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Wright, William Lee (1868–1942)

Harold J. Weiss, Jr. Biography Entry

William Lee (Will) Wright, famed captain of the Texas Rangers and sheriff of Wilson County, son of L. B. Wright and Ann Tumlinson, was born in Lockhart, Texas, on February 19, 1868. He moved to DeWitt County with his family; later he moved to Wilson County. Wright participated in the transition of the Texas Rangers from their horseback era in the early 1900s to the modern rangers of the Texas Department of Public Safety after 1935. Four rangers-the "Big Four"-had an enormous impact on this change: M. T. (Lone Wolf) Gonzaullas, F. A. (Frank) Hamer, Thomas R. Hickman, and Wright. Wright's belief that there should be less political interference and patronage in ranger affairs became one of the axioms of the new order. A talkative, bespectacled man who resembled Theodore Roosevelt, Wright took part in ranger operations in an intermittent way for nearly four decades. In his early life he became a cowboy on the Eckhardt Ranch in DeWitt County and the Rutledge Ranch in Karnes County. He served as a justice of the peace and in 1892 as a deputy sheriff of Wilson County. Then in 1898 Wright joined the Texas Rangers and ultimately became part of the company commanded by John M. Rogers. In 1902 he left the rangers and was elected sheriff of Wilson County. He was later elected president of the Texas Sheriffs' Association. He served in this post for fifteen years. In 1917 Governor William P. Hobby appointed Wright a ranger captain. He served in this capacity, except for a period of time between 1925 and 1927, until the end of the administration of Governor Ross S. Sterling in the early 1930s. Wright, called el capitán diablo (the devil captain), and the rangers under his command guarded the border during World War I, intervened in the railroad strikes of 1922, chased liquor smugglers, and brought law and order to such oil boom towns as Wink. Wright rejoined the rangers in 1935, served during the era of the Department of Public Safety, and left the service in 1939. So many relatives of Wright joined the Texas Rangers that they came be called, as one writer noted, "The Wright Family Rangers." Wright married Mary Ann (Molly) Brown in 1892; they had one daughter and six sons, two of whom were Texas Rangers. Milam H. Wright, a brother, also became a well-known ranger. Will Wright died on March 7, 1942, in Floresville.

Ben H. Procter, Just One Riot: Episodes of Texas Rangers in the 20th Century (Austin: Eakin Press, 1991). William Warren Sterling, Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968). Walter Prescott Webb Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Sheriffs
  • Texas Rangers

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s

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

Harold J. Weiss, Jr., “Wright, William Lee,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 31, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.