Thursday, March 25, 2010

Texas Ranger Gear, circa 1836

Jim Gray provides this fine piece concerning the typical gear carried by the Texas Ranger Corps, circa 1836:

Possibles Bag:
To the upper left is a "possibles bag," a hunting pouch common to black powder shooters.  The bags carried such items as:
  • Balls, 
  • Patches, 
  • Small flask of oil, 
  • Caps/flints, 
  • Ball-starter and Patch knife,
  • Vent pick and sweep. 
Bullet Board:
Beside the Possibles Bag you will see a "bullet board" which hung around one's neck and which held pre-lubed and patched bullets. These were the frontier version of a "speed loader."

Powder-Horn and Powder Measure:
The claw-like object to the right of the bag and beside the powder horn, would be a home-made powder measure for the right amount of powder charge for a given gun. 

Ammo Bag:
Rangers would also carry bullet bags of extra ammo as well as additional ammunition and items in saddlle bags including rag to keep the guns clean.  Black powder guns had to be kept very clean because of the corresivenes and built up residue of the powder.

This is a example of a period artillery sword, a sample of this copy was found at San Jacinto.  Based of Republic of Texas Claims records, Captain J.J. Tumlinson, Jr., is known to have carried a sword while leading the 1st Detachment of the Texas Ranger Corps.

Top Rifle:  
A Kentucky Long Rifle-- an example of early American technology which exceeded that available to the Mexican army.  The Kentucky long rifle, because of the rifled barrel, had a tremendous advantage over smooth bore rifles in both accuracy and distance. American Marksmanship was a valued and prized quality amongst folks on the frontier-- necesary for
defense and for hunting.

Lower Rifle:
The Hawkins Mountain rifle was the next step in technology.  Shortly after the Revolution the Percussion cap ordinance made its way to Texas.  The rife is a little shorter than the Kentucky Long Rife, but was rifled.  The percussion cap technology offered not only the advantage of speed and precision, but also a much more reliable firing.  Gunsmiths did a good business, beginning around 1840, converting flintlocks guns to accept percussion caps.

Shotgun, Double-barreled. 
This model uses a percussion cap, but Flintlocks were used too. Buck Travis, a Calvery Officer at the Alamo, was known for carrying such a gun. Shotguns of the period were muzzle-loaders. Almost every frontiersman had one for hunting, but in the hands of a miltary organization it was a devistating short-range weapon. The shotgun was a favorite weapon of calvary troops (and Rangers) for fighting from horseback beginning with the War of 1812 and continuing through the Civil War.

While most associate the Colt Revolver with the Texas Rangers, that weapon did not come on the scene until after 1842.   These early Rangers supplied their own weapons and those who carried pistols carried single-shot muzzel-loaders  Samples of the flintlock and percussion cap types are shown.

Obviously a short range weapon, the Texas Rangers often carried more than one pistol on their person and / or on their horse.  Edward Burelson was known to have "horse holsters" for his pistols in front of his sadlle.  Pistols during the Revolution were fairly rare.  After the Battle of San Jacinto, captured pistols were prized by the Rangers and orders for more from the states began.  Eventually, pistols became regular issue to both Rangers and Army units.

Tomahawks and Hatchets:
These were often carried by the Ranger. Used for close-quarter fighting, they were well known to the Americans from their previous experience with Indians fights.  Sam Houston placed an order for tomahawks to be supplied to his Texas Army.

Bowie knives, hunting knives, and butcher knives-- any one would do.  Like hatchets, they were both tools and weapons and were most frequently designed and made by local smiths.  Most of these were carried, sheathed in leather at the rear of the belt.  The Bowie Knife can be distinguished by its second edge, short and curved, opposite the main blade.  Many Texans note the irony that Bowie Knives are now illegal in the Lone Star State.

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James D. Gray, is a Son of the Republic of Texas, US Navy veteran, author and enthusiastic researcher of Texas History (in particular, the 1st Detachment of the Texas Ranger Corps known as Tumlinson's Rangers and of Robert McAlpin Williamson-- "Three Legged Willie--" Major and Commander of the Revolution period Texas Rangers)A third cousin to this blogger, we both share a great-great grandfather, Thomas Gray, and his father, Daniel Gray, as an ancestor.  Daniel, Thomas and Thomas younger brother, Joshua all served in the Tumlinson's Rangers.  Joshua Gray fell, in combat, six days after the Battle of San Jacinto.

Some of Jim's published research can be found online:
From the Handbook of Texas Online: Daniel Gray
From the Ranger Dispatch Magazine: Robert McAlpin Williamson and
the book: Maritime Terror

Editor's notes:
Not pictured, but one major piece of equipment which had to be supplied by any Ranger was his own horse.

In 1836, Texas Rangers with prior military service had that training through Indian fighting, or from the War of 1812.  In either case, the combination of a Kentucky Long Rifle and a horse was a proven successful use of men who had learned to live on the frontier and the Ranger Corps was specifically designed to employ mounted sharpshooters as scouts (spies), trackers and skirmishers.

In units of about thirty, these men regularly engaged the enemy being vastly outnumbered.  Bravery, tenacity and purpose were typical character traits--common traits of family men living on the frontier-- common out of necessity.

-- WCG

1 comment:

  1. Jim Gray did such good work on this that I will brag on him:

    This one article is the single most viewed article on this little blog-- with over 500 pageviews since its posting.