Texas Ranger Ira Aten, one of the last survivors of the days of the Wild West, dies at his home in Burlingame, California. He was 89 years old.
Born in 1862, Aten was among the final generation of Americans who had a chance to come of age on a wilderness frontier. Aten was introduced to the frontier at the age of 13, when his family moved to a farm near the isolated central Texas town of Round Rock. Not long after, he learned about the hard justice of the frontier when his father, a minister, provided the last rites for a mortally wounded outlaw. Aten was determined to survive in a violent world–he honed his skills with a pistol and became a crack shot with a rifle.
At age 20, Aten joined the Texas Rangers, a band of law enforcement officers created during the Texas Revolution of 1835. He had the hazardous job of patrolling the Rio Grande River, where many bands of cattle thieves and other outlaws crossed to hide in Mexico. In May 1884, Aten and six other Rangers spotted two presumed cattle thieves near the Rio Grande. When the Rangers tried to apprehend the men, a gun battle broke out. Several of the Rangers were wounded, one fatally, but Aten was able to injure the two outlaws and take them prisoner.
Promoted to corporal, Aten was reassigned to west central Texas, a region that was no more peaceful. In 1887, Aten confronted an outlaw named Judd Roberts. Aten shot Roberts in the hand, but the outlaw managed to escape. Two months later, Aten again wounded Roberts, but the outlaw again lived to escape. Finally, Aten caught up with Roberts, this time shooting him dead.
In 1889, Aten left the Rangers to become sheriff of Fort Ben County, Texas. During six years as a sheriff, he continued to track down outlaws and fight more than a few gun battles. Aten always came out ahead, but eventually he began to yearn for a safer and more peaceful life. In 1895, he left law enforcement to become the superintendent of the Escarbada Division of the giant XIT Ranch. Nine years later, he finally left the wilds of Texas and settled in California with his wife and five children. He lived the remainder of his long life in relative peace and quiet. He died on this day in 1953, one of the last survivors of a vanished era.