Texas Rangers (2001)

 

 

 

Director:     Steve Miner. 

Starring:     James Van Der Beek (Lincoln Rogers Dunnison), Rachael Leigh Cook (Caroline Dukes), Ashton Kutcher (George Durham), Dylan McDermott (Leander McNelly), Usher Raymond (Randolph Douglas Scipio), Tom Skerritt (Richard Dukes), Randy Travis (Frank Bones), Leonor Varela (Perdita), Brian Martell (Jean-Pierre Marsele), Alfred Molina (John King Fisher), Billy Morton (Abajo), Kate Newby (Henrietta Dukes), Robert Patrick (Sgt. John Armstrong), Gordon Michaels (Mariachi Guard), Joe Renteria (General Cortinas).

1870s Texas

 

 

Spoiler Warning: 

1875.  "During the Civil War, the only lawmen in southern Texas, the Texas Rangers, disbanded to fight for the Confederacy.  Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was also the local preacher.  He left his family and ministry to fight along side his men.  After the war, McNelly returned to a defeated Texas and found his wife and three sons gone, taken by bandits.  In the ten years since the war's end, bandits have overrun southern Texas.  Now the governor is looking for McNelly.  They say he wants to recommission the Texas Rangers."

McNelly is digging a grave in the rain.  Three men on horses approach him.  One of the men is Richard Dukes and he wants McNelly to come stay with him at his ranch for the winter.  McNelly says he won't last the winter, hence the grave.  Dukes says the governor wants to talk to McNelly.  He can tell the governor no, but, at least, he's gotta see the man.

Riding on a stage coach is Lincoln Dunnison Rogers and his father.  The coach arrives at its destination.  The mother and brother of Dunnison are there to greet him and father.  The town is about to have a big cattle auction, but here comes troubles.  It's King Fisher and two of his men riding in late.  The marshal asks Fisher what does he want?  Fisher says he has come to bid 50.  Fifty of what?  Fifty banditos.  The banditos come riding up to be alongside with Fisher.  Then all of a sudden the bad guys all draw their weapons.  When the marshal says he can't let Fisher take the town's cattle, the banditos start killing everyone standing in front of them.  People start dropping dead on the streets.  Fisher kills Dunnison's father, mother and brother.  Then the banditos rob the dead bodies of anything of value. 

Dunnison starts walking and reaches the next town.  The place has been devastated, probably by Fisher and his men.  Dunnison goes into a barn and asks if there is anyone here?  He sees someone's pant leg and comes closer.  Suddenly a young man sits up and threatens to kill Dunnison if he keeps coming toward him.  Dunnison assures the man, George Durham, that he was not one of the men who wrecked the settlement.  George can't get up, his leg being pinned down by a fallen rafter.  Dunnison offers to free George, George accepts and the two begin a friendship.  George says bandits stole all their cattle and killed all the men on the cattle drive except him, because they didn't see him. 

Dunnison says he's headed to Brownsville, Texas near the border with Mexico because the Texas Rangers are recruiting men.  They are walking toward Brownsville when George says he wants to go with Dunnison and they will get those bandits.  Dunnison tells him that it's a long way to Brownsville.  Durham suddenly stops walking and says:  "I got a horse."  Dunnison stops walking and turns around to look at Durham, as if to say "now you tell me?". 

The guys ride the horse and sleep out under the stars.  The next day they reach Brownsville. 

McNelly rides into town wearing a law man's badge.  With him are two other Texas Rangers, Sgt. John Armstrong and Frank Bones.  They talk to a man forming his own vigilante band.  McNelly tells him to disband his men.  It they want to fight the bad guys, they can lawfully join the Texas Rangers for which he and his two men have come to recruit new rangers.  The vigilante leader asks McNelly if he came from San Antonio, Texas because he sure looks like a preacher who ministered there.  McNelly says he was never in San Antonio.  McNelly says he will give the vigilantes one minute to take a vote on disbanding.  The vigilante leader draws on McNelly, who shoots the leader dead.  The rest of the men seem to want to disband now.  McNelly says anyone wanting to join the Rangers can come see him down at the west end of town..

A gypsy caravan of two wagons crosses over a field.  Fisher and his men approach the front wagon.  Fisher says he will buy the tiger in the cage, but the gypsy says the tiger is not for sale.  So one of the men asks how much for the woman?  The gypsy says the woman is his wife. Another cowboy kills the gypsy man and the bandits take the wife with them. 

Dunnison gets hired as does Durham.  They also hire a young black man named Randolph Douglas Scipio.  Dunnison and Durham share a tent. 

