Thomas Rife left his home in the Mississippi Delta when he was fifteen years old and came to Texas in 1838. He served with Colonel Jack Hays during the Mexican War and in 1850 as a ranger under Captain William “Big Foot” Wallace. He served as a soldier in the 32nd regiment of the Texas Volunteer Cavalry and served as a scout for Captain Henry Skillman in the American Civil War. After a career as a stagecoach conductor in West Texas, he served as a San Antonio policeman.
Upon retiring, he was appointed by the mayor as the first “Keeper” of the Alamo. Rife was an outspoken amateur historian who took an active role in preserving the Alamo chapel and it's important legacy for nine years until his death in 1894.