John Armstrong, Texas Ranger

When you’re talking about badass police organizations that take hardened career criminals and make them look like Larry, Moe, and Curly being beaten over the head with gigantic sledgehammers and band saws, you could do a Hell of a lot worse than the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were the S.W.A.T. Team before the invention of the H&K MP5A4, the SAS before Bear Grylls , and the Justice League of America without all that crazy-colored spandex and latent homoerotic undertones. Back in the late 19th century, the Rangers roamed the lawless prairies of the Old West looking for wandering outlaw bandit gangs that needed their asses kicked, never resting or relenting until they found the most deadly criminals in America and either dragged them away in handcuffs or filled their balls full of piping-hot forty-five caliber ammunition. The Texas Rangers were tough-ass motherfuckers who were absolutely not to be messed with for any reason ever, and among the most famous and decorated of the Rangers was a dude named John Barclay Armstrong.

Armstrong was born in Tennessee in 1850, and moved to Texas in 1871 for the explicit purposes of cracking jerks in the face with a tire iron. He served a short time as a local lawman before joining up with a new unit called the “Special Force” under the command of Captain Leander H. McNelly. The Special Force was the original gangsta of Special Forces units like GSG and Seal Team Five, something you can tell by the fact that the word “force” is singular (nowadays Special Forces detachments are a fucking dime a dozen). They were the badass paramilitary arm of the Texas Rangers, responsible for seeking out bandits with bandandas covering their faces, gunslingers who shoot people in the chest when they think they’re being cheated at poker, yeller-bellied cattle rustlers, and other Old West stereotype motherfuckers and beating the holy living bejeezus out of them with their fists, rifle butts, and really large tree branches. And they were good at their job. A small, elite, well-trained outfit, kind of like Rainbow Six with Colt .45s and awesome moustaches, they were definitely not to be messed around with – McNelly himself only brought on men who were born out-of-state because he was worried that some native Texans might show a moment of hesitation when it came to shooting their fellow countrymen in the face.

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12 Responses to John Armstrong, Texas Ranger

  1. John Wilder says:

    Holy cow! There’s a man attached to that mustache!

  2. rick says:

    Must’ve been written by an easterner. You’d never call a man like Armstrong a ‘dude’ and live to tell about it.

    I reckon the Rangers were like the knights of olde of their crusades. Even to the last man standing.

  3. formwiz says:

    Originally recruited to fight Comanches, the toughest (think Apaches and Sioux combined) Indians anywhere, they had the same effect on them as outlaws, not least of which was adoption of the Colt six-shooter as a military weapon.

    resolved decades-old family blood feuds (probably by killing or arresting everyone associated with either family)

    All they needed was to keep the judge alive. One jurist, Robert Williamson, know as Three-Legged Willie because he needed a pegleg to support a deformed limb, was confronted by a feudist who slammed a Bowie knife on the judge’s bench declaring, “This is the law around here”, to which Three-Legged Willie replied, drawing his Navy Colt, “And this is the Constitution that overrules your law”.

    Read about Armstrong as a kid. He really was all that. And a great big bag of chips.

  4. Elmo says:

    Excellent links on the left sidebar of that site.

  5. STW says:

    From what I’ve read, at the time of his arrest John Wesley Hardin was wearing his guns in suspender holsters. Things got a bit tangled up when he initially tried to draw which gave Armstrong the extra time he needed.

  6. Jack58 says:

    Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call – and if you don’t know the reference you should familiarize yourself with it..

    • formwiz says:

      McMurtry pansies compared to McNelly and Armstrong.

      • Jack58 says:

        Well, considering you are obviously a yankee fuckhead I won’t take it personally. Both were based on Rangers, Goodnight and Loving- any which could take a knife to a gunfight and come out on top.

  7. Trib says:

    Thanks enjoyed. (Except I don’t read wiki any more.) The rest was right on.

  8. Kurt says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Comanche feared and gave a wide berth to the Yaqui. See, among other references T.R. Fehrenbach’s works on Texas and Mexico history.

    This should not be seen as an attempt to put down the Comanche, who were indeed fierce warriors, but props must be given where deserved.

    Mr. Fehrenbach is my favorite historian, if for no other work than “This Kind of War”, a history and analysis of the Korean war, but he wrote many other fine works.


  9. John "Jack" Armstrong says:

    Very nice column. My name is John Sanford Armstrong. I too am from Arkansas. However, may not be related. My GGF fought for the CSA. enlisted at 16. fought under Van Dorn. Captured at Cornith, MS. jumped off a riverboat, with a friend, in the Mississippi River and escaped. Walked home, spent 2 weeks and then went to Missouri to join up with Sterling Price. Fought to end of ward.. Got a pension from the State of Arkansas for his service in the CSA,. My GGM continued to draw that pension after he passed. It was like $5.00 a month or something.
    People back then had an edge on us. We likely have it too easy now. WWI and WW2 guys did not but a lot of the rest of us have.

Play nice.