Riding Lucifer’s Line. Ranger Deaths along the Texas-Mexico Border. By Bob Alexander. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013. Pp. xxvi +404. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 hardback)
Much can be discerned about any organization through its members or employees, in this case the Texas Rangers. Personal histories provide unique insights that so often supplement the more mundane but nonetheless necessary bureaucratic and institutional overlay. In the case of Bob Alexander’s Riding Lucifer’s Line, the book’s subtitle Ranger Deaths along the Texas-Mexico Border provides an intimate insight into the unique personal histories that he will detail in the book. The author also describes the subtitle as “purposefully unambiguous.”
The author asks the key question that many readers might well ask on picking up his book. “What do we gain by rehashing six-shooter stories of bygone days?” In the author’s opinion, “the borderland Texas Rangers profiled in this volume were living in real time¾making hard decisions in real time¾and paying the highest price for miscalculation in real time.”
With those parameters as a guide the author proceeds to present 24 separate chapters covering the stories behind the deaths of 25 members of the “border Texas Rangers” over a period of 61 years. Ironically, even thought the reader knows the ultimate conclusion of each chapter, each vignette provides a fascinating insight into what these riders of Lucifer’s Line faced, usually on their own, far from any ready assistance, and paying the ultimate price. When juxtaposed against the role of law enforcement officers today, supplemented with their vast array of equipment, it would appear that there is little comparison until one considers the role today of a individual state trooper or deputy sheriff or police officer, invariably acting on his or her own in performing their daily duty in many ways similar to the individual border Texas Rangers of Alexander’s book. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Alexander breaks the 24 chapters into two blocks: the first covers the period 1874-1901, the second 1901-1935. Both sections are prefaced by introductory chapters, which lay out in detail the evolving bureaucratic and organizational structure of the Texas Rangers. The first section shows how “the Texas Ranger job description had morphed from soldering to policing.” The second section is “weighted¾by chance, not design¾for the years 1910-21.” The author is also upfront in pointing readers to the “many venerating histories championing Texas Rangers” while appreciating that there are “a few published works excoriating the Texas Rangers.”
Alexander clearly demonstrates that he is a master of research employing extensive primary documentation in recounting the 24 vignettes. There are extensive footnotes and an excellent bibliography. All this is supplemented by photos of many of the individual Texas Rangers covered in the book that collectively presents a no holds barred account of what it was like riding Lucifer’s Line.