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Visiting the Texas Rangers Museum in Waco

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum is an outstanding not to be missed attraction. No other American law enforcement agency possesses the mystique of the Rangers who symbolize Texas and the old west. The Rangers in reality are just as legendary as their mythological Hollywood versions most notably “The Lone Ranger” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Located in Waco, the museum is a fascinating experience boasting over 12,000 artifacts captivating visitors from the romance of the west to contemporary times.

Law enforcement, old west and Texas history buffs will love what the museum has to offer. Gun enthusiasts will appreciate the massive number of weapons from muskets and powder flintlocks to semi-automatics scattered throughout the museum. The majority of guns can be found in the huge Weapons of the Rangers display. The Rangers started in 1823 so there are guns dating back to the early 1800s plus a number of Bowie knives. The most impressive displays are Colt revolvers (1848-1900), Winchester rifles (1860-1900) and repeating Colts (1836-47) and includes a impossibly large pistol weighing four pounds. This is like visiting a gun collectors show.

The lobby area features recent acquisitions. The first gallery introduces the Rangers with a historical time-line. The big Rangers weapons exhibition is here. An interesting display is the development of the famed Ranger badge with accompanying badge collection. The earliest displayed Ranger badges date to the late 1880s and fashioned from Mexican coins. A little known fact concerning the Rangers is they also served as surveyors. On display are old surveying equipment, spurs and saddles.

The next gallery contains the first century exhibit covering Ranger history from 1823 to 1935. The Rangers served as frontier defense from the Republic of Texas to statehood, played a role during the Civil War and enforced prohibition in the 1920s. There is a frontier battalion campsite display. Visitors will be drawn to the Bonnie and Clyde exhibit. An enduring fascinating exists for the infamous exploits of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who died in the legendary 1934 shootout with Rangers. The artifacts are genuine such as Clyde’s pocket watch sparking the imagination because this is not a movie prop but the real deal. There are weapons used in the shootout and shotguns retrieved from the death car as well as Clyde’s 1908 Colt pistol and Bonnie’s 1920 Smith & Wesson.

The modern Ranger exhibit delves into the investigation process presenting technique and tools. Various major cases such as kidnappings and serial killers are examined in detail and will intrigue true crime buffs. The large display of confiscated weapons contain deadly modified shotguns and assault rifles. These weapons illustrate the ferocious firepower facing the Rangers. Retired Rangers have donated their badges, hats and guns.

The following gallery is actually a long hallway displaying western artwork featuring Rangers with paintings, vintage photographs and more guns. There have been Ranger families (father and son, brothers, etc.) and their stories along with those of notable Rangers are related via a wealth of memorabilia like boots, saddles and custom made showpiece pistols. These cases carry a bounty of history and closer look at the kind of men who became Rangers.

The museum also has a research center and banquet facilities. The gift store is located by the theater. The modern Texas Ranger wall is composed of current Ranger photographs. The Hall of Fame itself is a circular wall of paintings and biographies of inductees. This is less interesting and dry being men most have never heard of and lacking memorabilia. There are temporary exhibits, horse trailer and Ranger camp.

The final exhibition room is the most fun. The pop culture gallery explores the portrayal of Rangers in print, radio, movies and television and presents a wonderful array of memorabilia from vintage toys to contemporary graphic novels and figurines. Visitors are immediately greeted by “Walker, Texas Ranger”! The Chuck Norris TV series receives prominent front and center space and Norris has autographed many items including a Walker poster. A hat he wore on the show is displayed amongst other items.

The mythology of the Rangers has its beginnings in early dime novels and pulp fiction like Zane Grey stories. There is no greater icon than The Lone Ranger. The famous fictional character and his faithful Indian companion Tonto were created for a 1930s radio show proving an enormous hit followed by equal success on television during the early 1950s. The Long Ranger enjoyed tremendous popularity with kids. The movies have not been so kind as exemplified by the latest box office disaster starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer in the title role. The Lone Ranger display contains old toys, valuable lunchboxes and other vintage merchandise. Clayton Moore who starred as the TV Lone Rangers has an exhibit case of his own. Western movie fans will love all this.

Visitors will see the extent of the Rangers in the media for 100 years. Another popular radio series was “Tales of the Texas Rangers” starring Joel McCrea also in the 1950s. The Rangers are no strangers to movies and there are framed one-sheets for “The Texas Rangers” (1951) and recent “Man of the House” (2005) starring Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff Ranger assigned to guarding college cheerleaders! There is a large selection of books, comics, toys and kid badges. This is a terrific conclusion to an exceptional museum. Kids and adults will both love this place. Every possible aspect of Ranger lore has been successfully presented.