As he is often referred to as the “Original Texas Ranger,” it is commonly assumed that Tex Owens was an original member of the Texas Rangers, a western music group from the Kansas City-based radio station KMBC who became nationally recognized stars in the 1930s and 1940s.
Understandably, it is easy to make that assumption when programs featuring the Texas Rangers such as “Life on Red Horse Ranch” featured Tex and his serenading of the “dogies” in nearly every episode. However, the Texas Rangers radio program, hosted by Hiram Higsby, never referred to Tex as a member but rather as a special guest. So what was it? Was Tex Owens the “Original Texas Ranger” or was he an associated act? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
Thankfully, due to a recent discovery in the LaBudde Special Collections here at UMKC, we can learn more about this question. Tex Owens, at least according to the Texas Rangers, was not a member of the group, but rather a popular musical affiliate. In January 1939, Governor James Allred of Texas planned to honor the members of the group–Tex Owens included–by declaring them Honorary Texas Rangers during a radio broadcast. This inclusion of Tex in the honor was not well-received by the Rangers and their jug and bass player Clarence Hartman sent an internal memo on behalf of the group to Stuart Eggleston, a member of Arthur B. Church’s senior staff, expressing their frustrations. Hartman opened the letter by stating that the Texas Rangers were disappointed that the honor was being shared by “someone whom [they considered] entirely outside [of their] group.” He also added that they, and the listeners, felt that Tex hadn’t “added anything” to the broadcasts, and that it was unfair to the other Rangers to promote him as a member of the group.
The next paragraph is particularly interesting, as Hartman claimed that on a number of occasions Tex made damaging statements about the Rangers to people outside of the group. On one occasion, Hartman stated that following a poor radio performance by Tex he overheard Tex telling two other employees that none of the Rangers would help him improve, an allegation which Hartman flatly denied. Lastly, Hartman clarified Tex’s member status by adding that the “old timers” at the station asserted that Tex “never, at any time, has been a member of the Texas Ranger group.” Tex himself made that claim to membership, according to Hartman, and any doubts of these facts should be conferred with Gomer Cool, the Rangers’ violinist who had been a long-time employee of KMBC.
How was this letter received, you ask? Luckily, we know that too. We can assume that in the business of radio, Arthur B. Church made his decisions based on what would attract the most sponsors and listeners, and as the honoring of the Rangers was surely broadcasted over a vast audience, the matter had to be handled delicately. Church’s remark, penciled at the bottom of Hartman’s memo, demonstrated an unwillingness to ruffle feathers, as well as an assurance that all decisions were going to be made for the benefit of the station regardless of the feelings of individual members:
Stu — It is my feeling that the group has nothing to lose by having Tex included, and it means as much to him as to any person in the group; and even more important[ly] — is valuable to KMBC. — ABC, 1/10/39
Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student