Rangers return: Volunteer officers bring back Old West

Members of the Arizona Rangers Tombstone Company pose for a picture before starting foot and mounted patrol down historic Allen Street. From left to right: Duty Sgt. Dan Fischer, Lt. Mike Gross, Ranger Jim Politi, Ranger Geno D'Ambrose, Maj. Kenn Barrett. (Photo by: David Mariotte/ Tombstone Epitaph)
Members of the Arizona Rangers Tombstone Company gather before starting foot-and-mounted patrols down historic Allen Street. From left: Duty Sgt. Dan Fischer, Lt. Mike Gross, Ranger Jim Politi, Ranger Geno D’Ambrose, Maj. Kenn Barrett. (Photo by David Mariotte/ Arizona Sonora News)

Rounding the wooden barricade outside the Bird Cage Theater, the ranger stopped mid-strut at a call for assistance.

“We’re stuck,” said a man in his 40s, motioning across the street to his gold SUV blocked in by cars, trucks and motorcycles on all sides.

The ranger, Duty Sgt. Dan Fischer, and partner Jim Politi quickly crossed the street to inspect the situation. Fischer joked that the man should just drive straight over the motorcycle to get out and flashed a big smile under his grayed mustache.

The rangers laughed, as Fischer stepped aside to radio the Tombstone Marshal’s Office. A minute later, red and blue lights flashing, Deputy Marshal Chris Robison pulled up to the scene and ordered the owners of two trucks behind the SUV to move their vehicles.

Problem solved. Fischer and Politi resumed their four-block foot patrol.

“And that’s how it works with the Marshal’s Office,” Fischer said. “We’re their eyes and ears.”

Duty Sgt. Dan Fischer of the Arizona Rangers poses with a tourist outside the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. "It's part of the ambiance of the town," Fischer said. (Photo by: David Mariotte/ Tombstone Epitaph)
Duty Sgt. Dan Fischer of the Arizona Rangers poses with a tourist outside the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. “It’s part of the ambiance of the town,” Fischer said. (Photo by: David Mariotte/Arizona Sonora News)

Historical Hiccups   

Fischer, 64, and Politi, 71, were on patrol as part of the Tombstone Company of the Arizona Rangers.

The Arizona Rangers, a statewide group of volunteers, provide law enforcement assistance and community support — and keep the traditions of the Old West alive. The Tombstone Company, founded in August 2015, was the 19th to join the modern incarnation of the Arizona Rangers.

Originally, the Arizona Rangers were known as the Arizona Territorial Rangers and operated from 1860 to 1861. Although the Rangers started as a group to defend against Apache raids, according to the Arizona Rangers website, they disbanded early on in response to the Civil War.

In April 1882, the original Tombstone Company formed to fill a void in law enforcement following the departure of the Earps after the shootout at the O.K. Corral, company Maj. Kenn Barrett said. The group folded after only one month, however, because of a lack of funding, he said.

Finally, in 1901, the Arizona Rangers received startup funding from Congress and helped clean up the Arizona Territory in preparation of the 1912 statehood. Ultimately 107 rangers would serve between 1901 and 1909 before being disbanded again.

The idea of Arizona Rangers went dormant until 1957. Surviving rangers from the turn of the century company joined with new recruits to keep the spirit of the original rangers alive. They are the modern incarnation. In 2002, the Arizona Rangers were given official recognition by the state, authorizing them to exist as a volunteer, nonprofit, unpaid, law enforcement assistance organization.

Tombstone Traditions

Dressed in all-black cowboy hats, sunglasses, dress shirts, ties and protective vests, Fischer and Politi patrolled the tourist district of Tombstone. The two men sauntered easily up Allen Street, despite wind trying to knock off their hats, up to Sixth Street and back down to Third.

Outside the Chamber of Commerce, just around the corner from the Arizona Rangers’ office, another man came up to Fischer.

“Can I get a picture with you?” he asked.

Fischer agreed, whisking off his sunglasses.

As the man wandered off, Fischer paused. “Anything we can do to make their stay a little more enjoyable,” he said. “Take a picture, something like that. It’s part of the ambiance of the town.”

The rangers’ style reflects the town’s ambiance. From the cowboy hats to the horse-mounted unit; from the bushy handlebar mustaches to the hint of a lawman’s swagger, the rangers are determined to keep the Old West alive. According to Barrett, it is one of the rangers’ four duties to preserve history.

Ranger Jim Politi of the Arizona Rangers Tombstone Company pauses to admire a new train window display on Allen Street. The foot patrol rangers like to check in on shopkeepers to make sure nothing is amiss in the town. (Photo by: David Mariotte/ Tombstone Epitaph)
Ranger Jim Politi of the Arizona Rangers Tombstone Company pauses to admire a new train window display on Allen Street. The foot patrol checks in on shopkeepers to make sure nothing is amiss in the town. (Photo by: David Mariotte/Arizona Sonora News)

Modern Members

Tombstone Company has 23 rangers, including Fischer, Politi, Barrett and Lilla DeLuca, the commander. According to Fischer, members are often out three or four times a week, with heavier shifts during special events.

The Tombstone Marshal’s Office contacts the rangers when it needs assistance. The rangers themselves do not have any specialized law enforcement or investigative powers, laid out in the 2002 law.

However, many of the rangers have significant training, with Barrett a previous town marshal and Fischer part of the Marshal Assist Team, which disbanded before the rangers officially settled.

Rangers are asked to attend two monthly meetings. The first acts as a business meeting on the first Sunday of the month. The other, held on the third Sunday, is a training day. Since rangers carry guns, batons, handcuffs and pepper spray, they must be trained and certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Although their powers may be limited, the Arizona Rangers do what they can. Rangers frequently may be found directing tourists to restrooms, checking in on business owners or conferring with the nearest marshal.

More information on the Tombstone Company and the Arizona Rangers can be found at the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce, 109 S. Fourth St., where the rangers are stationed. An Arizona Rangers museum, one of two in the state, is located there.

David Mariotte is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at dwmariotte22@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for high-resolution photos. 

One comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.