Tom White is a sheriff’s son—his father Emmett was in charge of the county jail in Austin, and White grew up in a building adjacent to the jail. He saw many bloody and disturbing sights as a child as a result of his father’s profession, and yet learned from his father—an even-tempered man dedicated to pure justice and equality for all prisoners—an even-headed disposition and a burning desire to know why his father’s prisoners did what they did.
Tom White has, since childhood, been veritably obsessed with truth, justice, and the fractures, impulses, and desires which comprise human nature.
The young Tom White knew how dangerous his father’s profession was, and often feared that his father would lose his life to senseless violence. Tom once saw his father get stabbed, and also witnessed his father carry out a hanging of the first time in 1894, when Tom was a boy of just eleven—the man his father hanged was a nineteen-year-old African-American who was, in all likelihood, wrongly convicted. As a result of the painful things he saw in his childhood, Tom grew up to oppose “judicial homicide,” and came to see the law “as a struggle to subdue the violent passions not only in others but also in oneself.”
Even though as a youngster Tom White was exposed to violence, cruelty, and danger, he did not shy away from it as he came of age—rather, he sought to follow in his father’s footsteps, honoring his legacy but improving upon the ways in which justice was served.
White joined the Texas Rangers in 1905 at the age of twenty-four. He worked for a meager salary but felt a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood on the force. He learned the ins and outs of what it meant to be a lawman from older Ranger and developed a knack for dealing with rascals in particular: cow rustlers, horse thieves, stagecoach robbers, and other desperadoes of the Wild West. Texas Rangers were, for all their bravado, not very skilled investigators, and often worked without evidence or facts.
Though White was a member of a force not necessarily renowned for its investigative skilled, he learned a lot of other things on the ground—and secured a wealth of experience that now serves him well as he shakes down the baddest of the bad.
In 1909, after the death of a fellow Ranger, Tom White settled down, married, and left the force for good. He worked as a railroad detective, finding the work less dangerous but also much less fulfilling, and in 1917, he took the oath to become a special agent of the Bureau of Investigation. In 1918, Tom’s brother Dudley—also a Texas Ranger—was killed in a shootout. Tom returned home to Texas to bury his brother, but quickly returned to the Bureau.
White narrowly escaped a dangerous life and perhaps even a tragic fate—but the desire to uphold the law, bring truth to light, and make criminals face justice pushed him back into the business despite the risks.