By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The Texas Rangers, the nearly 200-year-old law enforcement agency known for white cowboy hats and silver star badges, has named its first female lieutenant, officials said on Friday.
Wende Wakeman started with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which includes the Rangers, as a Highway Patrol trooper in 1998. She has been a Ranger since 2008, and as of Aug. 1 will be the highest-ranking female in Ranger history.
A 1993 order by Governor Ann Richards first allowed women into the force. The change was met with widespread derision, and many veteran Rangers retired in protest.
Historian Mike Cox, who has written a book about the Rangers, says Wakeman's promotion shows how it has become a 21st century law enforcement agency that values training and police expertise more than the macho "campfire" virtues of the past.
"There's a saying in Texas - 'Sam Houston made us free and Sam Colt made us equal,'" Cox said, referring to an early Texas statesman and an early maker of revolvers, respectively. "All those women rangers are well trained, and they know how to take care of business."
The Rangers, created in 1823, is North America's oldest law enforcement body. A Ranger is credited with stopping the assassinations of U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in El Paso in 1909.
Despite their "Old West" image, the Texas Rangers constitute the state's elite law enforcement agency, called in to help local police forces with complicated cases. They also work on cases involving political or police corruption and misconduct, when local authorities might be compromised.
Wakeman said the Rangers are a "modern day police force," and she doesn't see her promotion as a big deal. She will command a Ranger detachment in Laredo, on the Texas-Mexico border.
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Walsh)