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ROBERTS, DANIEL WEBSTER

ROBERTS, DANIEL WEBSTER (1841–1935). Daniel Webster Roberts, Texas Ranger, was born in Winston County, Mississippi, on October 10, 1841, one of the eight children of Alexander (Buck) and Sabra Roberts. In his later years he remarked, "father followed up the frontier, and I was reared, and almost rocked in the cradle of Texas warfare." In 1836 the family made the first of its three moves to Texas. Thinking the frontier unsafe, Mrs. Roberts insisted in 1839 that the family return to Mississippi. Alexander and his brother Jeremiah remained in Texas, however, and fought at the battle of Plum Creek under Mathew Caldwell in August 1840. Alexander Roberts returned to Mississippi soon thereafter. Over his wife's protests, the family returned to Texas in 1843 and settled near Round Mountain, a Blanco County community some fifty miles west of Austin. With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846 the family returned once again to Mississippi but returned in 1855 to Blanco County, where Mrs. Roberts died in July, soon after reaching Cole Creek; she is said to have been the first pioneer buried in that section of Blanco County. Between 1856 and 1863 the family lived in Blanco, Gillespie, and Llano counties. Alexander Roberts married for a second time and had six more children.

Roberts grew to tall and slim manhood and quickly became a veteran of border warfare. The "constant raids of savage foes upon Texas," he later wrote, gave to him and his friends "the field that our more youthful days had pictured for us." At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined Capt. W. H. Perry's company of mounted rifles in the Twenty-sixth brigade of the Texas Militia and served as a scout against Indian raiders in the Devil's River region. His father is said to have joined the Union army as a captain. On February 26, 1862, Roberts enlisted as a private in Company K of Col. Peter C. Woods's Thirty-sixth Texas Cavalry regiment; he deserted with many other members of his company on February 2, 1864, when the regiment was dismounted. His first recorded Indian fight came in August 1873 when he, with his brother George T. Roberts and eight other settlers from Round Mountain, pursued a band of raiding Comanches. "All of us were young men," Roberts remarked, "but we were seasoned plainsmen inured to the hardships of life on the frontier. We knew how to ride hard and shoot straight." George was severely wounded in the battle of Deer Creek, and Dan was shot through the left thigh. The hard-pressed boys were reinforced by Cicero R. (Rufe) Perryqv, but the Indians escaped. Each of the group was awarded a coveted Model 1873 Winchester rifle for his service in the fight. In May 1874 Richard Coke, the first Democratic governor after Reconstruction, recommended to the legislature the formation of a battalion of six companies of seventy-five Texas Rangersqv each to patrol the Texas frontier from Jacksboro to the Rio Grande. The Frontier Battalion was to be commanded by Maj. John B. Jones. Roberts did not apply to enlist in the new battalion, since he planned to move instead to New Mexico, where he had spent some time previously; but on May 10 he met Rufe Perry, a close personal friend and army comrade, near the Capitol in Austin and received from him a commission as second lieutenant of Company D. James B. Gillett was appointed sergeant of the company. According to Roberts, however, officer's rank meant little to the rangers, for "They were all `generals.' When we detailed a man to go anywhere to make an arrest or do any particular work, we didn't need to send another man with him to tell him what to do." By August the company was camped on the San Saba River twenty miles south of Fort McKavett, where it experienced the first of its many Indian fights. In addition to its strictly military duties, the company assisted civil officers in the enforcement of law on the frontier and became, in Roberts's words, the courts' "certain dependence." Thus Roberts and his fellow rangers took part in the Mason County War. The ranger company also cooperated with the United States Army, not only in fighting Indians but in surveying and building a military road from Fort McKavett to Fort Stockton. Generally the rangers held "soldier boys" in contempt, but Roberts found Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie of the Fourth United States Cavalry to be "a born fighter" and one of the very few regular army officers who "got out of the Rip Van Winkle column." When Perry resigned from ranger service in 1875, he recommended Roberts to command the company. With the rank of first lieutenant, Roberts led his men on campaigns in Kimble, Mason, and Menard counties and followed Indian raiders onto the Llano Estacado.

Roberts married Luvenia Conway (see ROBERTS, LUVENIA C.) of Columbus, Texas, on September 13, 1875, and intended to resign from the rangers, but Major Jones persuaded him to bring his bride into the company. She "knew comparatively little about the frontier," Roberts remarked, but he proposed that they make their lives together in the rangers' camp, and "happily, she agreed to the programme, and appeared to think it the climax of all the romance she had ever indulged in." In 1878 Roberts resigned the command of Company D and moved to Houston. The company then came under the command of Lt. Frank Moore, but with trouble on the border Roberts was reinstated to command and promoted to captain with an increase in pay from $225 to $300 per quarter. He moved his headquarters to Laredo. There the company patrolled the Rio Grande from Carrizo to Roma; they executed at least one extralegal border crossing to arrest outlaws. The company returned to Uvalde County where times were quiet enough that Roberts "could afford to go fishing" until June 25, 1880, when Fort Stockton and Fort Davis, despite the presence of army garrisons, were sacked by bandits. Roberts's company was moved beyond the Pecos, where it arrested stage robbers and stock thieves and "put the border counties safely in the hands of their civil officers." In the fall of 1882 Roberts again resigned from ranger service and, in deference to his wife's health, moved to Nogales, New Mexico, then a raw gold-mining community. There the couple lived for thirty years, and Roberts worked as a stock raiser and miner. There, too, the childless couple adopted Lillie Roberts, who later became the wife of Governor J. F. Hinkle of New Mexico, and her brother Fred, both the children of Roberts's brother, George. Dan and Luvenia Roberts at last returned to Austin "to pass the remainder of our days in our beloved State." At the age of ninety-three, Captain Roberts suffered a fracture of his left shoulder. The fracture developed into pneumonia, from which he died in his Austin home on February 6, 1935. He is buried in the State Cemetery. In eulogy the pastor pronounced Roberts "a diamond in the rough, [who] though he sleeps is not dead, because when Captain Dan W. Roberts dies, all Texas will die." Roberts's autobiography, Rangers and Sovereignty, published in 1914, tells the exciting tale of his ranger service in a forthright and blunt style. The book details the social life of the rangers, their relations with frontier society, their food, dress, and entertainment. Luvenia Roberts's memoir, A Woman's Reminiscences of Six Years in Camp with the Texas Rangers (1928?), complements her husband's book in showing the life of the Texas Rangers in the 1870s and 1880s, the twilight years of the heroic Texas past.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Carl L. Duaine, The Dead Men Wore Boots: An Account of the Thirty-Second Texas Volunteer Cavalry, CSA, 1862–1865 (Austin: San Felipe, 1966). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Thomas W. Cutrer

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Thomas W. Cutrer, "ROBERTS, DANIEL WEBSTER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fro11), accessed September 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.