Bones tells McNelly that the bandit Fisher has been splitting his men into several bands and have been raiding ranches along the trail all the way to Mexico.  Dunnison reports to McNelly as ordered.  Dunnison is an educated fellow, so McNelly wants to use him as a scribe.  He dictates a letter for this day of October 26.  The Rangers now have 30 men.  He expects desertions along the way and for many of the boys to not survive.  McNelly coughs a lot and hard.  Dunnison learns that McNelly is dying.

McNelly gives his crew a stirring pep-talk and the men get extremely excited and joyful.  They are ready to go after the bandits.

The troop moves along the Rio Grande, accompanied by a supply wagon.  On the road Dunnison and Durham meet Barry Smith. 

At a stop, the new Rangers receive some needed shooting practice.  McNelly makes sure his men know how to shoot straight while riding on a horse. 

The crew moves on passing below the town of Palo Alto and then go south over the Rio Grande into Mexico.  General Cortinas' camp is not far off from there. 

King Fisher talks with Cortinas about taking the Republic of Texas.  Cortinas doesn't seem to like the plan.  But he does want Fisher to keep supplying his army with good cattle from Texas. 

A ranger named Sam tells Dunnison that he knows how to construct better maps than those maps the captain has.  So Dunnison introduces Sam to McNelly inside the captain's tent.  There Sam draws a gun on McNelly.  Dunnison tries to stop him but gets knocked to the ground by Sam.  Sam tells McNelly that he's from San Antonio and McNelly has a price on his head.  McNelly turns around and Sam demands that he turn around and face him.  When McNelly does turn around he throws a knife into Sam's neck.  Sam falls dead.  

Dunnison is disappointed in himself and decides to leave the Rangers because of his unworthiness.  But McNelly stops him.  He says everything Dunnison has belongs to the Rangers.  If he leaves, he will be hunted down by the rangers for theft.  So Dunnison better stick around until he at least pays for the equipment and the horse. 

The rangers ride to Mesa Valley.  They send out Scipio to scout the valley.  He stumbles upon the camp of a group of bandits.  He reports back to the captain.

The rangers come in riding fast and firing their weapons.  After a short gun battle only two bandits remain alive.  The captain hangs the two survivors. 

The rangers now head for Palo Alto.  They come upon Fisher in his encampment.  McNelly says:  "No prisoners, rangers."  They attack the encampment, but this time the number of bandits is much greater and they have fallen trees from which to shoot at the rangers.  The rangers start losing a lot of men.  And Fisher has more men in hiding.  They spring forth and now the rangers really take a beating. Bones tells the captain that they sat a trap for the rangers, but McNelly continues the fight.  After quite a few more rangers fall, McNelly finally shouts for his rangers to retreat. 

At camp the men are very despondent.  Barry Smith is one of those rangers killed in battle.  The next morning the rangers go back to the battlefield.  They find their eight dead rangers hanging from trees.  They find the gypsy woman tied by a rope on a tree limb.  Dunnison goes to cut her down and is shocked to see that she is still alive.  Her name is Perdita. 

The rangers head to Richard Dukes' ranch.  They take the woman with them.  Dukes is shocked when McNelly says he has twelve men to bury.  A ceremony is held for the dead.  Living at the ranch is a young, pretty girl named Caroline Dukes.  Durham and Dunnison start vying for the girl's attentions. 

Dunnison takes down a letter from the captain.  He dictates that the decision to attack was a disastrous one. 

Dunnison talks to Caroline about the rangers' last battle.  She scolds Dunnison and the rangers for having warrants for the men that they killed in the fight.  Caroline is very rude and she makes it worse when she says she can see in Durham's eyes that he's no killer.  Later Durham comes up to Dunnison and asks him about his progress with Caroline.  Dunnison says he got no where with her.  He pats Durham on the back and says Caroline likes gunslingers. 

New recruits are taken in and Dunnison helps with giving the new fellows shooting practice.  Sgt. Armstrong flirts a bit with Perdita.  She tells him that the bandits were saying that they were going to Armagosa to raid the Logan Ranch. 

Caroline goes to say goodbye to Durham.  Based on what Dunnison told him, Durham starts bragging about the men he killed.  But this time, Caroline overlooks these remarks.  This further frustrates Dunnison. 

The rangers head out for the Logan Ranch.  Perdita rides along with Sgt. Armstrong.  The rangers surround the cattle, but no bad guys show up and it dawns on the captain that Perdita lied to them.  He confronts Perdita and shouts at her.  The rangers take off back for the Dukes ranch, figuring that is where the bandits will attack. 

The bandits start their attack.

