Friday, April 27, 2012

North vs South - Texas Rangers and the NWMP

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:


Caroline Clemmons said...

Alison, this is a terrific post! You covered my two favorite lawmen, Texas Rangers and the Mounties. I'm so pleased to learn much more about the Mounties. Thans for this informative post.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thank you Caroline.

Unknown said...

Very interesting, Alison. I love me some Texas Rangers, and although I can't stop picturing Dudley DoRight when I think of Mounties, I was happy to learn more about their organization, too. Hmmm, wonder what ever happened to Snidley Whiplash. *lol*

Peggy Henderson said...

Love the mounties and the Texas Rangers. I'll add another ranger to the mix in my post next week!

Alison E. Bruce said...

I picture Paul Gross and Constable Benton Fraser from Due South. Thanks to Gunless, I also picture the handsome gunslinger as Paul Gross too.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I was trying to anticipate what other rangers you might right about. Not the New York Rangers, I assume. Probably not the Kitchener Rangers either (and OHL team). I Googled and found out - much to my surprise - that Canada has Army Rangers.

"The Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Canadian Forces (CF) Reserve, provide patrols and detachments for employment on national-security and public-safety missions in those sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada which can not conveniently or economically be covered by other elements or components of the CF."

You learn something new every day.

hotcha12 said...


Maggie said...

Great Post Alison. Your Jase is the perfect Texas Ranger Hero!

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love your article, Alison. Borders didn't mean much out here, whether you were tracking game or outlaws. Since I grew up in Idaho, we heard more about the Mounties than the Texas Rangers as far as real life adventures go, but more about the latter in movies and books.

Either way, it didn't pay to be a bad guy if one of them was in the vicinity, but with a force of only 275 (and some of them were support staff) in the entire Canadian West, well, there was lots of room to disappear.

Lyn Horner said...

Great post, Alison. Thank you for sharing all the info about both the Rangers and the Mounties.

mesadallas said...

I've always thought Mounties would make awesome hero material. Not too long ago I tried to find some western romances featuring Mounties and found that there really weren't that many around. Mounties may not be exactly cowboys but they are pretty darn close and I've always felt they were pretty darn sexy.

Although they weren't formed until 1900, Arizona also has Rangers that are pretty comparible to the Texas Rangers and I don't think I've ever read a romance that has featured an Arizona Ranger as the hero. Arizona didn't become a state until 1912 due in part to the fact that we still had a lot of "wild west" issues such as gunfights, outlaw gangs, cattle rustlers, and stagecoach robberies. In fact it was pretty hard to tell that the 1800's had come to an end.

I guess the bottom line is that here are two forms of hero material with a pretty wide open market!

Alison E. Bruce said...

Someday... I have a NWMP story on the back burner. (Maybe sitting in the freezer waiting to be warmed up might be a more appropriate analogy.)

Lauri said...

Wonderful post, Alison. Thanks for sharing your research! I tagged it for future reference. ;)

Devon Matthews said...

Thanks for the terrific post, Alison! In your comments, you reminded me that I wanted to see GUNLESS with Paul Gross and never did. I saw the trailer and it looked hilarious. Have you seen any of HELL ON WHEELS yet? It's filmed in Canada.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I haven't seen Hell on Wheels yet. I don't think I can. I'll have to wait for it to come out on dvd.