lanky young ranger faced a choice that seemed worse than life or
death: Turn in his badge or lose the woman he loved.
Co. D Lt. Dan W. Roberts loved rangering as deeply as he cared for
his betrothed. He liked the freedom of riding the West Texas frontier,
scouting for hostile Indians and outlaws on the dodge, making camp
in one trouble spot until things settled down and then moving on
when all hell broke loose somewhere else. He liked the camaraderie
with the other rangers in his company, as sturdy a group of men
as he ever hoped to ride the river with. He liked the notion that
he was making Texas a safer place to live and work. And if he stayed
in the Rangers, he knew he soon would make captain.
Sitting around the camp fire at night, drinking coffee and pondering
his predicament as the other men told stories and pulled pranks
after a hard day, the lieutenant had just about decided to resign
his commission. The idea of giving up the prettiest girl in Columbus
left a heavier feeling in his stomach than the company cook's biscuits.
When Frontier Battalion Maj. John B. Jones rode into camp that August
day in 1875, he also had a problem -- one of his best officers leaned
toward submitting his resignation on account of a woman.
Well respected by his men and the grateful residents of Texas, Jones
took Roberts aside for a private parlay. Marriage was no reason
to end a promising ranger career, he said. He would approve a leave
of absence for as long as the lieutenant needed, and then he could
bring his new bride to the field with him.
ranger may have wondered if had heard right, but he took Jones up
on his offer. He had about decided to give up state service for
his bride-to-be. Now, thanks to the major, he could embark on a
new life as a married man without leaving the Rangers.
But after his initial elation wore off, the lieutenant worried anew.
He had cavalierly accepted the major's offer without consulting
his intended. What would she think about leaving the comforts of
home to camp beyond the edge of settlement, where Indians still
left arrow-studded bodies strewn around smoldering cabins and wagons,
and where outlaws felt they could do as they pleased, so long as
they could shoot better and ride faster than anyone who disagreed?
Nervously, Roberts saddled up and rode east to Columbus,
a town of stately ante-bellum homes shaded by ancient oaks and sweet-smelling
magnolias, a place where Indians had not been a danger for decades.
Meeting with his beautiful fiancée, who had never even ridden a
horse, the lieutenant outlined Jones’ offer.
had already told the ranger "yes" once, when he asked her to marry
him. She did not hesitate when she heard his second proposal.
thought that I was courageous; in fact, quite nervy to leave civilization
and go into Indian country," she recalled. "But it did not require
either; I was much in love with my gallant captain [actually, a
lieutenant at the time] and willing to share his fate wherever it
might be. Besides the romantic side of it appealed to me strongly.
I was thrilled with the idea of going to the frontier...."
The young couple got married Sept. 13, 1875 in
conductor on the Houston-to-Austin
line obligingly held the train at the depot until the ceremonies
ended so the newlyweds could leave immediately on their honeymoon--a
trip to Indian and outlaw country.
the newlyweds awaited the arrival of the rangers who would travel
with them back to their Menard County camp. Before the wedding,
the bride-to-be had sewn herself a riding habit after learning the
lieutenant had selected a horse for her. Now she busied herself
assembling the rest of the wardrobe she would need for frontier
Escorted by two well-armed rangers, “we set out on our bridal tour,"
she wrote. "I'm sure there was never a more delightful one, and
there can never be another just like it."
Before long, Roberts and his rangers waded into the so-called "Hoodoo
War," a feud born of cattle thievery and fanned by ethnic tension
between German settlers and Anglo ranchers then raging in Mason
County, 100 miles northwest of Austin.
The honeymooning lieutenant soon found himself helping the local
sheriff stand off a lynch mob outside the courthouse. At least a
dozen men died in the war before Roberts and his men settled things
down. Throughout it all, Luvenia hardly left her husband's side.
At first the couple lived in a white canvas tent with gunny sacks
spread on the ground for flooring. Eventually, Co. D got a second
tent and wood for real flooring. For winter camp, the rangers built
a log cookhouse with a canvas roof. Adding a touch of elegance to
an otherwise rustic setting, a brush fence with a whitewashed wooden
gate ringed the camp.
Her surroundings hardly what she was accustomed to, Mrs. Roberts
never complained. Her husband, freshly promoted to captain, taught
her to shoot and fish. Often, with the captain and most of his men
out on a scout, she stayed around camp with the remaining men, reading,
sewing, hunting or fishing. Occasionally, a female relative of one
of the other rangers visited camp, but the captain’s devoted wife
had little female companionship.
To fill the void, the rangers brought her pets and otherwise pampered
her, and she in turn "mothered" them. Ever the Southern gentlemen,
Maj. Jones occasionally sent her candy and fresh fruit, addressing
the box to "Assistant Commander, Company D."
That joke notwithstanding, in practicality, Mrs. Roberts did assume
some authority, particularly in her husband’s absence.
a year, Roberts resigned in September 1876. He offered no reason
other than he and Luvenia planned moving to Houston.
Fourteen months later, Jones again plied his persuasive skills on
Roberts, offering Roberts his old job back. Roberts took him up
on it, and by November was back in the saddle.
six years, Mrs. Roberts stayed in camp with her husband and his
men. Finally, on Oct. 12, 1881, after numerous scrapes with Indians
and outlaws, the captain resigned his commission and the couple
moved on to another frontier, New Mexico Territory.
Texas in 1914, they lived in San
Antonio for a time, then moved to Driftwood
in Hays County. In 1917, they relocated to Austin,
where they spent the rest of their lives.
into his 80s, Roberts still regaled friends and newspaper writers
with stories of his ranger days–if pressed. A quiet and unassuming
man, he died in Austin
on Feb. 6, 1935. Gov. James V. Allred ordered the Texas flag flown
at half-staff above the
capitol and approved Roberts’ burial in the State
“Though he sleeps,” the officiating pastor said, “he is not dead,
because when Captain Dan W. Roberts dies, all Texas
One of the few 19th century rangers who ever bothered to write a
memoir, in a way the captain did live on. His wife also wrote of
her experiences as a bride on the frontier.
"It was with regret I parted from the Ranger camp where I had spent
so many happy days," Mrs. Roberts wrote. "Camp life afforded many
pleasures, which, coupled with duty and a determination to serve
the people of Texas well and honestly, have caused us to treasure
the memory of those years."
© Mike Cox
- May 15, 2014 column
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