I’ve often been asked why I, a Canadian, have written a western romance set in Texas?
Blame it on Bordertown (1989-1991), a Canada/US/France Alliance production. The show was set in the 1870's, in a town sitting on the 49th Parallel. A spiritual forerunner of the movie Gunless (2010), it highlighted the difference between the Canadian and American west - often with comic results.
Dramatic license aside, Bordertown was reasonably accurate historically and convinced me, more successfully than any teacher had, that Canadian history was interesting. Since the Deputy Marshall was a former Texas Ranger, the show also sparked my interest in Texan history. Once I started looking, one thing led to another and Under A Texas Star was born.
There are big differences between the American and Canadian western experiences, but there are also significant similarities, especially when comparing my two favourite law enforcement icons.
When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, it wasn’t in the position to protect all its frontiers. Their solution was to encourage the immigration of US settlers into the lands that would become Texas in hope they would hold the north. Since its “discovery” by European explorers in 1519 (the Native American residents already knew where everything was) the area had been claimed by Spain and France.
Two years after American colonization began, Stephen F. Austen called to arms 10 rangers to go after cattle rustlers. In 1835, the Texas legislature recognized the force and the Texas Rangers were officially born.
Organized into companies that were given the task of protecting and keeping the peace in their bailiwick. They were a paramilitary, but ununiformed. A motley bunch, their pay didn’t run to fancy clothes and was most likely spent on good horses and reliable arms. Many didn’t have badges. There was no uniform badge until 1936 - a hundred years after the official formation of the Rangers.
With the Treaty of 1846, the 49th Parallel was established as the border between the United States and British-Canadian territories in the west. For almost three decades, this meant very little outside Oregon. The border wasn’t recognized by trappers, traders or natives. Though Hudson’s Bay Company protected their interests - often ruthlessly - Britain didn’t have the interest and Canada, not yet a sovereign country, didn’t have the means to do much about it.
With Confederation, the situation changed. In 1873, John A. MacDonald established a paramilitary force to police the Northwest Territories. In 1874, under the command of Commissioner George Arthur French, 275 officers and men, 142 draught oxen, 93 head of cattle, 310 horses, 114 Red River carts, 73 wagons, two 9-pounder field guns, two mortars, mowing machines, portable forges and field kitchens headed west.
Unlike the Texas Rangers, who were recruited from settlers already in country, the Mounties migrated west ahead of the European and eastern Canadian pioneers that would follow. Commissioner French’s journal of the trip west, though short on personal details, has much in common with the diaries of pioneers. However, their purpose was the same, to keep law and order and to maintain the sovereignty of the land.
The Mounties were a uniformed force. Many were former British Regular or Colonial Militia soldiers. The officers included other professionals. The enlisted included farmers, tradesmen, clerks, two policemen and a bartender. Over a third of the original force came from Ontario. Others came from Quebec and eastern Canada, Britain, Ireland, Europe and even the United States. Regardless of where they came from, they all swore allegiance to Queen Victoria and to "well and truly obey and perform all lawful orders and instructions which I shall receive as such without fear, favour or affection of or towards any person or party whosoever." (Collections Canada)
Both organizations were tasked with keeping the peace with small forces in impractically large territories. Both were divided into battalions or troops that served their areas from a local base of operations. Both were more than police forces. They also served military and judiciary roles. Both share the legend of the lone lawman.
The legend of “One riot. One ranger.” started in Dallas, 1896. Sent to stop an illegal boxing match, Ranger Captain William McDonald was met at the train station by the Mayor. Asked if he was alone, McDonald replied “Hell! Ain’t I enough? There’s only one prize-fight!”
Ironically, just about every Ranger who could make it turned up for the fight - possibly to watch it. There was no riot but that didn’t halt the birth of a legend.
On the Canadian side, we have Sam Steele. One of the original force, Steele went west to what would become Calgary, then returned to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) to train new recruits. He negotiated with Sitting Bull and fought Louis Riel, but is most famous for bringing law and order to the Klondike - making it the most orderly gold rush in history.
In popular culture - helped by the fiction of Sam Steele’s son - one Mountie was all it took to disarm rowdy prospectors, rebelling natives or gun-toting Americans. In fact, even when only one Mountie was employed, it was the knowledge that there were plenty more ready to take his place that kept the peace.
Whatever the reality, the Canadian Mountie and the Texas Ranger have legendary status. Both are the stuff of romantic heroes of the old and new west.
Alison Bruce is the author of Under A Texas Star (western romance) and Deadly Legacy (mystery). Find her at: