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The history of the Arizona Rangers is one of integrity, pride, and unequaled law enforcement service. Our long commitment to the history of Arizona is built upon the dedication of men and women who, over the decades, committed themselves to a life of public service. No matter how distant, how difficult, or how dangerous, the Arizona Rangers has always answered the call for service.
The Arizona Rangers had been preceded by the organization of the Arizona Territorial Rangers in 1860. This group was formed by the 1860 Provisional Territorial Government, principally to protect against Apache raids. The intent was to have three companies of Territorial Rangers, two were formed in the mining camp of Pinos Altos, known as the Arizona Guards and the Minute Men, and another, the Arizona Rangers, in Mesilla by Captain James Henry Tevis.
With the arrival of Baylors Confederate Army in Mesilla and his declaration of a Confederate Territory of Arizona in early 1862, the Arizona Territorial Rangers were disbanded by Captain Tevis who joined the San Elizario Spy Company in the Confederate Army. The Confederate Territorial Governor, General Baylor eventually saw the need for the Rangers and formed Company A, Arizona Rangers as the first of three companies for the defense of Arizona Territory. It was commanded by Captain Sherod Hunter and Second Lieutenant James Henry Tevis. The Arizona Rangers were sent to Tucson to defend western Arizona Territory. When the California Column drove the Confederates out of Arizona Territory, plans for organizing the Arizona Rangers were put off for years.
This is a photograph of an old train dubbed “The Governor Frederick A. Tritle” passing through the town of Prescott in the Arizona Territory in 1887. This train was named in honor of Frederick Augustus Tritle, the sixth governor of the Arizona Territory and the first governor to make Arizona his lifelong home. He served as governor from 1882 until 1885.
In the early 1880s, Arizona was not only having an Indian war , but border crimes and killings were making Arizona unfit to live in. Upon taking office, Governor Frederick Augustus Tritle faced a problem of lawlessness within the territory caused by outlaw cowboys and hostile natives. On April 24, 1882 he authorized formation of the 1st Company of the Arizona Rangers in Tombstone making John H. Jackson its Captain. They were to be similar to Texas Rangers and combat outlaws and hostile Indians. His first assignment to the Rangers was to scout near the border of the territory for Indians, and for those who recently killed a teamster there. The Rangers Captain was only able to pay the first month’s wages, and the Governor despite his best efforts was never able to get them funded by the Territorial Legislature or Congress. On May 20, 1882 the Governor wrote his last known letter to Captain Jackson concerning the Arizona Rangers.
Captain John H. Jackson, Tombstone, A.T.
I have written to several prominent parties who have large interest about Tombstone to try and get an additional sum of money to pay the expenses of keeping your force in shape for use. As long as you have enough money remaining to have watch kept on your horses and equipments I hope you will do so and I will try every way to get some money if even in small amount.”.
P.S.: As long as your company exists it will preserve order. Yours Truly, F.A. Tritle.”
The approval to organize a company of Arizona Rangers arrived in the form of a bill approved in 1901 by the twenty-first Arizona Legislative Assembly. The current Governor, Nathan Oakes Murphy, succeeded in getting funding where the 1882 attempt failed.
On March 21, 1901, the legislative act became effective authorizing the organization of a company of Rangers. Fourteen men staffed the organization; One Captain hired at $120.00 per month, one Sergeant hired at $75.00 per month, and twelve Privates hired at $55.00 each per month.
Modeled after the Texas Rangers, the Arizona Rangers were created by the Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1901, and subsequently disbanded in 1909. They were created to deal with the infestations of outlaws, especially rustlers, in the sparsely populated Territory of Arizona, especially along the Mexican border. The Rangers were an elite, well trained, and secretive agency mounted on the best horses money could buy and well equipped with modern weapons at State expense. They were very effective in apprehending members of outlaw bands, often surprising them by descending on them without warning.
On August 30, 1901, Burton C. Mossmanof Bisbee, Arizona became the first Captain of the Arizona Rangers. Mossman, who had previously been manager of the two million acre Aztec Land and Cattle Co., also called the “Hash Knife outfit,” in northern Arizona near Holbrook and Winslow, had some success in controlling rustling of his company’s cattle. He spoke Spanish, was a rough rider and was a great storyteller.
In July 1902 after successfully recruiting and organizing the original Rangers, Mossman resigned, returning to the cattle business. Rumors had it that Mossman did not want to work under a new governor.
The second Captain was Thomas Rynning, who had been enlisted in the Eighth Cavalry, rode with General Miles, was a track and field competitor, also a Rough Rider as his predecessor, and had been building railroad bridges for Southern Pacific before joining the Arizona Rangers.
