Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

Viking. Jun. 2020. 480p. ISBN 9781101979860. $28. HIST
The heroic history of the Texas Rangers has, in popular memory at least, gone largely unchallenged. Investigative journalist Swanson (Blood Acres) uncovers the mythmaking that provided three centuries of adventure stories, from dime novels to the 1990s TV series Walker, Texas Ranger. Swanson’s detailed account, the bulk of which focuses on the 19th century, unmasks underlying, often racially motivated violence and criminality. From the years of the Republic of Texas through the Mexican-American War, the early Rangers operated as a paramilitary organization with little consequence or oversight. An exemplary story in Swanson’s deconstruction is that of Leander McNelly, who massacred dozens of Mexicans over suspected theft of Texan cows. Evidence suggests the mass killing accomplished little but to repatriate wandering cattle. Decades later, Napoleon Augustus Jennings found his fortune transforming McNelly’s massacre into a heroic narrative. Swanson is adept at holding readers’ interest in a sweeping narrative, all the while allowing a nuanced understanding of these myths. The book loses some momentum in the final chapters in telling 20th-century history; by then the myths were ingrained in public imagination.
VERDICT In an era in which some desire a return to a perceived greatness, books like this remind us greatness is often reliant on the selective memory of storytellers.

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