Perdita knifes Armstrong in the thigh and then takes off in a buggy to go back to her bandits.  Dunnison rides after her.  He catches up with Perdita, throws a lasso around her and yanks her out of the buggy seat and onto the ground.  She tells Dunnison she had to say Armagosa or else the bandits would kill her father and mother.  They actually headed to Las Cuevas, Mexico. 

The rangers arrive too late at the Dukes ranch.  McNelly finds four family members hiding in a secret place under the ranch house floor. 

Dunnison and Scipio race with Perdita in tow toward the Rio Grande.  There they catch up with the bandits.  They kill two of the bandits until Fisher brings out a hostage, Richard Dukes. 

The rangers reach the Rio Grande.  The bandits were just waiting for the arrival of McNelly so they could hang Richard Dukes.  McNelly tries to trade Perdita for Dukes, but Fisher starts the hanging.  Now McNelly wants to kill Perdita, but Dunnison stands in front of her and tells McNelly that this is not something that rangers do.  McNelly tells Dunnison to move and he finally does so.  He acts like he's going to shoot Perdita, but he tells her to leave the lands of Texas forever.  If she ever returns, she will be arrested.  Perdita swims across the Rio Grande. 

The banditos are in a little fort. 

Nov. 19.  McNelly writes his will.  He leaves his land to the Texas Rangers.  He also leaves some of his books  and field glasses to Dunnison.

The next morning the rangers cross the Rio Grande to strike at the fort.  Sicpio kills one of the guards.  Most of the men inside the fort are sleeping off a drunken stupor.  The rangers dynamite the front gate open and go in shooting. Perdita saves the life of Dunnison, who had save her life, by stabbing a bandito in the back just at the right time. 

Dunnison comes to the rescue of McNelly just as Fisher is going to shoot the captain.  Dunnison kills Fisher before Fisher can shoot Dunnison.  Now the survivor shoots Fisher in the head three times for killing his family. 

Frank Bones saves a number of rangers when he takes charge of a Gatlin gun and turns it on the Mexicans. 

The rangers takes the Texas cattle back to Dukes' ranch.  The captain is dying and wants to see Dunnison and Durham.  He tells them:  "They'll remember us rangers. Let them not remember us as men of vengeance, but men of law and justice."

Dunnison visits the grave of the rangers.  Caroline comes up to Dunnison and is actually nice to him.  Dunnison rides off with the rest of the rangers.  Durham is staying behind with Caroline. 

 

Good movie.  And it is connected to the real story of a part of the history of the Texas Rangers (see the historical background below).  There is a lot of action.  There were a lot of well-known actors in the film.  James Van Der Beek (as Lincoln Rogers Dunnison) and Dylan McDermott (as Leander McNelly) were especially good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

  


Historical Background:

 

By the early 1820s  --  the Mexican War of Independence had subsided and some 600 to 700 mostly American families had settled in Texas. 

1823  --  Stephen F. Austin organizes small, informal armed groups who range over the countryside, hence the name "rangers".

John Jackson Tumlinson Sr., the first alcalde of the Colorado district, is considered the first ranger killed in the line of duty.

1835 --  Texas Rangers formally constitute after Austin returns to Texas after having been imprisoned in Mexico City.

Daniel Parker proposes a resolution to establish the Texas Rangers (with 60 men).

1835 (November 24)  --  Rangers instituted by Texan lawmakers.

1835 (November 28)  --  Robert McAlpin Williamson was chosen to be the first Major of the Texas Rangers.

Within two years   --  the Rangers comprise more than 300 men.  In their early days, Rangers performed tasks of protecting the Texas Frontier against Indian attacks on the settlers.

1838 (December)  --  Mirabeau B. Lamar became president of the Republic of Texas. He favored the eradication of Indians in Texas. 

During the following three years, he engaged the Rangers in a war against the Cherokee and the Comanche and succeeded in weakening their territorial control.

1841 (December 12)  --  Sam Houston was re-elected President of Texas.  Increases the number of Rangers to 150.

1842  --  under Captain John Coffee "Jack" Hays' leadership, the force played an important role in the defense against the Mexican invasion led by General Adrian Woll and against attacks by Indians. Hays was a rallying figure to his men and is often considered responsible for giving cohesion, discipline and a group mentality to the Rangers.

Hays trained his men to aim, fire and reload their weapons from horseback. This tactic was put to devastating effect, and it was imitated shortly afterwards by the military. 

Under Officer Samuel Hamilton Walker, revolvers soon evolved into the famous, enhanced six-shot version, the Walker Colt.

During these years, famous Rangers such as Hays, Walker, Benjamin McCulloch and William "Bigfoot" Wallace first established their reputation as frontier fighters.

