The year before, the University of Texas Press had published a book called ONE RANGER, which was a play on the old saw about the Texas Ranger who got off the train in Dallas to quell a riot. Local officials asked in shock if he was the only one who had come, and he replied, "Hell, you only got one riot, don't you?" The book was a memoir of retired Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson, ghost written by the wonderful novelist David Marion Wilkinson.
The book had sold like proverbial hot cakes. Actually making a profit on a book is something of a novelty for any university press, and after selling out of repeated printings, they asked Joaquin if he had a sequel in him. Wilkinson was not available to ghost a second book, and I needed a job, so I drove the seven hours to Alpine, Texas, to meet with Joaquin and gauge whether we could work together.
Joaquin is six feet five inches tall, plus boot heels, plus cowboy hat and feather. He has a voice like a fog horn and he is accustomed to being obeyed, and the television in his house is frozen on Fox News. I'm a city boy, I listen to Mozart, and I don't know many people whose politics are more left than mine. Not the best ingredients.
Joaquin came to my motel to pick me up in his Tahoe, with nine different guns in the back seat, and forty different kinds of bullets, with a particular circumstance in which he would use each combination of firepower. I climbed in and said, "Well, Ranger meets the hired gun, how you doing?" Instantly on my lap was his Lakeland Terrier, Will, with his cold nose literally on my nose, exposing the biggest teeth I have ever seen in a dog. He was like a wiry-haired orca.
"Better sit still," said Joaquin, "He bites." It seems that Lakeland Terriers are the only mid-sized dog that have big-dog teeth. But before we even got to the restaurant, Will was fast asleep on my lap, so I knew I had the job--which it turned out, was to do the book differently from the first. Wilkinson is such a powerful stylist that One Ranger was really more in his voice than Joaquin's, and my job was to get out of the way and let his voice through.
We went to his house, which had a storage room beside the carport, that was filled with boxes of files from his crime fighting days. I needed to make sure than there was enough material for a credible second book, which there was, just, and I wanted, now that Joaquin was a full-blown Texas celebrity, to include chapters on his wife and children.
When the legendary historian Robert Utley wrote his two-volume history of the Texas Rangers, he criticized Joaquin for not including a chapter in One Ranger about his participation in the Rio Grande Valley farm strike in 1967, which was a huge story in its time. All of the Rangers' D Company under Captain A. Y. Allee were there to keep a lid on the violence. Joaquin is the last survivor to tell their side of the story, and La Huelga became our first chapter.
U. T. Press had the manuscript on a very tight schedule. My car would not make indefinite commutes to Alpine, so we would meet outside Wimberley at the 4S Ranch of Shelton Smith, a prominent attorney affiliated with the Former Texas Rangers Association. As intimidated as I was by Joaquin at first, I could not have applied for a more considerate, conscientious partner. He was always prepared with notes to make our tapes, and I could tell from the first that he is a natural story teller. He told me stories at our first meeting that, months later, he would flesh out on tape, but he would use the same words, the same inflections and pauses, and I knew he knew exactly how he wanted the episode presented.
When the book came out, some Amazon.com public commentary preferred the first volume, which is natural because David Wilkinson is a glorious writer. But given that my job was to let Joaquin take the narrative point, I am satisfied with One Ranger Returns, which still garnered very good reviews and hefty sales. And working with Joaquin was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career--although the best day working on the book was having an afternoon alone with his wife, Shirley, to record her story. She was a retired country-western singer, who after her marriage became an English teacher and then school counselor. She reworked her chapter twice, extensively, and to my mind it is the best one in the book. Shirley passed away a few years ago, but she left a deep impression on me.
The book is available from the University of Texas Press.
©2016 James L. Haley All rights reserved