Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

Join us for Swanson’s talk on November 11, 5:30p, at the Henry Zarrow Center for Arts and Education in downtown Tulsa.

Law enforcement and its role in our communities has become a lightning-rod issue in recent years. The debate follows a predictable split along political lines, “thin blue line” conservatives who wholly embrace law enforcement and activist, progressive groups such as Black Lives Matter who challenge police malpractice. While contemporary politics polarizes these issues, history (and historians who tell those stories) often reveals the complexity behind such debates.

Frontier Battalion company in Alice, Texas.

Professor Doug Swanson is the author of a recent book entitled Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers that explores the complex 200+ years of the Texas Rangers. For Swanson, the main order of business in the book is to separate the glorifying mythology surrounding the rangers and the realities of the organization’s history. As Swanson writes, “The Rangers have long been admired for their bravery, heroism, and application of frontier justice. But the ‘Tales of the Texas Rangers,’ as Hollywood liked to put it, also have a dark side that often has been overlooked or twisted into false myth.” Swanson takes care to point out both the positive impact of the Rangers and their morally fraught, “brutal” moments. From the successful pursuits of outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde to racialized violence enacted on Mexican citizens and soldiers, African Americans, and Native Americans, Swanson’s research into the Rangers is an important look into the creation and maintenance of the American Southwest.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas pictured. Served as a Texas Ranger from 1920-1933.

Swanson’s work gets at an interesting tension between freedom and the control that law enforcement enacts. At its best, law enforcement maintains the boundaries between individual freedoms, stopping those whose actions jeopardize another’s rights. But, as Swanson’s research shows, ideals of justice and fairness are not always the case. Sometimes the privileges and rights of certain groups are prioritized above those of others. While Swanson’s Cult of Glory helps us consider our own time, it is also an illustration of how to grapple with historical narratives, especially ones so enmeshed in mythology spun by novels, movies, and TV shows that glorify the role of law enforcement. Join us for what promises to be an insightful and urgent discussion over the Texas Rangers and the implications of their complex history.

Doug Swanson is a veteran investigative reporter and editor. He has written five novels and two non-fiction books. His most recent book is Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers, published in 2020 by Viking. His novel Big Town was a finalist for the Edgar Award and won the John Creasey Award from the British Crime Writers Association. Swanson was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing, and was a John S. Knight Fellow in Journalism at Stanford University. Before joining Pitt in 2016, he taught journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas.