Aten, Ira (1862–1953)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: October 2, 2018

Ira Aten, Texas Ranger and Panhandle lawman, the second of four sons of Austin C. and Kate (Dunlap) Aten, was born on September 3, 1862, in Cairo, Illinois. In 1876 the family moved to Texas, where Ira's father, a Methodist minister, rode circuit for his church. They settled on a farm near Round Rock. On July 20, 1878, Ira witnessed the death of Sam Bass and was inspired to become a lawman. He enlisted in the Texas Rangers and was assigned to Company D under Capt. Lamar P. Sieker, headquartered at Camp King, near Uvalde. Aten served in McCulloch, Brown, and Navarro counties before 1888. In the summer of 1887 he and John R. Hughes trailed and killed Judd Roberts. Aten served more than six years with the frontier battalion, during which time he attained the rank of sergeant. In August 1889 Governor Lawrence S. Ross sent him in charge of a ranger squad to quell the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County.

Aten and Imogen Boyce, a cousin of Albert G. Boyce, were married at the Central Christian Church in Austin on February 3, 1892, and afterward set up housekeeping at Aten's dugout ranchhouse near Dimmitt. They had three sons and two daughters. Citizens of Castro County, led by County Judge Lysius Gough, drafted Ira as sheriff in 1893. Imogen became the county jailer. By 1895 Aten had organized a ranch police force of some twenty cowboys armed with Winchester rifles. He stayed on for a time as division foreman and helped organize the first bank at Hereford, the new Deaf Smith county seat. In 1904, when the XIT Ranch began to break up, Aten moved his family to California, where they developed an irrigated farm and ranch. In 1923 Aten was elected to the Imperial Valley District board, which was concerned mainly with bringing water and electricity to the area by such means as Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal. During his later years Aten compiled the memoirs of his Wild West days, which were published in J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times magazine in 1945. At age ninety Aten still could ride and shoot straight. He was called the "last of the old Texas Rangers" when he died of pneumonia, on August 5, 1953, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery at El Centro.

Ira Aten, Six and One-Half Years in Ranger Service (Bandera, Texas: Frontier Times, 1945). Deaf Smith County: The Land and Its People (Hereford, Texas: Deaf Smith County Historical Society, 1982). J. Evetts Haley, The XIT Ranch of Texas and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado (Chicago: Lakeside, 1929; rpts., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953, 1967). Jack Martin, Border Boss (San Antonio: Naylor, 1942). 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).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Texas Rangers
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Aten, Ira,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
October 2, 2018