The “Lone Wolf” of the Texas Rangers

Howard had great respect for the Texas Rangers whose acts of bravery, bravado and skilled gunplay are forever a part of the Texas mythos. Today, at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, these brave lawmen are immortalized. So if you are ever in Waco with a few hours to kill, you can visit the museum and see the various displays dedicated to the men who tamed the wild and woolly Texas frontier.

In his letters to H.P. Lovecraft and other members of his circle of correspondents, Howard often wrote of these larger than life lawmen — of course, being Howard, he made them and their deeds seem even larger. One of the Texas Rangers Howard admired was Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. In a missive to Lovecraft dated July13, 1932, Howard wrote of the “Santa Claus” bank robbery that occurred on December 23, 1927 in Cisco, about 30 miles north of Cross Plains. In the letter, he mentions Gonzaullas:

Gad, the country buzzed like so many bees! The authorities sent south for the great Ranger captain Tom Hickman, and Gonzaullas — “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas — “Trigger Finger” Gonzaullas — “Quick Action” Gonzaullas — hero of more touch-and-go gun-fights than I know, and already almost a mythical figure in the Southwest. But they were not needed; the fugitives staggered in and gave themselves up — haggard shapes in torn and muddy garments, caked with blood from bullet-wounds. It was the end of the last great robber-gang of Texas. Let me see; it was three — no, four years ago. It doesn’t seem that long. All the Southwest rang with the news.

Howard’s memory failed him since both Hickman and Gonzaullas participated in the search as noted in this excerpt of my post of December 23, 2010:

The posse, directed by Ranger Captain Tom Hickman pressed on, allowing the wounded men no opportunity for rest. His sergeant, Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, went up in an airplane as a spotter, participating in the first aerial search for criminals in Texas history. However, Gonzaullas was unable to spot the fleeing men. But their trail indicated the men were tiring of the chase – close set footprints showed the men were weakening from loss of blood.

Or, since the manhunt ended rather quickly, Howard may not have learned of the involvement of “Lone Wolf” in the search. This was mainly due to a reward offered by the Texas Bankers Association, who offered to pay anyone who killed a bank robber in the commission of a bank robbery $5,000. This led to anyone from eight to eighty who had a gun to grab it and join the hunt. Since everyone in Texas owned a gun, there was quite a mob on the trail of the bank robbers.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in Cadiz, Spain on July 4, 1891 to parents who were naturalized U.S. citizens. His father, Manuel Gonzaullas, was Spanish and his mother, Helen von Droff, was a Canadian — the young couple was on vacation when Gonzaullas was born.

As a young boy growing up in El Paso, Gonzaullas already knew he wanted to be a Texas Ranger, inspired by seeing the legendary Ranger John R. Hughes, the “Border Boss,” on horseback. That fire in the belly to fight lawlessness soon burned hotter as a teenager, when banditos murdered his two brothers and seriously wounded his parents. After serving in the Mexican army and with United States Treasury Department, Gonzaullas took the oath of the Texas Rangers on October 1, 1920. He was still a newlywed when he enlisted in the Rangers, having married Laura Isabel Scherer, a New Yorker, on April 12, 1920. She was an introvert and stayed in the background and stoically endured her husband’s long absences while he was on a dangerous assignment in some faraway Texas town.

Gonzaullas enforced the law in the Texas oil fields, boom towns, and along the Texas border during the 1920s and 1930s. Alone, he pursued murderers, bootleggers, gamblers, drug runners and bank robbers. He came to be known as “El Lobo Solo” (“The Lone Wolf”) and he was one of four Rangers called “Big Four,” who had an enormous impact crime fighting: Gonzaullas, Frank Hamer, Thomas R. Hickman and Will Wright. Gonzaullas would eventually become the first Texas Ranger Captain of Hispanic ancestry.

The mere presence of Gonzaullas inspired an exodus of troublemakers from problem areas. Often, when word reached a Texas town where crime was rampant, most criminals cleared out before he even arrived. Cool under fire and an excellent marksman, Gonzaullas arrested so many bootleggers, gambling operators, thugs and killers that he often had to improvise jail facilities. Such was the case in Kilgore.

When Gonzaullas arrived in Kilgore with fellow Ranger J. P. Huddleston during that town’s major oil boom, he already had experienced many arrests, gunfights, investigations spawned by oil boom fever in West Texas, so he was a seasoned veteran of the kinds of crimes ongoing in Kilgore. While the local businessmen and citizens were pleased to see the two formidable lawmen in their crime-ridden town, the outlaw element took the opposite view.

His first method of restraining criminals was what he called his “trotline.” Because the crude jail was too small to accommodate the number arrested, the Gonzaullas used his “trotline.” It was a long, heavy-duty chain, onto which trace chains were securely fastened at intervals. At the outer end, each trace chain had a padlock that could be used to fasten it around the ankle or neck of the prisoner. Male and female prisoners were treated differently. The trace chains were locked around the necks of the men and around one ankle of the women, a mark of courtesy toward the latter.

The prisoners were housed in the abandoned the old First Baptist Church which had been vacated by congregation because of drunks and transients breaking-in and sleeping there at night. Policemen armed with shotguns from Chief P. K. McIntosh’s force, were on duty twenty-four hours a day. The prisoners were humiliated when people looked in the windows and jeered at them. Some petty criminals were released after they promised to leave town and never return. This made room on the “trotline” for more.

The collection of evidence and leads by Gonzaullas and Huddleston proved to be fruitful. On the afternoon of March 2, 1931, the pair, along with eight additional Rangers began a widespread roundup of criminals.

