From Dream to Ranger Museum
By Patrick Bousquet, 1992
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Not many dreams come true for some people, but then again, someone who has a passion to see a dream become a reality will persist. And, when a person finds people who share in this dream, then how can it fail.
Texas Ranger, Clint Peoples, was just such a man and he garnered help from the likes of Roger N. Conger, a past mayor of Waco, Texas, and businessman. The other man was influential in the affairs of the Chamber of Commerce and a real estate salesman, James R. leBlond. These two men have always had a long abiding love affair with the heritage of Waco.
Clint Peoples had been a Texas Ranger since 1946 and by 1953 had attained the rank of captain. In 1957, a decision was made to reorganize the Texas Rangers and the Headquarters Company was to be commanded by Ranger Peoples. It was relocated to Waco, Texas, and his unit now became Company F. The Texas Rangers now came under the control of the Department of Public Safety.
Having a tradition unique to their own, it only took four months to decide that the Rangers did not fit into the mold of the regional command of the DPS. By the end of the year, the Rangers were reinstated to an independent unit but subject to direct orders from the DPS director.
When Ranger Peoples moved into his quarters in Waco, he found himself housed into two unkept small rooms. The furniture consisted of old cast-off pieces and when Peoples talked to his regional commander about his quarters, he was told a new building would be built someday. Time stretched out and Ranger Peoples realized this situation would not change. Occupying his office was not done a great deal, but when he was there, he wanted to have a measure of comfort. looking for new quarters is what led him to Conger and leBlond.
Thus it was these three men, Peoples, Conger, and leBlond, put together a package which they sold to the City of Waco Parks Department, the Texas Public Safety Commission, Waco Chamber of Commerce, and finally to the public at large. The project was named Fort Fisher and derived its name from and early day Ranger camp.
The Texas Rangers were a neophyte organization in 1836 and Texas had just become a Republic along while the Indian conflicts were at their height. It was at this time that Indians attacked Parker's Fort near Mexico and Cynthia Ann Parker was taken prisoner, becoming a historical celebrity.
Pioneers needed protection, so a battalion of Rangers, commanded by Thomas H. Barron and a junior officer, George B. Erath, were sent to the Falls of the Brazos near present-day Marlin. Then in 1837, the group was ordered to build and occupy a fort on the Brazos at the Waco Indian camp which became known as Waco Village. Texas War Secretary, William S. Fisher, gave the order and it was intended to be a permanent fort. It took a few weeks to build a road from the Falls. Workers went so far as bridge Cow Bayou which had a reputation to being a difficult crossing. When the Rangers arrived, the harvested cornstalks were still there but the Waco Indians had departed.
Close by, the Rangers constructed "shanty barracks" and proceeded with patrol and normal camp duties. After three weeks of inactivity, War Secretary Fisher decided the Rangers were "too far out to do good service" and ordered them back to the Falls of the Brazos. George B. Erath, in published memoirs of 1876, stated, "we went back, calling the place we had left Fort Fisher."
The fort was of deep interest to Roger N. Conger, and his persistence put him on the board of Fort Fisher, the Texas Ranger Commemorative Commission, and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Board.
James R. leBlond chaired the Fort Fisher Committee, whose members included Clint Peoples, Roger N.Conger, Tommy Smith, Jack Fortenberry, Frank Nix, Ken Smith, and Robert E.Davis. leBlond was a real go-getter on the project but always consulted with Ranger Peoples on major decisions.
At the time Fort Fisher was seeking Waco support, Ranger Peoples knew he must secure permission from Commander Col. Homer Garrison, Jr. for the Rangers to move into a special building. Col. Garrison served in the Texas department of Public Safety from the beginning in 1935 until 1969. From 1938 until 1969, he was director of the department and chief of the Texas Rangers.
Ranger Peoples wanted, along with separate offices, a small area for a Ranger museum. He had a small museum of sorts when he was headquartered in Austin, Texas. The small museum was often toured by children who wanted to "see a Ranger," but were not excited about seeing fingerprinting or driver license files.
Slowly but constantly, Ranger Peoples continued to foster his idea to Col. Garrison who one day said, "Why don't you get someone to build you a building?" Ranger Peoples still had to deal with Major Walter Elliott of the uniform service of the DPS at Waco. Elliott was responsible for the cramped space of Company F in Waco. Peoples efforts to secure more suitable quarters met with no success. Peoples journeyed to lubbock to obtain the plan for the DPS building there. Then he sent reliable people to Elliott who were willing to construct a building for the DPS on a long-term basis.
After three unsuccessful attempts with Major Elliott, Homer Garrison stated, "It's a mess." Undaunted, Peoples gave thought that if someone would take interest in building a small museum of Ranger memorabilia nearby for interested people to see, he might finally get a nice headquarters to work out of.
