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Fronteras: The push for more truthful conversations about the state-sanctioned racial violence by the Texas Rangers

Content warning: The second and third photos in the gallery above depict violence against Mexicans photographed in the early 20th Century. Some viewers may find the photo unsettling.

Today, the Texas Rangers are the prime criminal investigation division of the state's Department of Public Safety. They’re called to investigate major violent crimes, crisis negotiations, and public corruption.

But in the early 20th century, the Rangers were tasked with protecting the border from Mexican bandits and Indian raids.

What followed was a period of state-sanctioned violence that killed dozens of Mexicans and Texas Mexicans. It led to incidents like the Porvenir Massacre and La Matanza — or massacre — of 1915, where historians estimate hundreds to thousands of Mexicans were killed.

A grand celebration of the Rangers is planned across Texas this year.

What’s not being commemorated in the bicentennial is the state-sanctioned racial violence associated with the early history Texas Rangers.

The “White Hats” podcast by Texas Monthly explores the complex legacy of the Texas Rangers by profiling the descendants of the victims of the violence. It also features conversations with some of today’s Rangers.

Jack Herrera, senior editor at Texas Monthly and host of “White Hats,” says the podcast shows the impact of the state-sanctioned violence.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling … (about) how many people reached out to me,” he said. “How many different times I heard a story about, ‘My great uncle was killed in between San Benito and Brownsville’ (or) ‘My family lost our ancestral lands.’”

Public history project Refusing to Forget has been on a mission since 2014 to highlight the Rangers’ history.

Monica Muñoz Martinez, a public historian and associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of History, explained why it’s important to make sure this part of history is not forgotten.

“Not holding people accountable in the past means that we have a real responsibility to create a record of the harm that is caused,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘Let’s move on,’ until you have a truthful record.”

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.