Captain J. A. Brooks: Texas Ranger

Captain J. A. Brooks: Texas Ranger

Captain J. A. Brooks: Texas Ranger

Captain J. A. Brooks: Texas Ranger


James Abijah Brooks (1855-1944) was one of the four Great Captains in Texas Ranger history, others including Bill McDonald, John Hughes, and John Rogers. Over the years historians have referred to the captain as "John" Brooks, because he tended to sign with his initials, but also because W. W. Sterling's classic Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger mistakenly named him as Captain John Brooks.

Born and raised in Civil War-torn Kentucky, a reckless adventurer on the American and Texas frontier, and a quick-draw Texas Ranger captain who later turned in his six-shooter to serve as a county judge, Brooks's life reflects the raucous era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American West. As a Texas Ranger, Brooks participated in the high profile events of his day, from the fence-cutting wars to the El Paso prizefight, from the Conner Fight--where he lost three fingers from his left hand--to the Temple rail strike, all with a resolute demeanor and a fast gun. A shoot-out in Indian Territory nearly cost him his life and then jeopardized his career, and a lifelong bout with old Kentucky bourbon did the same.

With three other distinguished Ranger captains, Brooks witnessed and helped promote the transformation of the elite Frontier Battalion into the Ranger Force. As a state legislator, he brokered the creation of a South Texas county that bears his name today, and where he served for twenty-eight years as county judge. He was the quintessential enforcer of frontier justice, scars and all.


Captain brooks stood at the edge of the slightly rolling hills that spread across to the horizon, his eyes fixed on the vibrant colors of the autumn sunset. a slight rustle of wind pressed gently against the field grass. Brooks let his mind wander to earlier that same day, when a wonderful opportunity had been handed him. To be captain of such a company of men was a fond dream, a wish now granted after only a relatively few years in the service. At age thirty-three, the command came to him long before many would have expected it, although those with whom he had served never doubted that his tenacity, his courage, and his bent to organization would be rewarded in this way.

His life of barely three decades had already been a full and adventurous, if not completely satisfying, one. Born far away from where he now stood, the young officer allowed his memory to retrace some of the events that he had witnessed, new lands to which he had traveled, battles fought and won. He had been a restless one all his life, never content to stay in one place or one job. But every time he moved on he seemed to find a new challenge and, having met each one, emerged better and stronger for it. He had left some family behind but always found near or distant cousins at the next stop of his life’s journey.

And the newly commissioned captain looked into his future as he stared at the reddening sun. a fascination with the law, both its . . .

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