The Fort Fisher Committee knew that they had to break a new trail for their project and the result was an attractive proposal. No easy task but Roger Conger, Robert Davis, and Jack Fortenberry tackled it head on by compiling historical background and a sketch of what an old Texas Ranger outpost might have looked like.
Now the committee went "begging" and Texas business people rose to the challenge. A paper company, printer, engraver, press man, and source for funding all came through with their help. The end result was a book titled "Fort Fisher," and to emphasize the purpose, an imprint was on the cover of a Company F Ranger badge in bold relief. The first words read, "A proposal for the construction of a replica of Fort Fisher which was established in 1837 at Waco Village, Republic of Texas, as an outpost of the Texas Rangers." The storied book was presented in 1963 as the thinking of the Waco Chamber of Commerce. All the while, Ranger Peoples was keeping tally on the project and on Garrison's feelings. At every opportunity, Clint Peoples talked to Garrison and he had him ready when the book was ready. Peoples and those working with him traveled to Austin, Texas. The presentation was offered by Madison Clement, President of the Waco Chamber of Commerce and member of the Waco City Council. Present also was Ranger Peoples and the Fort Fisher Committee.
After all the speeches were made along with the presentation, everyone left with still no commitment. As Ranger Peoples was leaving, Garrison held him back and asked him if he really wanted this. "Yeah," was his reply. "Well, let me think about it." In many years of friendship and association, Peoples had heard this many times.
Time dragged on and finally Garrison presented the project to the Public Safety Commission of W.E. Dyche, Jr., C.T. Mclaughlin, and Tom Hickman. Garrison had Ranger Peoples present just for an added measure. Dyche's first question was, "What does Clint think about it?" A unanimous approval was swift after Dyches moved for approval.
Ranger Peoples was elated at this decision in 1964 but he also realized he now had a tough executive task ahead; he had to find property and funding. The Fort Fisher Committee was still active and the Chamber of Commerce was still eager for the project. The Waco Advancement Committee, made up of young professional men became involved. Needing $125,000, Peoples devoted much time seeking the funds. He approached anybody and everybody. He was relentless, yet, nobody became angry at or resentful of his enthusiasm.
Homer Garrison journeyed to Waco on April 15, 1964 and met with the Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee. Here, he formally accepted the offer of Fort Fisher for the Department of Public Safety.
Between 1963 and 1968, things just sort of progressed. The reality of a Fort Fisher museum with a Texas Ranger headquarters seemed overwhelming. An editorial in the Waco News-Tribune stated, "Nothing like it had ever been done in Texas before and the obstacles, physical, financial and geographical, looked insuperalbe."
Then the tide changed. Harry Provence, the "Honkin Bull," who had told Ranger Peoples "Build it," and was also editor-in-chief of the Waco News Tribune (and who had probably written the editorial), informed Peoples he was changing the direction of things. Harlon Fentress, serving as chairman of the City of Waco Parks Department, entered the picture. He was a vigorous man and soon had a package put together.
The City of Waco had a $17 million bond issue up for a February, 1967 vote. The Citizens Advisory Committee recommended that the Ranger museum and headquarters be included. It was and the bond issue passed. During all this process, land was acquired and the parks department funded building Fort Fisher.
The building was to have 4,000 square feet with 1,700 for Ranger office space. It was to resemble an old log cabin of the 1880s yet be fireproof.
Ownership plans was for the City of Waco to posses and operate the museum; police would patrol the lighted grounds. Because financing was included in the bond issue, Harlon Fentress, chairman, became involved with the project and saw it to completion; only minor changes were made.
The land site selected was where Interstate Highway 35 crossed the Brazos River, but due to the fact that the highway was not completed, it was difficult to reach. The land was owned by religious groups, three fraternal orders, and the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. The two orders donated their land to the project but Southern Pacific placed a value on their portion of $100 thousand. The city finally had to condemn the land and S.P. settled for $56 thousand just three weeks before the dedication of Fort Fisher.
After the passage of the bond issue in February of 1967, the Waco City Council went right to work on Fort Fisher. They hired architect David Carnahan; he drew plans that were completed, the project was staffed, and everything was approved in November, 1967. In December of 1967, Barsh Construction Company was awarded the contract.
On December 12, 1967, Waco held "Homer Garrison Day," in recognition of the man who had played a key role in the Fort Fisher dream. The city council held a special session to formally award the contract to Barsh Construction and then everyone moved to the Alico Inn where Jimmy leBlond and Ken Smith held a news conference. Many dignitaries attended, including Colonel Garrison who was not well at the time. Other atendees were actor James Arness, of Gunsmoke fame, who is an old friend of Ranger Peoples and an Honorary Texas Ranger, actor Chill Wills, Texas Governor John Connally, and Director General of the Federal National Police of the Republic of Mexico, Melchor Gardenas Gonzales.
later, everyone journeyed to the site of Fort Fisher for the official ground breaking. Gravel had to be spread over the muddy road which had not yet been paved. Here, Waco Mayor P.M. Johnston informed the attendance that the museum on this spot would be formally named "The Homer Garrison, Jr., Museum."
