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One Tough Texan: Charlie Miller

Charlie Miller served as a Texas Ranger, a Federal Prohibition agent, and a range detective. He was so dedicated he forged his birth certificate so he wouldn't have to retire.

One Tough Texan: Charlie Miller

Serving in the Texas Rangers off and on from 1919 until 1968, Charlie Miller was an early adopter of the Model 1911 as a duty gun, with some homemade modifications of his own design.

While working on the upcoming 2021 edition of the Complete Book of the Model 1911 special publication, I was reminded of a tough and fearsome Texas lawman by the name of Charlie Miller. Miller enforced the law for close to 50 years.

Charles Edward “Charlie” Miller was born in Frio County, Texas, sometime around 1893. There is some dispute, which I’ll get to in a bit, about his actual birth year. He was educated in San Antonio and attended Old Main High School. Before becoming a regular Ranger in 1919, Miller worked as a special Ranger and as a deputy sheriff in Bexar County.

Miller’s first stint as a regular Ranger lasted from December 10, 1919, until February 21, 1925, when he left the service to be a Federal Prohibition agent. Around about a year later, he was again holding commissions as a special Ranger working for several railroad companies, as an inspector for the Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, and as an agent of the Schreiner Bank and the Kerr County Livestock Association.

On January 1, 1951, he joined the Texas Rangers again. Over the next 17 years he served in many locations, including Carizzo Springs, Paducah, Luling, Comanche, and Mason. During those years, Miller was involved in a number of gunfights. He is thought to have killed seven or eight men in the line of duty and had been justified in each and every case.

My favorite Charlie Miller story comes from my friend and former Shooting Times writer Jim Wilson. According to Jim, in the early 1920s, Southwest lawmen were beginning to use Model 1911 autoloaders for duty, and Miller was one of the first Texas Rangers to embrace the pistol. Early in his career, he got into a mêlée with a group of banditos, during which one guy jumped on Miller’s back and stabbed him repeatedly. Miller could bring his pistol behind himself, but he didn’t have a good enough hold on the grip safety to be able to fire it. He eventually managed to pull the attacker around to the 1911 and resolved the situation pretty darn quickly.

After that close call, Miller took to tying down his Model 1911’s grip safety with several wraps of rawhide lacing. In addition, he generally carried his pistol tucked into the front of his waistband with a round in the chamber and the hammer on halfcock. Years later, when the veteran Texas Ranger had been brought into the Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters to receive some firearms training and a young instructor saw his pistol, the instructor asked, “Mr. Miller, isn’t that kind of dangerous?” Charlie looked the young man right in the eye and said, “Son, if the damned old thing wasn’t dangerous, I wouldn’t be wearing it!”

Obviously, Shooting Times does not endorse Miller’s style of carry, but I think the tale is one good indication of just how tough Miller was.

Another colorful episode had Miller being refused service when he ordered a cup of coffee in a café along the banks of the Rio Grande where he was not exactly welcome. Rather than backing down and quietly leaving the establishment, the tough old Texas lawman took up the task of serving himself. Without a lot of fanfare, as the story goes, Miller pulled out his Model 1911, fired one round into the coffee urn, grabbed a coffee cup, and filled her up.

Reportedly, to avoid mandatory retirement, Miller changed his date of birth to June 9, 1898 on his birth certificate, reducing his age by at least five years. Some of his fellow Rangers said he actually may have been born as early as 1880. But eventually, he was forced to retire on June 30, 1968.

Charlie Miller died on December 8, 1971, and he is buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. Col. Wilson E. Speir, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety from 1968 to 1980, praised Miller for his highly distinguished career of service and stated that his dedication to duty was an inspiration to all law enforcement officers. He was inducted into the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.

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