As I sit down to think about how to introduce a second volume of my Texas Ranger memoirs, Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, has just passed on to help the Big Boss guard the pearly gates. She was a great lady and a great leader, but many readers don't know, and indeed Ann probably didn't know, that she played a major role in the success of my first book, One Ranger: A Memoir.
As the manuscript was being prepared for production, Shelton Smith, who had been Ann's lead counsel while she was governor, and who I met because he was chairman of the Former Texas Ranger Foundation—and who has become a very close friend—told me that I needed a strong woman to give me a blurb for my book. Having never been involved in the literary world, I did not know what the hell a "blurb" meant, except it was similar to "blurt," and in my world that was some kind of spontaneous response. And I said, "Well, who do you suggest to do this?"
Shelton replied, "Ann Richards."
My former cowriter David Marion Wilkinson was also present, and I looked them both right in the eyes and said, "Hell, she's one of the reasons I left the Ranger service."
They still thought we should give it a shot, and after Shelton sent the manuscript to Richards, several days passed before she called him at his office in Wimberley. She didn't say hello or "This is Ann" or anything else. But Shelton knew her voice instantly as she said, "You tell that old bastard that I'll give him a blurb for his book, but I know he rode his horse from Amarillo, Texas, to Austin, Texas, to turn in his Ranger badge when I was governor, and I damn sure don't appreciate it."
Shelton said, "No, Ann, that's not right."
Richards insisted, "I know it's right. I know what he did."
He said, "No, Ann, that's not right." Pause. "He rode his horse from Alpine, Texas, to Austin, Texas, and turned in his Ranger badge."
In point of fact, it was my retirement papers that I turned in, not my badge, and I rode from Alpine to Austin in my state-owned Jeep Cherokee, which had about six lame horses under the hood and was the sorriest vehicle I ever drove for the state.
When I first entered law enforcement, the thought that I might live a life worth writing a memoir about was the furthest thing from my mind. But when I was approached about doing a book, a fine and seasoned writer named Robert Draper prepared a proposal. When the New York publishers read it, they thought the big story would have to be about my alleged objections to women serving in the Texas Rangers, and their reaction wasn't just no but hell no. A couple of them sniffed that the book had possibilities, but it was probably right for a regional press, which in New York is rather a put-down.
After David Wilkinson came aboard as my cowriter, the book was indeed placed with a regional publisher, but a very distinguished house with national reach, the University of Texas Press. Imagine my surprise when One Ranger became the fastest seller in the Press's history. We are now waiting on the ninth printing, having sold over 30,000 copies. Reviews of the book appeared in places we might have expected, such as Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, but others were in the unlikeliest of places, including an enormously flattering piece in Southern Living.
I began getting invited to give talks about the book to a variety of civic and literary groups, which quickly became a cottage industry for Shirley and me. Hundreds of fans—and we were so taken by this that we saved their letters—wrote to me of the ways they responded to the story: perhaps I used an expression they hadn't heard since they were children, and it awakened some early memory, or a landscape in the book evoked a nostalgic childhood. Many told me that their only complaint with One Ranger was that it wasn't long enough. I guess that planted the seed for this new book, although UT Press, being smart and adaptable, liked having a commercial success and suggested preparing a second book even before I could mention it to them. And then one day Robert Utley, the extremely distinguished historian, buttonholed me after he read One Ranger. After telling me it was a great read, he asked why I didn't have a chapter on the United Farm Workers strike in the Rio Grande Valley in 1966-1967, which became a defining moment in American labor history. As it happens, I am the only surviving Ranger of that Company D, which some people find so infamous, and indeed some of my vivid memories of those weeks bear sharing, not least because they differ materially from what has become the accepted history of that incident.
As I began considering such a new effort seriously, it became clear that David Marion Wilkinson, who contributed so mightily to the success of the first book, would not be available for a second one. My agent, Jim Hornfischer, suggested I meet with James L. Haley, an experienced writer who has been pretty versatile, in that he does both history and fiction. He drove out to Alpine and we got acquainted. I think he was concerned that I might have told all my good stories in the first book and that there might not be enough additional raw material to draw on. We spent an afternoon in my garage, poring through my crime files, and at one point I looked up just as he was taking a picture. He later e-mailed it to me with the title "One Ranger, Many Boxes."
We went through the folders. He winced over crime-scene photos of a young mother in Uvalde who had been murdered; it had taken five years to pin it on two of the most notorious serial killers in American history. He met some truly remarkable characters who did not make it into the first book, among them Tom Bybee, a man of strange contradictions. He supported himself by bootlegging, but he himself never touched the stuff, nor did he ever sell to drunks or minors, nor did he begrudge me my duty in trying to foil him. He was quite modest and likeable in every other way, but after he was insulted by the town bully in a poker game, he excused himself, returned, and took the man's head off with one swing of his cedar-chopping axe. Or there was the murder case I worked on that had been open since I was three years old. Jim Haley became more and more engrossed and decided this was a project he wanted to take on.
But aside from just relating further adventures, One Ranger Returns really has a different job to do than One Ranger did. Because so many people took such a kind interest in the first book, I thought it appropriate to introduce readers more intimately to my family. My wife, Shirley, whom no one ever accused of being shy, speaks in her own voice in this volume, as do both my sons. I wanted to bring back real folks who were in One Ranger, like Jake, my CIA buddy, and a great story he relates about Hank the Cowdog (and that's an earlier Hank, not John Erickson's famous Hank the Cowdog literary character.) And I needed to say more about Captain Allee, of course, and Bill Cooksey, and other friends and good lawmen who were not given their due in the earlier volume.
I also felt it was important to introduce readers to more of my Ranger family, brave men whose services have perhaps not been as widely acknowledged as they should have been. Having been humbled by serving with them, I dedicate this book to them with all the respect in the world. All Rangers know that we have been part of an organization with a long tradition of service and courage, but what many readers don't know is that the storied Ranger heroes of days gone by, Leander MacNelly and John B. Jones and Bill McDonald and Frank Hamer, still have their equals today. To paraphrase Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, it is the times that have gotten small.