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Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Texas Ranger badge makes a visit to Navasota.

And reminds us of our Texas Ranger heritage...

A rare and wonderful example of a Texas Ranger Captain's badge, found here in Navasota.

Around 13 years ago a neighbor of mine was digging in his yard and found something shiny. Under almost a foot of Texas dirt he found a genuine Texas Ranger badge, a rare and sought-after collector's item, something of historical value, something that would fetch upwards to a thousand dollars or more in some circles. Not only was it a rare captain's badge, but it had the name of the Ranger Captain right on the front of it, that of M. E. Bailey.

M. E. Bailey, a lifelong associate of Ranger Frank Hamer, the City Marshal in Navasota between 1908 and 1911, also had served in Navasota and, as it turned out, had lived in the house, thought to have been built in the mid-twenties, where my neighbor had found the badge. One can only imagine how it ended up in the flower garden. And we can only speculate how it got so deep in the ground. But unaware of the historical importance to local history enthusiasts like myself, the old corroded badge was conveyed, via another neighbor who was a retired State Trooper, to Bob Connell, former interim Police Chief of Navasota and a retired Texas Ranger in College Station, Texas.

Thanks to my friend Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell, the Ranger and the badge recently made a return visit to Navasota, where the old badge had rested for perhaps seventy years. And I got to see it firsthand.

Frank Hamer, Marvin E. Bailey and R. M. "Duke" Hudson joined Company C of the Texas Rangers about the same time, and were receiving their monthly payroll out in Alpine, in far west Texas in 1906.

 Three of these Texas Rangers ended up serving here in Navasota, Texas: Hamer, Bailey and Hudson. Look at those scowls!   Photo courtesy of the University of Oklahoma.
Hamer left the Rangers for awhile and answered desperate pleas here for Law and Order and came to Navasota in 1908.  Records are scant, but Mance Lipscomb remembered a deputy of Hamer's he called "Bailiff" who was here around 1913 when Hamer had returned as an interim Marshal. "Bailiff" must have been around Navasota at least a decade, because Mance tells a story where it took the lawman that long to find out who stabbed his cousin and tell is uncle. It appears he also may have served in Navasota sometime later... as a deputy under Sheriff Harris, perhaps in the early thirties, and that is when he lived in the house where the badge somehow found its almost final resting place on Church Street in Navasota.

The owner of the badge, M. E. Bailey started his law enforcement career in 1906 as a Private  in Company C of the Texas Rangers, based in Alpine, Texas.   Photo courtesy of the University of Oklahoma.

When Bailey died, Hamer gave a rare interview about his old buddy, where he told the reporter that Ranger Bailey had once captured four Mexican Revolutionary Generals, all at one time, who were in south Texas recruiting for Pancho Villa. It seems he may have been made a Captain for that, but it might also have been his undoing, as there were powers in Austin who were sympathetic to Villa and the Mexican Revolution.

Still "wet behind the ears," Rangers Frank Hamer and Duke Hudson pose with their Winchesters around 1906, when just starting their careers as Texas lawmen. Hamer was Navasota City Marshal, Hudson was elected to County Sheriff.

About the same period, the last of the threesome, R. M. "Duke" Hudson came to Grimes County and was elected for two terms as County Sheriff from 1924 through 1928. Hudson carried a letter to whomever might be concerned, endorsing him as a friend and dependable lawman, personally signed by then famous Ranger Captain Frank Hamer. This was as good as an appointment to office in the place where Hamer established his own sterling reputation.

Sheriff Duke Hudson and his family in front of the old Grimes County jail... and their home, around 1924.

These three Rangers helped to cement the longstanding ties between Navasota and the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had once been based just across the river in Washington on the Brazos during the Republic years. One Montgomery County historian placed a Ranger camp at Navasota, fighting indians before the Civil War. Future Ranger and Arizona lawman Jeff Milton landed here in Grimes County to join his sister in Yarboro after leaving Florida after the Civil War, before answering the call of the west. And there were former and future Texas Rangers in Navasota in modern times as well.

Ranger W. F. Quinn was based here in Navasota in the 1970's. Ironically, amazingly, Navasota Police Chief Bob Werner, a former Ranger Captain,  lived right next door to the house where Bailey's Ranger badge was exhumed.

 It is not insignificant that both Rangers Werner and Hudson chose to be buried here in Navasota.

Ranger Bob Connell (retired) was a State DPS Trooper here for 14 years, and later served as a temporary Police Chief for the City of Navasota in the late eighties. Ranger Bryant Wells, now one of the highest ranking Texas Rangers, also served as a policeman here in Navasota.

So when the bronze sculpture of Frank Hamer comes back and is dedicated  as a public monument, it may be the beginning of a Texas Ranger driving tour, right here in Navasota, once the home to eight Texas Rangers, including at least four Ranger Captains. Not to mention the most famous Texas Ranger, TV Actor Chuck Norris, star of Walker Texas Ranger.

Navasota: "Home for Texas Ranger Legends," where you could dig up a badge in your flower bed...

Many thanks to Ranger Bob Connell (retired) for sharing his knowledge, research and artifacts with the Navasota Current. And thanks to the University of Oklahoma for the great pictures!

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