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R.A. Crowder (1901-1972) PDF Print E-mail Share
Written by Jennifer Nodwell   
Saturday, 24 January 2009 15:10

Biography taken from In the Line of Duty by Lewis C. Rigler

Robert Austin Crowder was otherwise known as Bob, Captain, and to his old friends, "Snap." Though I had occasion to call him by all three names, my favorite name for him was another, "Number One Man." Crowder was my friend and co-worker for over thirty years, and for fourteen of those he was my Captain.

Captain Crowder was a true peace officer, one of the most dedicated Rangers I ever knew. More than once, Bob said he wouldn't trade his Ranger job for the Presidency of the United States. I believe the Number One Man would have worked for no pay at all. 

Why would I refer to Bob as Number One Man? When I entered the Rangers, there were six companies, each with a captain, but with no seargents. The captain was frequently away due to illness, vacation, or assignment; at that time a captain took on investigations just as a Ranger private did. The man who took over for the captain during these absences was called the Number One Man because the captain and the other Rangers recognized in him that essential quality of leadership.

The Number One Man served as a buffer between the men and the captain, often acting as a one-man grievance committee. Thus the Number One Man was unique -- he was efficient only if he could have the ear of the men and also as the captain. Bob Crowder was as good a Number One Man as any I have known. His sense of responsibility was evident in his definition of a Ranger: "A Ranger is an officer who is able to handle any given situation without definite instructions from his commanding officer or higher authority. This ability must be proven before a man becomes a Ranger." "Snap" had that ability. 

I first met Bob in November 1941, while I was still a young recruit of the Department of Public Safety and he was already a Ranger in Company "B." Though I teased him then about barely being able to ride his horse Red, Bob looked like a Ranger. He stood six feet three inches tall, weighed about 200 pounds, and was in many ways a handsome man. Bob had the look that many people associate with being a Texan -- tall, angular, with a somewhat swarthy, leathery complexion. In some ways he reminded me of John Wayne, James Arness, and Jimmy Stewart, all rolled into one. Bob looked very good in Western twill and boots and had the shape of head thata three-and-a-quarter inch brim white Western hat just naturally fit.


Bob was as good at being a Ranger as any one else, even though he was a fine captain as well. He seemed to retain the ability to be a Ranger private while at the same time being the boss. Easy to know and loyal to friends and co-workers, Crowder was widely known and respected in law enforcement. An outstanding leader of men, he was the type of man others just naturally wanted to follow. He exuded a confidence with which few are gifted, but he was never conceited or pompous with it. 

Bob was an East Texan, born on a farm near Minden, in Rusk County, and he lived there until he was about twenty years old. I remember how fond he was of sweet potatoes, poke salad, collard greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and other East Texas favorites.

From 1921 to 1924, Bob was in the U.S. Marine Corps. He became an excellent marksman in the Marines and developed a fondness for the Colt .45, which he carried most of the time after that. After leaving the Marines, he settled in Dallas, which was forever to be his favorite place to live, though he was to make many more moves. While he was living there, he met and married Lucile Simmons who had two small children he adopted and helped to raise. 

When Bob applied for a job with the Dallas Police Department one morning in 1925, he was asked if he could ride a motorcycle. He said yes. He was hired as a motor cycle officer and asked to report that afternoon. As soon as he left the police department that morning, he told me, Bob borrowed a cycle from a nearby shop  and learned to ride it by 3:00 P.M., when he went on duty. He worked at the Dallas Police Department for about five years. 

In 1930, Bob was selected as a member of the first class of the Highway Patrol, which had only fifty-one members and was then a part of the Texas Highway Department. Beginning as a motorcycle officer, he rose to the position of senior criminal investigator for the Patrol. The early 1930s were hard times for officers, with Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, Raymond Hamilton, and the like active in the field of crime and receiving a certain amount of voyeuristic support from the public. Legend has it that Bob Crowder once waited six days, unrelieved and unassisted, for Bonnie and Clyde to cross a Red River bridge; it may or may not be true -- Bob never mentioned it -- but it made a heck of a good story.

In 1937 Bob was transferred to the Bureau of Intelligence, Department of Public Safety, receiving a Ranger commission. He worked Company "B" until 1947, when he went to Company "C." During his early DPS years he was stationed at Tyler, Lubbock, Dallas, Texarkana, Austin, and Wichita Falls. He was made captain of Company "C" in 1948, upon Captain Manny Gault's death (Gault had been among the men involved in the shoot out with Bonnie and Clyde).

Bob's promotion meant a move to Lubbock. He never cared for Lubbock the way he did for Dallas, and in 1951 he transferred back there as captain of Company "B," upon the retirement of Captain M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzualles. There he was instrumental in solving many cases, among them a controversial racial bombing case.  In 1955, some eighty belligerent inmates of Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane took a staff member as hostage. Captain Crowder faced them down and managed to secure the hostage's release.  He also worked some touchy school integration situations, one in Mansfield in 1956. 

Also in 1956, Bob was made acting Chief of the Texas Rangers and moved to Austin. When the Legislature failed to appropriate funds for this position, he was made major of Region V, Lubbock, under the re-organization plan of the Department of Public Safety. Again he was unhappy away from Dallas, so he took a pay reduction to return to Dallas in 1960 as Company "B" Captain.

When the retirement age for Rangers was lowered in 1969 from seventy to sixty-five years old, Bob was forced into retirement at age sixty-eight. It was difficult for him to adjust to the idea that he was no longer to be with the Rangers. The day he turned over Company "B" to his successor, Captain W.D. Wilson, was an emotional one. With tears in his eyes, Bob told Wilson, "I am turning over to you Company 'B' and its men, the finest group of men that I have ever known." 

From his retirement until his death in 1972, Bob managed security for a major construction company. In May, 1982, Company "B" Captain Robert Austin Crowder was post-humously installed in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco.

Bob and I served in many places and witnessed many events during our years together. Though he was a good, church-going man who could make a fine talk on most any part of the Bible, he also loved to gamble, playing poker, gin rummy, dominoes, and "moon," and winning more often than he lost. 

One of the things I admired most about Bob was his strength of character and his ability to keep the Rangers out of matters that would only have reflected badly upon them. He had complete confidence in the men who worked for him, and he cared about them and their families as few supervisors do. He simply loved people as much as he loved his job and his life; he was firm, yet kind and flexible. I will always remember the Number One Man.



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Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2009 11:29