Snippet of History
The Panama Railroad

Ran Runnels

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From the beginning of the Panama Railroad's history, to its offices have been delegated unique and unusual activities, perhaps none so strange as the enforcement of law in those early days of lawlessness when New Granada was too weak and unstable to safeguard the property and maintain order.  Full power was given to the railroad by the government, and the railroad officials became the recognized police of the Isthmus.  That they were successful along this line was due to the fact that they employed an armed guard of forty men who were placed under the command of a Texas Ranger, Ran Runnels, who was famous in his day for daring and fierce exploits in the cause of order, and on the Isthmus he became a terror to a group of outlaws who infested the place.

A description of his personal appearance, as related by a writer who visited Panama when Runnels' word was law is interesting:

"The casual observer would not mark anything very formidable in the delicate organization of the bold Ran.  He is of short stature and of slightly-built frame.  His hand is small and looks better suited for a lady's kid glove than to handle a bowie knife or revolver.

"His boyish, well-combed head and delicate features indicate little of the daring spirit of the man, but there is a close resolute pressure of the lips, a commanding glance of the eye, a sinewy wiriness of the limbs, and an activity of movement, all of which are in character with his bold determination and lively energies.

"His guard of forty are not very impressive in appearance.  A military martinet might object to such a loose assortment of bravos of all colors, heights, and varieties of dress.  A bare-footed, coatless, harum-scarum looking set they are, and might easier pass for the forty thieves than that of honest guards.  However, with Ran Runnels at their head, they have cleared the isthmus of robbers and kept thousands of unruly laborers in wholesome subjection.

"Whipping, imprisonment, and shooting down in an emergency, have been liberally inflicted in the exercise of the powers delegated by the Governor of New Granada to the Company which has the power of life and death on the Isthmus, without appeal."

From:  Picturesque Panama by Jean Heald, 1928

February 20, 2000

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