The Texas Top Guns from Palestine donned their old-time Texas Ranger outfits and gave visitors a view of early law enforcement Saturday at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
A popular draw among the 428 visitors to the Top Guns’ exhibit at the Spring Break Round-Up was a display of early firearms that included an 1866 repeating rifle — the first to bear the Winchester name.
Steven Dempsey, of the Top Guns, said the 4,000 Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn used such weapons, procured from arms dealers, to kill 236 troops of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry under Gen. George Custer in 1876.
Dempsey also held up a pair of handcuffs that looked too small to fit adult wrists.
“People were a lot smaller in those days,” he said.
The Top Guns are antique hobbyists who entertain and educate people about 19th-century trail life and what law enforcement was like before the Texas Rangers graduated to helicopters and DNA testing.
A tent on the museum grounds depicted a captain’s field office, while another showed a Ranger’s home away from home.
“From the time the Rangers were founded in 1823, anybody with a horse, a rifle and a pistol could join,” Top Gun member Craig Denster said. “Most were just called as they were needed. Their horses were appraised and if they lost them in the line of duty, they were compensated. It wasn’t until 1876 that the Rangers became a full-time, professional force.”
The fifth annual round-up included two presentations by Waco-based Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield and a spinning-wheel demonstration by Christina Skopka.
Speaking to more than 100 people at his first presentation, Hatfield said the present-day Rangers, an elite force of 150, answer calls from any Texas community needing help with an investigation or a disaster, be it natural or man-made.
Rangers must have at least of eight years of previous law enforcement experience, including four with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“Since 9/11, a major focus has been sharing information with other agencies,” Hatfield said. “We’re winning the battle through intelligence.”
He said Rangers helped with victim interviews after the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood and said they “get convictions all the time” using descriptions of criminals taken from victims under hypnosis.
“We try to do anything that’s needed,” Hatfield said, adding that sometimes in natural disasters Rangers help people who “just need somebody to talk to.”
During the spinning-wheel demonstration, Skopka made yarns of different colors from bundles of wool, later to be woven into clothing and other items.
“I’ve been weaving since I was 3 years old,” she said. “It’s really relaxing as well as productive.”
Vanessa Decker, of Holland, attended the round-up with her 2-year-old daughter and other relatives.
“We try to read the history while we’re managing the kids,” she said. “And I’m fascinated by the period outfits.”
Chet Watson, of Kaufman, and his three children were returning north from a visit to the Alamo and other Texas landmarks when they stopped by the event.
“Hopefully, the kids will appreciate it more later,” he said of the Texas Ranger exhibits. “Right now, I’m getting more out of it than they are.”