Sunday, February 5, 2012

Good Reads: Elmer Kelton's Texas Ranger Series

I’ve just finished reading the entire Texas Ranger Series of books by Elmer Kelton. I had already read each of these books previously, and some of them more than once. But I had never read the entire series from start to finish in chronological order as I did this time. Doing so really puts everything into better perspective.

As I’ve said before in this blog, Elmer Kelton is my favorite Western author. And I would argue that at times his writing shows quality equal to some of our greater American writers. What makes Mr. Kelton such a good writer is his character development and his faithfulness to reality, especially historical accuracy. For information on Mr. Kelton, refer to his web site at http://www.elmerkelton.net/.

In his collection of work, several series emerge, such as the Buckalew Family Series and the Hewey Calloway Series. The stories of these characters spread over more than one novel. But the Texas Ranger Series is Mr. Kelton's most developed series, and he devoted 9 books to telling the Ranger story.

The Texas Ranger Series spans a time from roughly 1840 to the 1880s. Initially, the series revolves around Rusty Shannon, but with the passage of time, the emphasis gradually shifts to Andy Pickard. In addition to Rusty and Andy, a number of other characters recur throughout the series, such as the Monahans family, Preacher Webb, Tom Blessing, Len Tanner, Bethel Brackett, Farley Brackett, and Fowler Gaskins.

The series is a good study of history, and provides good detail for the daily living conditions of rangers. As the series begins, the Rangers are concerned mostly with the western frontier where the Comanches and Kiowas roam free. As Texas becomes more settled and the Indian threat is removed, the Rangers first focus on the border region and then finally on common outlaws.

During the course of the continuing saga, well known historical events are covered, some in more detail than others. There is, for example, the Comanche raid in the 1840s that swept all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast and resulted in the well-documented battle at Plum Creek. The period of Reconstruction is covered in fine detail as well, especially regarding how common folks were affected. Not all of Texas supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, and that piece of history is covered. When Reconstruction finally came to an end, Governor Davis did not give up his office willingly, and Mr. Kelton included that political drama in one of his novels.

But it is the day-to-day existence of a Ranger that is most interesting to me. These men worked for low wages, and during certain periods they often went unpaid. They supplied their own horse and gun. There was no common uniform, not even a badge in the early days. While on the trail, they usually ate meager rations and usually slept on the ground or in a stable. With the development of the telegraph and the railroad, the Rangers became more effective at tracking down criminals, and Mr. Kelton treats these improvements in his novels. It is these details that I find the most interesting.

In all honesty, I do not find the Ranger Series to be Mr. Kelton’s best work. At times, some of the characters are rather stock, for example. But the stories are always enjoyable.

The novels making up the Texas Ranger Series, in chronological order with publication date in parenthesis, are:

  1. The Buckskin Line (1999)
  2. Badger Boy (2001)
  3. The Way of the Coyote (2001)
  4. Ranger’s Trail (2002)
  5. Texas Vendetta (2005)
  6. Jericho’s Road (2004)
  7. Hard Trail to Follow (2008)
  8. Other Men’s Horses (2009)
  9. Texas Standoff (2010)

Were I a Texas history teacher, I would include Mr. Kelton’s work in my course. While history books provide dates and details, they rarely give that glimpse into those parts of history that affect everyday people as they go about their everyday lives. Mr. Kelton fills that void for us.

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