1846  --  annexation of Texas within the United States and the Mexican–American War.

1857  --  with the election of Hardin Richard Runnels as governor, the rangers once again regained their role as defenders of the Texas frontier.

1858 (January 27)  --  Runnels allocated $70,000 to fund a force of Rangers.  John Salmon "Rip" Ford is commissioned as senior captain. With a force of some 100 Rangers, Ford began a large expedition against the Comanche and other tribes, whose raids against the settlers and their properties had become common.

1858 (May 12)  --  Ford's Rangers, accompanied by Tonkawa, Anadarko and Shawnee scouts from the Brazos Reservation in Texas, crossed the Red River into Indian Territory and attacked a Comanche village in the Canadian River Valley, flanked by the Antelope Hills in what is now Oklahoma. Suffering only four casualties, the force killed a reported 76 Comanche (including a chief by the name of Iron Jacket) and took 18 prisoners and 300 horses.

1859 (December)  --  Ford and his company were assigned to Brownsville, in south Texas, where the local Mexican rancher Juan Cortina had launched an attack and briefly occupied the town and later conducted a series of guerrilla actions and raids against local American landowners. Together with a regiment of the U.S. Army commanded by Major Samuel P. Heintzelman (who later became a notable general of the Union in the Civil War), Ford's Rangers took part in the Cortina War.

1859 (December 27)  -- the Rangers engage and defeat Cortina's forces in the battle of Rio Grande City. Pursued and defeated by Ford and his Rangers.

a few days later  --  Cortina retreats into Mexico, and although he would continue to promote minor actions against the Texan ranchers, the threat of a large-scale military incursion is effectively ended.

The U.S. Army could provide only limited and thinly stretched protection in the enormous territory of Texas. In contrast, the Rangers' effectiveness when dealing with these threats convinced both the people of the state and the political leaders that a well-funded and organized local Ranger force was essential. Such a force could use the deep familiarity with the territory and the proximity with the theater of operations as major advantages in its favor. This option was not pursued in the light of the emerging national political problems.

Civil War  --  the famous Eighth Texas Cavalry regiment was widely known as Benjamin Franklin Terry's Terry's Texas Rangers.

1874  --  the Rangers dissolve until 1874. However, the conviction of their usefulness had become firmly established, and the agency was eventually reconstituted.

1874  --  when newly elected Governor Richard Coke took office in January 1874, it marked the end of Reconstruction for the Lone Star State.

The Frontier Battalion was soon augmented with the Special Force, a second military group of 40 men under Captain Leander H. McNelly, with the specific task of bringing order in the area of south Texas between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, called the Nueces Strip. At this particular region, the general situation of lawlessness was aggravated by the proximity of Texas to Mexico and the conflict between agrarian and cattle interests. Raids along the frontier were common, and not only perpetrated by ordinary bandits but also promoted by local Mexican caudillos. In particular, Juan Cortina's men were again conducting periodic guerrilla operations against local ranchers.

In the following two years  --  McNelly and his group energetically engaged these threats and virtually eradicated them.  A second sergeant of J. R. Waller's Company "A" was Dallas Stoudenmire, later El Paso Police Chief and Deputy U.S. Marshal.

It was at these times that many of the Rangers' myths were born, such as their success in capturing or killing notorious criminals and desperados (including bank robber Sam Bass and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin) and their decisive role in the defeat of the Comanche, the Kiowa and the Apache peoples.

1877  --  it was also during these years that the Rangers suffered the only defeat in their history when they surrendered at the Salinero Revolt. Despite the fame of their deeds, the conduct of the Rangers during this period was questionable.

In particular, McNelly and his men used ruthless methods that often rivaled the brutality of their opponents, such as taking part in summary executions and confessions induced by torture and intimidation.

McNelly also made himself famous for disobeying direct orders from his superiors on several occasions, and breaking through the Mexican frontier for self-appointed law enforcement purposes.

Arguably, these methods either sowed the seeds of discontent among Mexican-Americans or restored order to the frontier. Afterwards McNelly retired because of health problems.

1877  --  after the Special Force was dissolved and their members absorbed into the Frontier Battalion, which continued to function even after Jones's death in the line of duty in 1881.

By the last years of the 19th century  --  a high measure of security within the vast frontier of Texas had been achieved, in which the Rangers had played a primary role.

1891  --  Governor James Stephen Hogg named Captain Bill McDonald to succeed Samuel A. McMurry as the captain of Texas Rangers Company B, Frontier Battalion, a position that he retained until 1907. Over the years, McDonald became the best known of the Rangers during his lifetime and the subject of two major biographies.

 

 

 

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