By sundown, nearly four hundred men and women had been captured and arrested. They were paraded down the street, which was the Henderson highway, headed towards the jail in the old Baptist Church. The street was lined with spectators to watch the procession of criminals pass. Everyone who witnessed the spectacle agreed it was the most amusing thing they had ever seen. Once in the church-jail, all of the prisoners were fingerprinted and formally charged. More raids followed until the city was temporarily purged of lawlessness.

When Gonzaullas walked down the street, heads turned. He was always neatly dressed, wearing a flat brimmed Stetson hat, an olive drab shirt with a snug collar pinned beneath as fine cravat with a long bar-pin. Around his waist, on a heavy belt held by an enormous emblem-buckle of gold and silver, hung a pair of Colt automatics engraved with his initials – “MTG.” His pants were tailored and freshly pressed, his boots were always shiny and clean, with another pair always nearby should the pair he was wearing get soiled. Pinned proudly on his chest was the distinctive badge of the Texas Rangers. His steely-eyed gaze took in his surroundings while the locals made way for him as he headed toward some street fight, robbery or other lawless disturbance. Even though he was of average size, his presence and aggressiveness when dealing with criminals made him seem much larger. Indeed, larger than life.

Gonzaullas owned a number of guns – some fancy ones for show and his work guns, which he used for enforcing the law. On many of them he had a code inscribed: “Never draw me without cause or sheathe me with dishonor.” The “Lone Wolf” was credited with killing upwards of 75 men, however he stated: “That’s a gross exaggeration.” Of course Gonzaullas knew how men he had killed, but he kept that information to himself. While he was a bit of a publicity hound, he never boasted about the fatal gunfights he was involved in.

In 1933, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson fired all the Rangers. The Rangers were at odds with Fergusson for her political patronage and corruption to the point that upon her election to a second term in 1932, 40 Rangers resigned outright. In their place, she appointed her political cronies to fill those important law enforcement positions.

James V. Allred, a no nonsense law and order man, was elected governor in 1934. An investigation of corruption in the Ferguson administration was quickly initiated, leading to a state legislative panel recommending the formation of the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), headed by an independent Public Safety Commission. The newly elected governor revoked the commissions of all Texas Rangers appointed by the Ferguson administration. The Texas Rangers, along with the Texas Highway Patrol formed two of the major branches of the DPS.

Reinstated, Gonzaullas became superintendent of the DPS Bureau of Intelligence. As an early advocate of forensics, the Lone Wolf introduced the Rangers to ballistics, paraffin tests and other crime-fighting techniques. His crime laboratory was second only to that of the FBI. In 1940, Gonzaullas resigned from the Bureau and rejoined the Rangers as Captain of Company B in Dallas.

Gonzaullas was bane to the criminal element, which was plentiful in the era of the depression and prohibition that produced such ruthless Texas outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, “Machine Gun” Kelly, J. Harvey Bailey and many others. But when the heyday of the homegrown criminals ended, there were still plenty of others to deal with. Such was the case in 1950 when Gonzaullas went head to head with the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen.

In the summer of 1950, when word reached Homer Garrison, Director of the Texas DPS that Cohen wanted to extend his gambling empire into Texas, he picked up the phone and called the “Lone Wolf.” Gonzaullas was ordered “convince” Cohen and two of his associates — Harry Brooks and Dennis Morrison — to leave the state, pronto. No sooner than Cohen and his henchmen arrived in Texas, Gonzaullas and three other Rangers located them in Wichita Falls. The four Rangers pulled them out of their hotel beds in the early morning hours of August 31. Gonzaullas advised the undesirable trio that they were getting a one-way ticket out of Texas, and further told them never to return. So the three mobsters began their journey out of the state through a series of plane flights. Brooks was permitted to go to Ohio. Cohen and Morrison were put on a Los Angeles bound flight. Gonzaullas and the three Rangers kept the two men under surveillance until their plane left took off and headed to California.

Shortly after Cohen’s hasty departure from Texas, a large crate of extra-fancy California fruit was delivered to Gonzaullas’ home in Dallas. It was a gift from Cohen. Gonzaullas promptly returned the box, unopened, freight charges collect.

While Gonzaullas believed that luck and good judgment had much to do with his success, he equally believed that God was at his side when his fearlessness and deadly accuracy with pistols and rifles allowed him to survive. He was a religious man; active in his church and a keen student of the Bible. Later in his career, Gonzaullas carried a copy of the New Testament in his pocket and extra copies in his car. He handed the copies out to errant men whom he thought might be rehabilitated into useful citizens — he even had certain passages on sinning and forgiveness underlined.

After 30 years of distinguished service, Gonzaullas retired in 1951 and become a technical consultant in Hollywood for radio, motion pictures, and television shows including Tales of the Texas Rangers. The events of Gonzaullas’ 1946 investigation into a series of murders committed in Texarkana, by a suspect known as the “Phantom Killer” were used as the basis for the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown. After five years of traveling back and forth to Hollywood, he and his wife returned permanently to their Dallas home. In 1968, he was one of the founders the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.

Captain M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas succumbed to cancer in Dallas on February 13, 1977 at age of eighty-five. Upon his death, he left his collection of weapons, scrapbooks, personal papers and other mementos to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Gonzaullas was a Presbyterian and a Mason. He is buried at the Sparkman Hillcrest Park Cemetery in Dallas. He was survived by his wife who passed away on August 15, 1978. She is buried next to her husband. The couple had no children.