Aten, Edwin Dunlap (1870–1953)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Edwin Dunlap Aten, Texas Ranger, the youngest son of Austin C. and Kate (Dunlap) Aten, was born on September 5, 1870, in Abingdon, Illinois. Despite his upbringing, Aten soon developed a rowdy streak and became dissatisfied with farm life. His concerned parents in 1890 sent him to the Panhandle, where he could be under the watchful eye of his former ranger brother Ira Aten, foreman of the Escarbada Division of the XIT Ranch. Although he worked diligently as a cowhand for the XIT Ranch, Ed Aten came to love poker and was involved in various incidents in saloons, climaxed by his shooting of a man in a quarrel over a card game. Ira immediately wrote his former commander, Frank Jones, with the intention of having Ed enlist in Company D of the Frontier Battalion as soon as a vacancy occurred. Although not enthusiastic at first about the prospect, Edwin joined the Texas Rangers on September 16, 1892, and began service with his brother's old company, then stationed at Alpine.

He soon became a dedicated member of the ranger company. In June 1893 he was part of the four-man posse that accompanied Captain Jones in pursuit of outlaws near San Elizario. In the resultant gunfight at Pirates' Island on June 30 Jones was killed. Afterward Aten continued his service under Capt. John R. Hughes, who succeeded Jones as commander of Company D. Aten married Elena BenavĂ­dez, who was from a prominent Ysleta family. The marriage ended in divorce after their daughter died.

During his tenure as a ranger, Aten saw duty at several frontier towns, including Marathon, Pecos, and Alpine. He helped settle the railroad strike at Temple in 1894 and for two years did guard service on the Southern Pacific line between El Paso and Del Rio because of the numerous train robberies reported. By the time he submitted his resignation on July 6, 1898, due to an illness, he had risen to the rank of sergeant. Thereafter he returned to the rangers periodically to do undercover work in Texas and Mexico.

Following his ranger service, Aten briefly ran a saloon and gambling hall in El Paso. He then moved to Shafter, where he dealt faro and tended the bar in Ike Herrin's saloon, which he later purchased. In 1906, however, he returned to El Paso and became a special officer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. On February 20, 1915, he married Gertrude Bacus Aiello, a widow from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Both Ed and Ira, along with John Hughes and Ed Bryant, were present for the unveiling of a monument to Frank Jones on May 12, 1938. Ed Aten retained his position with the railroad until his retirement in 1947. Like his brother Ira, he had a legendary reputation as a lawman. He died on January 31, 1953, and was buried in Rest Lawn Cemetery, El Paso.

Harold Preece, Lone Star Man (New York: Hastings House, 1960). Robert W. Stephens, Texas Ranger Sketches (Dallas, 1972). Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Aten, Edwin Dunlap,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994