The Rangers

WILLIAM O. DARBY came from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the town where the American West begins. In the nineteenth century it was literally a fort, the last outpost before Indian territory. Even now, leaving Fort Smith means leaving the United States and entering the Cherokee nation, which encompasses much of Oklahoma. Here they revere Chief Sequoia not George Washington as the father of the nation and have a system of government based on laws that long preceded the US Constitution.

An amalgam of the South and the Mid-West poised on the borders of Indian territory, Fort Smith's natural beauty and quiet Norman Rockwell ambience coexists with evidence of its frontier past. The gallows, where outlaws and gun fighters were executed, stands in the town square. Historical makers remind passersby: "Here ended the trail of tears" - the route taken by the Cherokee nation when the US Army, under the command of Andrew Jackson, drove them from their home territory in eastern Georgia and the Carolinas into the dry expanses of the Western wilderness. Place names mark their passing.

His Fort Smith upbringing would inform Darby's life, and perhaps explain why this young, inexperienced officer was able to create one of the most celebrated units of the Second World War.

The idea of the Rangers was unconventional for the US Army. The very name chosen harks back to an earlier time in American history. The Rangers were American colonists who fought in pre-Revolutionary Indian wars. As Colonel Robert W. Black points out in his article on the history of the American Rangers, they came into existence "in response to the challenges that were far different from those faced in the old world during the seventeenth century". The biggest difference, he says, was "the rigidness of the terrain and the enemy".

The American Indian did not conceive of war as a long campaign of manoeuvere, and he despised pitched battles. Hardened by his environment, accustomed to travelling great distances on foot, he was more inclined to use stealth and reconnaissance to select his objective, than execute a swift and devastating raid that employed terror to maximum advantage. European tactics and methods were useless against this combination of terrain and enemy. Survival dictated the need for new methods. Small groups of men began to move out from the settlements to scout the surrounding territory for signs of enemy movement and to provide early warning. Reports of these groups include words such as: "This day, ranged nine miles". Thus, the "Ranger" was born.
Colonel Robert W. Black