Announcements having been made, Col. Garrison presented a short speech before turning over the first muddy shovelful of Brazos dirt. After all the festivities were concluded, everyone traveled to Baylor University for a special luncheon honoring Col. Garrison. leBlond officiated the luncheon and after committee introductions were over, he presented Texas Governor John Connally who paid a great tribute to Col. Garrison and his service to Texas.
Homer Garrison then spoke to the people and talked of what he knew much about The Texas Rangers. He lauded the Rangers of 1837, those based at the original Fort Fisher, and their determination to maintain law and order. Garrison traced the Texas Ranger history, spoke of those who disliked the Ranger force and those who would like to see the Rangers disbanded. But, he predicted there would always be a Ranger force. "I can tell you as surely as I stand on this platform that as long as there is a state of Texas there will be a Ranger force, in spite of their enemies."
Col. Garrison was applauded at length; it was a notable day for Col. Homer Garrison, Jr., for he had given his last speech. Shortly thereafter, he died of cancer.
Time moved on and so did the Fort Fisher project. James leBlond, in 1968, was made an Honorary Texas Ranger Captain and at that time, only six other people had this honor presented to them. A Fort Fisher Ranger Museum Committee was formed to sort out donated or loaned items. Chairman for the committee was Roger N. Conger and members were Clint Peoples, Robert E. Davis, David Carnaham, and Dr. Bryce Brown. They labored hard and then the city council reorganized it as the Fort Fisher-Homer Garrison Museum Commission in union with the Parks and Recreation Commission. Conger still headed the group along with noted antiquarian and firearms collector, Gains DeGraffenreid serving as curator. Commission members were Dr. James H. Colgin, James leBlond, and Dr. H. Frank Connally, Jr. Jack Fortenberry, Clint Peoples, and David Carnaham were advisors. With this framework the museum was ready when the building was completed.
On October 21, 1968, the Rangers started moving into their new building. The building was finely furnished, there was a reception room, four offices, plenty of storage space and the Captain's office was carpeted, had bookshelves, paintings, and a fireplace. There was also a bunk room handy for when visiting Rangers might have to stay over or if one had to work late.
Dedication day, October 25, 1968, dawned with beautiful weather. Presiding was Jimmy leBlond, Board of Parks and Recreation, the City of Waco, and the Waco City Council.
A large Ranger Statue, created by Bob Sumners of Glen Rose, was presented for the lobby and was made possible by donations of friends of Homer Garrison. Words at the base are those uttered by Garrison on groundbreaking day, "They are men who cannot be stampeded." Tom lea, prominent artist of El Paso, had presented a surprise painting the night before of a man on horseback with a rifle resting across the saddle. The last presentation made was a painting by Waco artist, Don Magid, of Homer Garrison, Jr., on horseback.
In 1971, a bill was introduced in the Texas Senate asking for the creation and celebration of the Texas Commemorative Committee. The Texas Rangers would be 150 years old in 1973 (1823-1973). It passed the Senate and after some added legwork, it was sponsored and introduced into the House of Representatives and passed; Governor Preston Smith signed it into law in June, 1971.
A board of ten people was instituted to organize and produce the celebration for the Texas Ranger anniversary. They were empowered to issue a commemorative medal, rifles, pistols, and other memorabilia pertaining to Ranger history. Clint Peoples was chairman of the commission and on December 16, 1971, Peoples and the commission met at Fort Fisher to make plans. The "major celebration" would be in Waco, Peoples told reporters. Fort Fisher was announced to be headquarters for the event and twice, during the interview, Ranger Peoples referred to "A Ranger Hall of Fame" to be situated "in conjunction with Fort Fisher." It was at this time that the Ranger Hall of Fame and the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Rangers became one.
The need was money but no tax monies from state or local governments were available it would have to be raised from commemorative items.
Conger and Peoples borrowed $20 thousand and retained a public relations firm from Dallas, but that proved a fatal relationship. On February 21, 1972, sixty of the eighty-five commission members pledged to raise one million dollars to triple the size of the Texas Ranger Museum of Waco. The City of Waco wanted to do their part and the City Council donated a plot of land next to Fort Fisher in the lake Brazos Park fronting on the Brazos River. Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas all wanted to have the Ranger Hall of Fame in their city, but Waco was to be its home.
