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Lone Star Lawmen: One Texas Ranger Remembers

Robert M. Utley is one of the leading historians of the American West. A former chief historian of the National Park Service, he is a founding member and former president of the Western Historical Association and the author of sixteen books of the American West. In Lone Star Lawmen: The Second Century of Texas Rangers Utley takes us through the captivating tale he began in his 2002 work, Lone Star Justice. That volume told the story of Stephen F. Austin’s assemblage of a quasi-military frontier-patrolling group in 1823, and continued through the final decades of the twentieth century as Texas struggled to bring order to its vast lands. Now in Lone Star Lawmen, we meet the next generation of Rangers. The Frontier Battalion has been disbanded, and the Rangers reinvented as law enforcement officers, charged with bringing justice to the Wild West. In the article below Utley provides a colorful anecdote from his research of the modern Texas Rangers.

In Lone Star Lawmen: The Second Century of the Texas Rangers, I recount one of the most exciting episodes in the modern history of this elite body of peace officers. In January 1985 four young men and a young woman Lonestarlawmenbookjacketkidnapped thirteen-year-old Amy McNiel, daughter of a wealthy Alvardo, Texas, banker. Ranger captain Bob Mitchell promptly deployed his small company of Texas Rangers, based in Waco, and joined with the FBI in dealing with the kidnappers. Telephone calls instructed the lawmen on how to drop the ransom, and they sped at once to the first drop site. It led to more, and ultimately Rangers and FBI in autos, aircraft, and helicopters raced up and down the Interstate system as far as one hundred miles east of Dallas trying to make contact. At last, long after midnight, as Captain Mitchell prepared to call off the chase, a unit picked up the fugitive auto. Others joined and set off a high-speed pursuit that finally ran down the Buick, its gas tank empty, in the front yard of a Saltllo home.

The fugitives took refuge behind a van parked in the driveway and opened fire on the converging Ranger cars. While the battle raged, an FBI unit reached the scene and pulled to a stop behind the van. The two agents
suddenly realized they were in the line of fire and, their red lights flashing and siren screaming, simply hit the floor.

Sheriff’s deputy D. J. Maulder and Ranger John Dendy skidded to a stop near the abandoned Buick. With Dendy providing covering fire, Maulder ran to the vehicle and plucked out Amy McNiel, unharmed.

Two kidnappers went down with leg wounds, and the others surrendered. The two crouching FBI agents recovered enough to shut off their siren and flashers. Rangers drove Amy to a tearful reunion with her father. The crisis had ended.

Utley_author_photoIn June 2006, at the annual Ranger reunion at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, I met retired Ranger John Dendy. We talked about the McNiel case.

Finally, he observed, “You know, what I remember most about that shootout was that after it was over the FBI agents backed their car out and smashed into mine.”

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