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Texas Ranger
Dan W. Roberts

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

The lanky young ranger faced a choice that seemed worse than life or death: Turn in his badge or lose the woman he loved.

Unfortunately, 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.

The matrimonially-minded 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.

Luvenia Conway had already told the ranger "yes" once, when he asked her to marry him. She did not hesitate when she heard his second proposal.

"My friends 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...."

he young couple got married Sept. 13, 1875 in Columbus. The 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.

In Austin, 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 living.

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.

Married only 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.

For nearly 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.

Returning to 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.

Well 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 Cemetery.

“Though he sleeps,” the officiating pastor said, “he is not dead, because when Captain Dan W. Roberts dies, all Texas will die.”

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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