When the Border Patrol was first founded in 1924, the primary mode of transportation was by horseback. The Service provided a badge and revolver, but recruits furnished their own horse and saddle. Additionally, the Service provided oats and hay for the horses, along with a salary of $1,680 for the inspectors.
As funds became available, vehicles were provided along with classes on how to drive and maintain the vehicles. In the 1930s, vehicles with horse trailers became available, but the trend toward all vehicle operations became prevalent and horse patrol units became obsolete, only to be revived in the 1970s. The iconic sea foam green color was established in the 1950s, and remained the primary vehicle color until a new color scheme in 1995. With the move to the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, a new vehicle color scheme was adopted and for the first time in 55 years and Border Patrol emblem was not displayed on a Border Patrol vehicle.
Agents patrol the border in vehicles, boats, aircraft, and afoot. In some areas, the Border Patrol employs horses, all-terrain motorcycles, bicycles, and snowmobiles. Pictures of early vehicles, and some Border Patrol vehicles are on display in the museum.
The Border Patrol Museum features two different exhibits dedicated to the weapons. One exhibit features all duty carry weapons issued to Border Patrol Agents or Inspectors throughout its history. Initially, Patrol Inspectors were required to provide their own weapons, some of which are displayed in the Duty Carry exhibit. In this exhibit all known weapons issued to Border Patrol Officers are on display, with the exception of the Beretta 92D Model, the first semi-automatic hand gun issued to Agents, and the current model, which is a Hechler and Koch P200, .40 caliber. Also on display in this exhibit are most of the long guns issued to Border Patrol Inspectors or Agents throughout its 91-year history. A Colt AR-15, and a Thompson sub-machine gun are two examples of the long guns displayed.
The second exhibit in the Weapons Collections exhibit is the seized weapons exhibit. Included in this exhibit are various bladed weapons, saps, ice picks, and other hand weapons that were seized by Border Patrol Agents. The second part of the exhibit, showcases handguns and long guns seized from criminals. They include an AK-47, a Tec-9, an Uzi, modified shotguns, rifles and a homemade shotgun capable of firing a 12guage round. Above the exhibit, a sign reads, “awareness is survival” and serves as a reminder that the border can be a dangerous place. These guns are a definite testament to the dangers that the Border Patrol faces each and every day. At the same time, the Seized Weapons section is also a clear proof of the effectiveness and the dedication of the people who are doing this difficult and dangerous job.
Throughout the museum are various samples of Border Patrol uniforms worn throughout the years. When the Border Patrol was established in May of 1924, there was no money allocated for uniforms, an additional funding bill rectified this in December of 1924, and uniforms began being distributed throughout the service the following year. Early pictures of Border Patrolmen generally show them in dress uniform, as was mandated by policy. Rough duty uniforms did not begin to appear until the late 1940s, and early 1950.
Examples of those early rough duty uniforms as well as the better-known uniforms of the late fifties, through 2007 are also on display. In 2007 the Department of Homeland Security approved a change from the more police type uniform to a more useful and paramilitary style uniform. This rough duty uniform was made of lighter fatigue like rip-stop material and for the first time in Border Patrol history displayed a permanent additional patch beside the Border Patrol patch. The metal badge was replace with a cloth badge, and the leather pistol belt was changed to a ballistic nylon material with plastic buckles. The new uniform is also on display.
The Border Patrol Museum offers several exhibits pertaining to Border Patrol Operations. The Sign Cutting exhibit features a diorama explaining how sign cutting operations and tracking work to detect illegal entries into the United States. Additionally, the exhibit displays methods used by individuals to disguise their tracks in an effort to elude detection, and offers definitions to explain terminology used in tracking operations. Tracking has been an essential tool and skill learned and used by Agents since the inception of the Border Patrol.
The Transportation Check exhibit features two dioramas showing new checkpoints in the El Centro Sector. The new design contrasts sharply with pictures of earlier checkpoints used from the beginning of Border Patrol checkpoint operations. Also highlighted briefly are depictions of train check operations, which are some of the most dangerous operations performed by the Border Patrol.
The Horse Patrol operations exhibits explains the origins of the Horse Patrol , and display a variety of saddles and equipment used by Horse Patrol from its beginnings. Its use continues today because of the ability of horses to travel in terrain that wheeled vehicles can not go.
Flight Operations is another exhibit highlighted in the museum. On display is a Piper Super Cub aircraft, and a OH-6 helicopter, both of which have been decommissioned, but have a rich history in Border Patrol Operations. Additional pictures show a wide variety of aircraft flown by Border Patrol pilots and a history into the qualification of Border Patrol pilots and the change from fixed-wing aircraft to rotary wing aircraft.
In response to changing operational environments, the Border Patrol developed special units to respond to unique requirements. The BORTAC unit was developed as a tactical unit to respond to a variety of potentially dangerous situations worldwide. They have served in numerous countries overseas, helping countries develop their border control operations. They have performed rescue operations, and have helped put down prison riots and civil disturbances. Based in El Paso, Texas, they have one of the toughest qualifications courses in Federal law enforcement.
The BORSTAR unit was created in the 1990s as a response to increasing rescues of persons stranded in the deserts of the southwest. Operations in El Paso and San Diego Sectors closed entry points in urban areas and pushed illegal entrants to try entries in more remote areas. Few of these people were prepared for the dangers of the remotes deserts of the southern border, and many required rescues. The BORSTAR agents are also trained in swift water rescues, and mountain rescues.