Saturday, June 4, 2016

Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw

Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw
By Bob Alexander
University of North Texas Press

There are numerous fiction and non-fiction books written about the Texas Rangers and how they evolved into a significant law enforcement agency in post-Civil War Texas. Bob Alexander, author of Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw is one of them.  In his non-fiction book, Alexander chose a little known Texas Ranger, who, as it turned out, had all the real life characteristics that many authors of western fiction work hard to incorporate into their tales of the “wild west.” With such material, Alexander crafted a wonderful story that in many ways reinforces the images and legends created by western authors since the genre became popular after the publication of Owen Wister’s the Virginian in 1902.

After the American Civil War ended in 1865, adventurers, entrepreneurs, farmers homeless, roughens, foreigners, and your every-day criminals headed West to find new opportunities, or to simply escape what they did not want to confront in the place they called home. Immigrating to the post-Civil War West presented an interesting challenge for all, especially the hardy souls, who tried to fashion frontier settlements from a rough environment and to established law and order. The challenge was also to survive the strong opposition from the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apaches, who did not like competing with white settlers for areas of the West that Native Americans believed to be their traditional homelands. The Texas Rangers filled a law enforcement vacuum needed to keep settlers safe in an otherwise unsafe environment.

The Texas Rangers started in 1823 to protect settlers in Stephen Austin’s new colony in Texas, then a Mexican province.  The Rangers disbanded and reorganized several times before the Civil War. Their reorganization after the Civil War was primarily to fight the Comanche and other tribes, who were threatened by settlement in Texas after the Civil War. Once the “Indian” problem was taken care of, the Rangers became a force to help tame what was depicted as a lawless frontier. Baz Outlaw joined the Texas Rangers in August 1885.

Baz Outlaw was born into a prestigious southern family in or around 1854. His father, Meshack Napoleon Bonaparte Outlaw was trained as a doctor at the Medical College of New York City. The slave holding Outlaw family lived in Lee County, Georgia. As far as the author can discern, Baz had an uneventful childhood and youth. His mother, Morning Temperance (Mona) Smith Outlaw died soon after his birth; Baz grew up in the South with his brother, Y. P., named after an uncle, Young Pinckney. The grieving Meshack Napoleon Bonaparte Outlaw soon married his wife’s niece, eighteen-year old Mary Ann Elizabeth. 

Baz Outlaw grew to adulthood in the South, where he was “educated, cultured and courteous.” He also was efficient in handling firearms. He worked in his father’s dry goods store in Slatenville, Georgia until he found himself in a confrontation, or as the author points out a “dustup,” with a relative, whom he purportedly killed.  Outlaw hightailed it out of Slatenville for Guadalupe County, Texas, where his uncle, Y.P Outlaw lived. Baz worked as a cowboy until he signed on with the Texas Rangers in 1885.

Baz Outlaw lived a colorful life, and his life story fits nicely into the western genre. Although a work of non-fiction, Alexander’s true story of Baz Outlaw equals fictional works that glorify Indian raids, train robberies, gamblers, drunken brawls, prostitutes and shoot-em up main street gunfights. Baz Outlaw was associated with all these things; He drank too much, drank too often; he died in 1894 in a brawl outside Tillie Howard’s Brothel in El Paso, Texas.

I like Bob Alexander’s method of presenting his narrative in an engaging, but also, at times, humorous way. Alexander also gives the reader several guidelines to why one would read his book. First, the book  “looks at the criminal justice system in flux.” The reader is seeing the transition from frontier lawlessness after the Civil War to a more organized system of justice. And, the author believes that his study of Baz Outlaw provides another view into law enforcement in the West. Finally, Alexander has what every writer strives for—he mines primary and secondary sources and writes a fascinating history that reads like a novel.   

Bob Alexander started a law enforcement career in 1965. He retired as a special agent with the US. Treasury Department.   He is the author of several western histories published by the University of North Texas Press, including the WWHA Best Book Award for Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten.