In 1969 a young Mexican-American named Johnny Rodriguez ended up in an Uvalde County jail after rustling and barbecuing a goat, which led to the discovery of an unpaid fine. Rodriguez sang in his cell to pass the time, of which he had plenty.
A Texas Ranger named Joaquin Jackson heard the teenage crooner and thought he was pretty good. Jackson recommended Rodriguez to manager and promoter J.T. “Happy” Shahan. Pretty soon Jackson and millions of others were listening to Johnny Rodriguez on the radio.
That’s an interesting historical sidelight in the lives of two well-known Texans, but it tells us more about Jackson than it does Rodriguez. It tells us Rodriguez loves cabrito and got busted. But it’s an early example of how Jackson, like no other modern Ranger, was able to walk softly and carry a big stick — or gun — in two very opposite worlds.
Hayne Joaquin Jackson died in Alpine on June 15 at the age of 80, and it’s hard not to think they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Jackson and other Rangers of his generation essentially straddled two worlds — one operating on principles founded and tested on the frontier, and another one that altered or outlawed a lot of those same principles.
“We evolved perfectly attuned to our time and place — for Texas has long been a sort of human Galapagos, an unsettled country of conflicting cultures and social contradictions, a rugged, ragtag region born with wars raging on two disputed borders,” Jackson wrote in his best-selling memoir, “One Ranger.”
Jackson had been a Ranger for more than a quarter of a century when a portrait of him by photographer Dan Winters appeared on the cover of the February 1994 Texas Monthly. He looked like we think a Texas Ranger should look — 6-foot-5, wiry, seasoned to perfection with a Stetson, belt buckle and boots adorned with the Ranger logo — and a working firearm by his side. Think Robert Duvall playing Gus McCrae in “Lonesome Dove” and you’re close.
In fact, Duvall used Joaquin Jackson (and former Washington Redskin quarterback Sammy Baugh, from Rotan) as a role model for the McCrae character. Nick Nolte modeled his character in “Extreme Prejudice” on Jackson, who also had a speaking part in “Good Ol’ Boys” with Tommy Lee Jones, adapted from Elmer Kelton’s novel. He also appeared in the 1997 TV movie “Rough Riders” and in “Streets of Laredo,” based on the Larry McMurtry book.
Jackson’s cinematic influence lives on. Jeff Bridges bases his character in the upcoming movie “Hell or High Water” on Jackson.
Jackson’s enduring fame arose in the wake of “One Ranger,” which recounted the shootouts, jail breaks and human interest stories we would expect from a Ranger who worked the Texas-Mexico border from 1966 to 1993 and who saw the world and organization he worked for change dramatically in 27 years.
During his time with the Rangers, Jackson was involved in an extended shootout at the Carrizo Springs jail and helped capture a well-known horse thief whose MO included washing the dishes and sweeping the floors of homes he burglarized. He pushed hard for the Rangers to hire the first Hispanic officer in more than 40 years, and was looking forward to using computers to solve crimes and track down criminals when he abruptly retired.
The 1994 Texas Monthly article by Robert Draper, which focused on how much the Rangers had changed over the course of their legendary history, began with Jackson quitting the Rangers after the Department of Public Safety (DPS) selected two women to join the force. Jackson wasn’t as upset over the new Rangers’ gender as he was their qualifications — neither woman had ever worked a criminal case, including one who was selected from the driver’s license office.
To Jackson, the selections were the culmination of politics’ intrusion into law enforcement, and he didn’t like it.
“Politics and law enforcement don’t mix,” he said in a 2002 interview. “If you’re gonna do your job right and treat everybody the same, politics can’t play any part of it.”
After his retirement, Jackson opened an investigations agency in Alpine, served on the National Rifle Association board of directors, and was a popular public speaker. To most people, his was the face of the Texas Rangers long after his retirement, and he always spoke with pride of his service.
“The goal of a Ranger is the protection of life and property and the preservation of the peace,” he said in a 2002 interview. “And in doing so, everyone — from the poorest S.O.B. to the richest — must be treated the same.”
Asked in that interview about his accomplishments, Jackson said he was proudest of the fact that he never had to take a life.
“I feel better about not killing anyone,” he said. “It’s a better deal.”