Joaquin Jacksonbecame the de facto face of the Texas Rangers when he appeared on a 1994 cover of Texas Monthly magazine shortly after he retired from law enforcement. Tall and slender with a gravelly voice and penetrating eyes, Jackson has since appeared in several films and penned two memoirs about his work with the Rangers. American Cowboy spoke with Jackson from his home in Alpine, Texas, to learn more.
You just got back from the set of Wild Horses, an upcoming film starring Robert Duvall. How did that go?
Great! We filmed over three weeks on some ranches and other locations in Utah, southwest of Salt Lake City. Robert Duvall wrote the screenplay, directed it, and stars in the film. His wife, Luciana, plays a female Texas Ranger working on a cold case murder investigation that she’s reopened. I play a retired Ranger, who’d worked on the case and gives her advice. Hank Whitman, who retired as Chief of the Rangers, plays her Ranger captain.
Tommy Lee Jones put you in front of a camera for the first time, is that correct?
After I retired from the Rangers, I did some work as a security coordinator on a few movies.Tommy Lee asked me to play the sheriff in TheGood Old Boys, and I said, ‘Tommy Lee, I’m not an actor. I just know lawmen.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s what I want you to play.’ It all comes down to what Bobby Duvall told me. He said: ‘Don’t worry about the acting. Just be yourself.’
It seems like the process of making a movie, writing a book, and investigating criminal cases are similar in the sense that there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work with short bursts of activity. Do you find that to be the case?
That’s true with any investigative unit. What you’re doing in between is working on cold cases or offenses that occurred that you need some more work on. We stayed pretty covered up all the time. Different departments would call with their needs—anywhere from a theft, assault, and robbery to homicides and kidnappings. Of course, all the worst felony offenses take priority over lesser ones, but I gave priority to all my investigations. That’s what I was hired to do, and that’s what I did.
Are there any cases that especially stand out in your mind?
There’s a lot that do—mainly the ones that I wrote about in both my books (One Ranger: A Memoir and One Ranger Returns). The one people ask me about is the river shooting along the Rio Grande. There’s been a couple of screenplays written about that, and it looked like it was going to be a go until I got word from the production company that Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road had just come out and they picked up on that instead.
How did you approach the writing process while working on your books?
I got with David Marion Wilkinson to help write the first one. He wrote Not Between Brothers, which is one of the best history books on Texas ever written, even though it’s fiction. It’s really a great book.
A lot of people, especially retired law enforcement officers, ask me how I remembered all those details. It’s not like I have a super memory or anything, but I did have all my weekly activity reports with brief descriptions of where I’d gone each day and what I’d done. I drew from those, as well as case and office reports, to refresh my memory and help tell my stories.
You became a Texas Ranger after serving in the Highway Patrol, correct?
Yes. I was in the Highway Patrol nine years when Ranger Capt. Alfred Y. Allee selected me to fill a vacancy in his company. When I came into service in 1966, there were 65 Rangers and six Ranger companies with about eight Rangers in each company.
They have more than 150 Rangers now, and these days everybody comes from DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) and there are written exams and interview boards. In the old days, Ranger captains handpicked their men like they did back when Rangers were doing Indian fighting.
I retired along with 16 or 17 other senior Rangers who retired at the same time; Oct. 1, 1993 was the official date. The Rangers are still a hell of an organization—the best law enforcement organization in the world, in my opinion. They’ve always managed to do a fine job in meeting the needs of the people, and still do.
How do you like to spend your days when you’re at home?
Most of the time Ms. Jewely and I go around doing things together. My youngest son lives here and we visit with him and his family. I also like going to gun shows.
I have a collection of Model 94 Winchester carbines that took me 30 years to put together. I carried a Winchester 94—a cut-off .30-30 caliber with a 16-inch barrel—under my feet all the time when I was a working Ranger. It’s a fantastic weapon. I had 71 carbines when I finished that collection; at least one for every year of manufacture from 1894 to 1964.
Do you still get out and shoot?
A friend of mine has a ranch outside of town and I’ll go out there and bust rocks, but I very seldom go out to a shooting range. I’m also on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association and have one more year to serve.
There’s a line in your first book that reads: “I was born too mean to hold onto a basketball scholarship; too tall to be a fighter pilot; too dumb to be a doctor and too damn late to be a cowboy.” Does that pretty well sum up your path to the Rangers?
That pretty well does it. I was born in a little farmhouse on my grandfather’s farm northwest of Lubbock up near Anton, Texas. The doctor drove out from Littlefield to deliver me, and they weighed me on an old-time cotton scale. They said I weighed over 10 pounds and the doctor said, ‘That’s enough.’
When I was a youngster, I worked on the Spade Ranch here in Texas and on the Bell Ranch in New Mexico. We worked off the wagon on the Bell, just like they did 200 years ago. That was quite an experience and something I’ll always remember.
After high school I went up to West Texas State in Canyon on a basketball scholarship and also went through Marine officer’s training in Quantico while I was still in college. I flew up to the Naval Air Station in Dallas and took the test to be a fighter pilot, but I flunked the physical part on account of being deaf to high-frequency sounds, so that was the end of my flying career.
I’ve done a lot of different things in my life, but the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is being a Ranger. I would have done that for nothing I enjoyed it so much.