If you are looking for a good book about Texas history, Six Years With the Texas Rangers is very well written and quite interesting, first published in 1921. Though James B. Gillett was a Ranger for only six years, these were some of the six most important years for the post-Reconstruction Rangers in the Frontier Battalion.
Captain James B. Gillett was the son of James S. and Elizabeth Harper Gillett and was born in Austin in 1856. In his memoirs, he talks about his youth and how much he enjoyed the outdoors. He caught and sold fish, among other endeavors, to earn spending money. When he was about 16, the family moved to Lampasas where Gillett became enchanted with the cowboy way of life. For a few years, he hired on with area ranchers until 1875 when he signed up in Menard County with Company D of the Rangers.
For the next six years, Gillett served with four different companies of the Rangers and was involved in pursuing renegade Indians, capturing rustlers and outlaws and being involved when the Rangers were called upon to settle bloody feuds. He served under D. W. Roberts, N. O. Reynolds and finally George Wythe Baylor. His last Ranger service was in the El Paso area under Baylor when Baylor was transferred to Ysleta. There his outfit participated in cooperation with Mexican authorities and the U. S. Army in subduing the Apache tribes that had raided the area for decades, lastly under the capable warrior chief, Victorio and his successors. Gillett participated in many of the battles and chronicled numerous others.
Gillett resigned from the Rangers in December 1881. He and another Ranger had pursued two brothers named Baca who were suspects in the murder of A. M. Conklin, a newspaper editor from Socorro, New Mexico. The book explains that the brothers had an uncle named Baca, a district judge in El Paso, who offered Gillett cash to give up the pursuit, though Gillett refused. The Rangers apprehended both suspects, one of whom was captured in Mexico, a violation of agreements between the U. S. and Mexico. This ultimately led to Gillett’s honorable discharge from the Rangers.
His marital status is not dealt with at length in the book, but Gillett had married the daughter of his commanding officer Baylor earlier in the year 1881. He and Helen Baylor Gillett had two children, but the marriage did not endure and they were divorced in 1889. A few months later, Gillett married the former Mary Lou Chastain with whom he would have six more children. Helen Baylor Gillett remained single until 1892 when she married Captain Frank Jones, also a Ranger. However, they were only married a few months before Captain Jones, aged 37, was killed in the line of duty in 1893. Jones and some of his company had gone to an island in the Rio Grande River outside El Paso. Parts of the island were in Texas and parts were in Mexico. Jones was there to try and apprehend two cattle rustlers, Jesus-Maria Olguin and his son Severio. The two quickly fled into Mexico followed by the Rangers, and were trailed to a building in Tres Jacales, Mexico. Gunfire erupted as the Rangers came within sight of the building. Jones was struck almost immediately and told his other Rangers to find shelter. As the battle continued, Jones continued to take fire and was mortally wounded, leaving Helen a widow.
After leaving the Rangers in late 1881, Gillett relates that he remained in the El Paso area. He accepted a position as assistant city marshall before being appointed marshall in 1882. Succeeding “Bloody” Dallas Stoudenmire, himself a former Ranger, Gillett was only 25 years old at the time. Ironically, he attributed his election to notariety received capturing Enofrio Baca to face a charge of slaying Conklin, the same incident that had led to his leaving the Rangers. The book concludes with Gillett having left the position of city marshall in April, 1885 to enter private business. Incredibly, he was only about 30 years old at the time. Six Years With the Texas Rangers is still widely available. It can be found in print for purchase and also downloaded without charge from several sources.
Gillett lived another 50 years following the events covered in the book. Upon entering private life, he first managed a land and cattle company and later ventured into ranching for himself. He operated a spread near Alpine, Texas for a few years before briefly relocating to Roswell, New Mexico and finally settling back in the Marfa, Texas area where spent the rest of his life. Gillett died and was buried in 1937 in Marfa at the age of 80.
He was a colorful character, also very quotable. Speaking of his Ranger days, he said “When I was in the service, Rangers lived in the saddle and the only roof was the sky. Indians, border bandits and desperadoes occupied most of the time of the force and there was plenty of excitement. Nowadays, the life is comparatively soft. The Rangers live at hotels, ride trains, drive automobiles and chase bootleggers. The service, however, has many capable men.”
In his senior years, he was sought out to attend and speak at public events. He had an active mind and in 1936, he was issued a patent for a safe bathtub. It came equipped with a stout rope to be attached to the ceiling. If a user started to slip, he could grab the rope, steady himself and “utter a prayer of thanksgiving to Mr. Gillett’s patent,” a newspaper account stated.
The book is well written and one could only wish that he might have written another. Gillett was quite fond of Texas and wrote of his beloved state, “Oh how I wish I had the power to describe the wonderful country as I saw it then.”
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