their trigger guards cut away in a fashion that would give today’s armorers cold chills. While .45 ACP seems to have been the predominant caliber, many chose the .38 Super, knowing it was developed for shooting through auto bodies. Frank Hamer’s son said his dad was carrying a .38 Super on the day he and his team took down the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, though the Ranger approached the fugitives’ bullet-torn car with “Old Lucky,” his SAA .45 in hand after shooting the pair with his .35 Remington rifle. Another famous Ranger (and NRA Director), Joaquin Jackson, swore by his lightweight Colt Commander .45 and Winchester .30-30, the .223 autoloader in his patrol car notwithstanding.

Not all 1911s were Colts. There is at least one engraved Caspian 1911 in the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, and when Wilson Combat produced a Texas Ranger Commemorative, I’m sure some found their way into the hands of Rangers. And some, of course, preferred revolvers. Hamer killed one gunman in Sweetwater with a Triple Lock S&W .44 Special, a make and caliber many other Rangers favored. When Ramiro Martinez, a hero of the Texas Tower massacre, became a Texas Ranger, he chose to carry a .357 Magnum S&W Model 19.

Ex-Ranger Jim Gillett favored this strange rig, as depicted
by Eugene Cunningham in Triggernometry.


The Texas Rangers are under the umbrella of the Lone Star State’s Department of Public Safety, which for many years issued the SIG P226 in .357 SIG, and today issues the SIG P320 in 9mm. Nonetheless, the tradition of carrying personal guns of choice continues with the Texas Rangers, one of the most storied and respected law enforcement agencies in history.

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