One Riot, One Ranger, Many Rivers

There's ever so much I will never know about this great Lone Star nation of Texas. I will never wear the folk knowledge of this place next to my skin like fine dust and sweat. Although we moved here in 1990, I have never immersed myself in this state. I am still an other, resisting the claim of this land. I fight against being a Texan, but curiosity catches me up.

My sons were all born at Methodist Hospital on Dodge Street in Omaha, Nebraska, 68114, for heaven's sake. That should make them Nebraskans, right? I tried so hard to raise the boys as Yankees, as Great Plainsians, and as grandchildren of The Drought/Great Depression. I wanted my children to be little Democrats that JFK and FDR could be proud of, possessing enough sense to use the restroom before donning snowsuit, boots, and mittens. In their teens I wanted them to always have a dime for the payphone in their penny loafers, and to know that carbonated beverages are called "pop".

None of the guys have ever said they were "fixin' to" do something in my presence, but they indiscriminately refer to all carbonated beverages as "coke" when they mean Dr. Pepper. I doubt any of them know the significance of the Nebraska Unicameral, but I'm proud of them anyway. If I were to call them on the phone, they could tell me about the Come & Take It cannon, and the origin of the phrase, "One riot, one Ranger".

That phrase, which stirs a true Texan of either the big belt buckle or the Austin pierced eyebrow variety, derives from the peace officer career of one William Jesse McDonald. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety's Texas Rangers website :

The law authorized four Ranger companies of a maximum of 20 men each. The career of Company "B" Captain W. J. McDonald, and a book written about him, added much to the Ranger legend, including two of its most famous sayings. The often cited "One Riot, One Ranger" appears to be based on several statements attributed to Captain McDonald by Albert Bigelow Paine in his classic book, Captain Bill McDonald: Texas Ranger. When sent to Dallas to prevent a scheduled prize-fight, McDonald supposedly was greeted at the train station by the city's anxious mayor, who asked: "Where are the others?" To that, McDonald is said to have replied, "Hell! ain't I enough? There's only one prize-fight!" And on the title page of Paine's 1909 book on McDonald are 19 words labeled as Captain McDonald's creed: "No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that's in the right and keeps on a-comin." Those words have evolved into the Ranger creed. During the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, Rangers found themselves up against men in the wrong as always, but some of the law enforcement problems these officers confronted were as new as the century itself.

Experts.com has a different rendition:

Texas Rangers gathered at El Paso to stop the illegal Maher-Fitzsimmons fight, 1896. At the front row from the left are Adj. W. Mabry, and Capts. J. Huges, J. Brooks, Bill McDonald (author of the famous phrase) and J. Rogers.One of the most enduring phrases associated with the Rangers today is One Riot, One Ranger. It is somewhat apocryphal in that there was never actually a riot; rather, the phrase was coined by Ranger Captain William "Bill" McDonald, who was sent to Dallas in 1896 to prevent the illegal heavyweight prize fight between Pete Maher and Bob Fitzsimmons that had been organized by the eccentric "Hanging Judge" Roy Bean. According to the story, McDonald's train was met by the mayor, who asked the single Ranger where the other lawmen were. McDonald is said to have replied: Hell! Ain't I enough? There's only one prize-fight!Although some measure of truth lies within the tale, it is largely an idealized account written by author Bigelow Paine and loosely based on McDonald's statements, published in Payne's classic book Captain Bill McDonald: Texas Ranger in 1909. In truth, the fight had been so heavily publicized that nearly every Ranger was at hand, including all the then-captains and their superior, Adjutant General Woodford H. Mabry. Many of them were not really sure whether to stop the fight or to attend it; and in fact, other famous lawmen like Bat Masterson were also present for the occasion. The orders from the governor were clear, however, and the bout was stopped. Bean then tried to reorganize it in El Paso and later in Langtry, but the Rangers followed and thwarted his attempts. Finally, the fight took place on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Langtry, and all the Rangers could do was watch. Fitzsimmons won in less than two minutes, and according to their testimonies, they enjoyed the event very much. The motto appears on the pedestal of the large bronze statue of a Texas Ranger in the Love Field airport, contributed in 1961 by Mr. and Mrs. Earle Wyatt.

Rocking my babies in the middle of many nights, I chanted the mantra of Omaha's downtown streets running east-west:


I can imagine an exhausted Texas mother with a colicky boy singing the old "Texas River Song" in much the same way:

We crossed the wild Pecos
We forded the Nueces
We swum the Guadalupe
And we followed the Brazos
Red River runs rusty
The Wichita clear
But down by the Brazos
I courted my dear

Singing li, li, li, le, le, le
Lend me your hand
Li, li, li, le, le, le
Lend me your hand
Li, li, li, le, le, le
Lend me your hand
There's many a river
That waters the land

Now the fair Angelina
Runs glossy and gliding
the crooked Colorado
Runs weaving and winding
The slow San Antonio
Courses the plains
But I never will walk
By the Brazos again

She kissed me and she hugged me
And she called me her dandy
The Trinity's muddy
But the Brazos quick sandy
She kissed me and she hugged me
And she called me her own
But down by the Brazos
She left me alone

Now the girls of Little River
They're plump and they're pretty
The Sabine and the Sulphur
Hold beauties a'many
The banks of the Neches
There are girls by the score
But down by the Brazos
I'll wander no more

We mothers survive the colic and sleep-deprivation, and still rock in those chairs of the Drought/Great Depression. Our sons root in the place where they've grown, no matter our efforts otherwise. They, too, will chant rivers and streets beneath full moons in their turn.

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