A Google search of “legendary Texas lawmen” quickly takes one to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco.
It turns out there was a real-life “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Samuel H. Walker was a captain in the Texas Rangers in the early 1800s. He served in both the American Indian and Mexican-American Wars and was killed at the age of 30 leading troops in the Battle of Huanmantla against the Mexican troops of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Walker County, Texas, was renamed in Samuel Walker’s honor after its original namesake, Robert J. Walker, a U.S. senator from Mississippi who was an ardent supporter for the recognition of the Republic of Texas in 1837, sided with the Union during the Civil War.
Robert E. “Bob” Wiatt was no Texas Ranger, but he is easily the most legendary lawman in the annals of College Station history.
For 22 years, from 1982 to 2004, Wiatt was director of security and police at Texas A&M University.
He was named a “Legend of Aggieland” in 2000 for his service to the college, but it was in his 30 years as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Wiatt made his crime-stopping mark.
“He was incredible, a bigger-than-life person,” says Chris Kirk, who has served Brazos County as its sheriff for more than 20 years, “but he was also one of the most magnanimous people you’d ever meet.
“It was easy to tell where his heart was in the volunteer work that he continued to do after his retirement from A&M.”
In both his law-enforcement duties and his later civic life, Wiatt worked with Scotty’s House, the Brazos Valley Child Advocacy Center; the Sexual Assault Resource Center; and other local agencies endeavoring to help those in need.
The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Law Enforcement Physical Skills Training Complex at the RELLIS Campus is named in Wiatt’s honor.
“I met Bob at the Training Complex numerous times,” Kirk says. “He was incredibly fit. Along with his eye patch”—said to have covered an eye damaged while lifting weights—“he was best known for his level of fitness.
“Even in his later years, if you touched him on the shoulder, he was rock hard and he continued to work out his whole life.”
According to Kirk, Wiatt kept him in law enforcement at a time when Kirk had been doubting his calling. Kyle McNew is another local lawman who decided to become a peace officer, due to the shining example that Wiatt set.
“Growing up as a kid, I looked at Bob Wiatt as THE tough guy,” McNew says.
Bob Wiatt’s son, Jeff, was one of McNew’s closest friends growing up.
“Whenever I was at Jeff’s house and Bob would come home from work, he’d head straight for the garage and lift weights for a couple hours. He’d come out dripping with sweat and then go for a long run.
“I was scared to death of the guy.”
After quitting college and bouncing from job to job, McNew says it was Wiatt’s example that turned him toward law enforcement.
Today, McNew serves as a director in the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Law Enforcement Training Program. His office is next door to the Wiatt building, where a trophy case displays many of the mementos from Wiatt’s illustrious career.
Bob Wiatt grew up in Cincinnati. After graduation from high school at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and saw combat in the Pacific Theater of World War II. After the war, Wiatt returned home and attended the University of Cincinnati where he played football under the legendary coach Sid Gillman.
After college, Wiatt earned a law degree with his sights set on joining the FBI. He did so in 1951 and worked as an agent in numerous locations before being assigned to Bryan, Texas. It was there that Wiatt earned the nickname “Mr. FBI.”
As a special agent, Wiatt was involved in the investigation of the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy in Dallas. In 1969, he was instrumental in freeing a kidnapped Texas State Trooper, an event which inspired Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length motion picture, The Sugarland Express.
In 1974, in perhaps his most famous accomplishment as a lawman, Wiatt was called upon to help end an 11-day prison siege in Huntsville, Texas. In the gunfight which brought the hostage crisis to a close—the lengthiest of its kind in U.S. history—Wiatt was shot three times. His life was spared by a bullet-proof vest.
After retirement from the FBI, Bob Wiatt turned his attention to helping young peace officers get a good start in their law-enforcement careers.
“Bob served as a primary instructor during the academy I attended at the Riverside (now RELLIS) Campus,” said Elmer Schneider, who succeeded Wiatt as Texas A&M police chief.
“Bob did it all. He delivered not only firearms training, but several other basic investigative modules crucial to new-officer training.”
When A&M President Frank Vandiver first hired Wiatt as his head of university security, he knew he was getting a superstar. Vandiver told Wiatt he wanted a crackdown on the school’s parking offenders. With no task too small to gain Wiatt’s attention, in the ensuing months his department issued Vandiver himself three citations for parking in an unauthorized area.
Vandiver is said to have paid the fines with great enthusiasm.
In a ceremony marking Wiatt’s 50th year in law enforcement, his second A&M boss, President Ray Bowen, said, “He was never reluctant to put himself in harm’s way.”
At no time was that more apparent than during his work helping to supervise security at the site of the Aggie Bonfire collapse in November 1999. Of that incident, Wiatt said, “It probably hit me harder than any other single event in my career.”
He went on to praise those who responded to the calamity.
“From healers to businesses, the community can be proud of its people,” Wiatt said. “No one has a magic formula on how to get through such a horrific tragedy. Sometimes all you can do is put your arms around each other and cry.”
Bob Wiatt died on August 13, 2010, just three days after his 84th birthday. He was 78 years old when he stepped down as head of A&M’s security.
“He understood what it took to be successful here,” Bowen said of Wiatt. “He understood that without rejecting his previous experience.
“You’re here to help people, not just punish criminals. I’ve known a lot of police officers who had a hard time adapting to that,” Bowen added.