Badges of the Arizona Rangers were first issued in 1903 under Rynning’s command. They were solid silver five-pointed ball-tipped stars, lettered in blue enamel with engravings etched in blue, and are a valuable collectible. An officer’s badge was engraved with the Ranger’s name, while badges for enlisted men were numbered. Upon resignation, a Ranger returned his badge, which was then available to be assigned to a new Ranger.
In March 1903, the authorized force was increased to 26. The Rangers, many of whom in the early years were veterans of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, were skilled horsemen, trackers and marksmen.
Rynning started a thorough training program with the Rangers. Captain Rynning resigned on March 20, 1907.
In addition to dealing with rustlers and other outlaws, the Rangers were called on to deal with several large strikes by Mexican workers at mines in Arizona and at a mine at Cananea, in Mexico. Contemporary news reports in the New York Times on June 3, 1906 reported that on June 1, 1906 strikers destroyed a lumber mill and killed two brothers who were defending the mine.
Eleven casualties were reported among the Mexican “rioters.” Responding to a telegraphed plea from Colonel William Cornell Greene of the Greene Consolidated Copper Company, a posse of 275 volunteers from Bisbee, Douglas and Naco Arizona, commanded by Captain Thomas H. Rynning of the Arizona Rangers, entered Mexico against the orders of Joseph Henry Kibbey Governor of Arizona Territory, and at the invitation of Rafael Yzabel, the Governor of Sonora, reinforced the Sonoran rurales. Mexican troops were reported en route to the city. Four troops of the Fifth Cavalry en route from Fort Huachuca were held at Naco, Arizona on the border on the orders of President Taft. According to Colonel Green the “trouble was incited by a socialistic organization that has been formed in Cananea by malcontents opposed to the Diaz government.
The third and last Captain was Harry C. Wheeler, who took the oath on March 25, 1907. He moved the Ranger headquarters from Douglas to Naco. Wheeler, who had served the Rangers at every rank brought discipline and idealism to the ranks. He was known for his iron will and absolute honesty. Captain Wheeler was the best possible field officer and administrator.
On February 15, 1909 the act establishing the Arizona Rangers was repealed. During the seven and a half years of its existence, 107 men served in the Rangers (see appendix). The vote to disband was vetoed by republican Territorial Governor Joseph Henry Kibbey, but the democratic-dominated assembly overrode the veto, backed by political pressure from county sheriffs and district attorneys in northern Arizona. The Arizona Rangers were extremely capable men whose exploits were extensively reported by the newspapers of the day.
After the Arizona Rangers disbanded, many of the former Rangers stayed in law enforcement. Tom Rynning was a prison warden in Yuma Arizona. Harry Wheeler became the Sheriff of Cochise County.
Seven former Rangers reunited in 1940 to ride together in the Prescott Rodeo Parade. In 1955, the State of Arizona authorized a $100 monthly pension for former Rangers who had served at least six months and who still lived in Arizona. Five men qualified for this pension.
Re-established in 1957 by a few surviving original Territorial Arizona Rangers, the present day Arizona Rangers were officially recognized by the state of Arizona in 2002, when Arizona Governor Jane Hull signed Legislative Act 41. The purpose of this act was “to recognize the Arizona Rangers, who formed in 1901, disbanded in 1909 and reestablished in 1957 by original Arizona Rangers.”
The present day Arizona Rangers are an unpaid, all volunteer, non-profit 501(c)(3), law enforcement support and assistance civilian auxiliary in the State of Arizona who work cooperatively at the request of and under the direction, control, and supervision of established law enforcement officials and officers. They also provide youth support and community service and work to preserve the tradition, honor, and history of the 1901–1909 Arizona Rangers.
The Arizona Rangers operate throughout the State of Arizona through nineteen satellite companies, which are the equivalent of separate posts of the same organization. In other words, the Companies are not separate legal entities. The Companies are known by the name of the organization and the geographical areas from which a particular Company draws its members. For example, the Company primarily based in the Tucson area is known as the Arizona Rangers – Tucson Company.
Unlike our predecessors, today’s Arizona Rangers receive extensive training and are well prepared to supplement law enforcement when called upon.
Arizona Ranger, a low-budget black-and-white film produced by RKO, was released in 1948, starring Jack Holt and his son Tim Holt. 26 Men, an ABC television Western, was created in 1957 based on true exploits of the adventures of the Arizona Rangers. It starred Tris Coffin as Captain Thomas Rynning.
The Arizona Rangers were featured in the song, “Big Iron,” in western singer Marty Robbins’ album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. The last surviving Arizona Ranger, John R. Clarke, died in 1982 at the age of 97.