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The Religious Ranger

Serving as a Texas Ranger, Deputy and U.S. Marshal, city police chief, and security agent, John H. Rogers was a civilizing force well into the 20th century.

The Religious Ranger

They say Texas Ranger John H. Rogers carried his gun in one hand and his Bible in the other. In The Ranger Ideal, Volume 2, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame 1874–1930, Darren L. Ivey wrote that Rogers often quoted the scriptures to the rustlers, robbers, and killers he apprehended. Ivey speculated that if Rogers had not gone into law enforcement, he most likely would have been a preacher. But Rogers chose law enforcement for his livelihood. I think you could say it was his true calling, as he gave almost 50 years of his life to it.

Born on October 19, 1863, in Guadalupe County, Texas, and raised near Kingsbury, Texas, John Harris Rogers was reared in a religious home and attended church regularly throughout his life. He also grew up working on the family farm and, later, as a cowhand, learning to ride, rope, and shoot.

In 1882, at the age of 19, he enlisted in the Texas Rangers—for the first time. Eventually, he would sign on with the Rangers three different times, ultimately attaining the rank of Captain. He was inducted into the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, and several historians and authors have referred to him as being one of the legendary “Four Captains” that helped the Rangers make the transition from the Frontier Battalion days into the 20th century.

As I said earlier, he carried his Bible with him on the job and often quoted verses to his captives, but that doesn’t mean he did not have his fair share of life-threatening encounters. He participated in many dangerous incidents, including the Brown County fence-cutting wars, the East Texas Conner Fight, the Fitzsimmons-Maher Prizefight in El Paso, the riots during the Laredo Quarantine, and the hunts for Hill Loftis (a.k.a. Tom Ross) and Gregorio Cortez, just to name a few.

And many of his manhunts involved gun battles. In fact, he was shot in the line of duty at least twice. The first time, during the Conner Fight in 1887, he was struck in the side and left arm. The second time, during the Laredo Quarantine in 1898, after making a quick draw in a close-quarters-battle situation and shooting a rioter who had aimed his rifle squarely at Rogers, he was shot in the right shoulder by another rifleman positioned on a nearby rooftop. The shot shattered part of Rogers’s humerus and required the removal of a short piece of bone from his arm. From then on, he could not properly aim a standard rifle, so he used a custom-made Winchester with a bent stock.

Rogers was a soft-spoken lawman, but when he talked (with either his voice or his guns), he was very convincing. One episode in particular demonstrates just how effective he could be.

In 1904, while chasing down the notorious outlaw Tom Ross (a former member of the George “Red Buck” Weightman gang and who had been on the run for about nine years), Ross shot Rogers’s horse, causing the horse to rear up and Rogers to be thrown to the ground. Ross advanced on Rogers, and the dazed Ranger was soon looking directly into the muzzle of the desperado’s gun. Rogers spoke to him calmly, convincing him not to shoot by telling him that killing a Texas Ranger would bring rapid and fearsome retribution down on him. Now, that’s what I call grace under pressure. (Ross fled into the night but was captured three days later.)

Rogers served in the Texas Rangers from 1882 through 1883, from 1884 to 1911, and again from 1927 to 1930. During the years that Rogers was not a Texas Ranger, he kept the peace as a Deputy and U.S. Marshal, a city police chief, and chief of detectives for the American Railway Express Co. He passed away on November 11, 1930, from complications of gallbladder surgery.

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