Progress was swift on commemorative items. The W.N.W. Mint handled the commemorative medallion. Artist Joe Grandee did the Ranger painting that was used on the medallion and the Ranger seal was on the opposite side.
The commemorative items were a big success. Three hundred full-color porcelain Ranger statues sold for $1 thousand each. One hundred and fifty bronze statues of two Rangers by well-known artist-sculptor Melvin Warren, mounted and leading a pack horse, were priced at $2 thousand each and brought in $112 thousand. Other items were a pewter statue at $125, portraits of four famous Rangers at $575 each, and twelve medallions depicting profiles of a Ranger Captain. Commemorative firearms were a huge success, but a Bowie Knife produced by an Arkansas concern did not fair well. Smith & Wesson offered a .357 Magnum revolver for $125, and cased with a Bowie Knife was $250. There were regular editions and a limited number for special presentations. The Daisy Air Rifle Company offered a rifle and pistol set. Each of the items in the set were engraved with the commemorative seal and a Ranger figure. Rifles were $30, a pair of pistols was $25. Winchester was not to be outdone; it offered the standard model 94 in 30-30 caliber at $135, the registered special edition of 150 were grabbed by collectors at $1,000 per rifle. Because of the stalwart Ranger image, items sold briskly. The banquet following the Hall of Fame groundbreaking had tables offering Winchester "Trapper" rifles for $1,050 each, Smith and Wesson .357 handguns for $225 each, Jack White Ranger Captain portraits at $1,050 for the set, silver trays for $125 each, silver and ivory Bowie Knives for $1,050 each, bronze statues at $630 each, silver tomahawks at $225 each, just to name a few.
Fund raising and planning took up 1972 and the first half of 1973 for the Sesquicentennial Celebration. During September of 1972, the basic idea for the Hall of Fame was chosen and by year's end, Fort Fisher and Waco was the selected site. As early as March, 1973, the day for the celebration was chosen as August 4th. The groundbreaking would take place in the afternoon and the Texas Ranger Sesquicentennial Anniversary would be an evening affair.
All in all, things moved right along; monies still needed was raised through donations, find raisers and commemorative sales.
A movie was planned for the Hall of Fame titled "The Texas Ranger, a Certain Kind of Man," and it premiered at the 150th Ranger celebration.
There were some who were interested in movie and television scripts about the Rangers. Eddie Bracken, the actor, showed great interest in doing a movie, also a firm called "Ranger Productions, Inc.," but none bore fruit. Don "Red" Barry, known for his western movies, wanted to do a television series entitled "The Texas Rangers: Then and Now." It never happened. (Note: A television series with the same idea had already been done. Called "Tales of the Texas Rangers," it stared Willard Parker and Harry Lauter. It debuted on September 22, 1955, and ran for three and a half years. The technical advisor for the series was "The lone Wolf," Ranger Captain M.T. Gonzeullas.)
After planning for nineteen months, things started to transpire for on August 3rd, the master of ceremonies, Clint Walker, arrived in Waco along with Honorary Captain Chill Wills. Chill stated the following about a Texas Ranger, "A salty dog. A man who can keep the law the way it should be kept."
The evening celebration was attended by 1500 people. Johnny Rodriquez sang his rendition of the Ranger song, "They Took it Up," composed by Tom T. Hall and Allan Pace.
I wondered about other Ranger songs and did some research from my own files coming up with the following: "The Dying Ranger, 1934, and Texas Rangers, 1934." I am sure there are others. A lasting memorial to this occasion was a book titled "Texas Rangers Sesquicentennial Anniversary, 1823-1973."
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum building was finished on February 6, 1976, which was the dedication day. Master of ceremonies for this event was Danny Thomas, who was also made an Honorary Texan.
On March 6, 1976, the City of Waco paid tribute to Clint Peoples, whose undying and unselfish efforts brought the Fort Fisher Hall of Fame to Waco.
Used with author's permission.
Authors Notes: In July of 1992, my wife, son, and I visited Fort Fisher-Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum is one of the best and nicest I have ever visited; I have been in museums from East to West, North to South. It is well laid out, well lighted, well kept, and extremely interesting to see, and the people in the museum are most happy to chat with you.
Having been an admirer of the Rangers since boyhood, I wish I had known about the commemorative items. All that is now available is a bronze medallion for $4 plus a $1 dollar for shipping and handling.
Material for this story was gathered from a personal visit. I received permission from Mr. Tom Burks, Curator of Fort Fisher-Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, to quote from "Pictorial Tour of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame," and "One Man's Dream: Fort Fisher and The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame" by James M. Day. Mr. Burks also informed me that Clint Peoples, who had retired from the Rangers, had been killed in an automobile accident in the early part of 1992.
For added information, contact The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, P.O.Box 2570, Waco, Texas 76702-2570. Their telephone number is (800) 922-6386.