Ritter, Van Buren (1839–1916)

By: Brooke Wibracht

Type: Biography

Published: December 16, 2013

Van Buren Ritter, legislator, Civil War veteran, justice of the peace, county commissioner, and farmer, son of Louis and Elizabeth (Coltrain) Ritter, was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, on July 17, 1839. Ritter’s mother died before 1850, and his father married Martha Carr in November 1850. In 1856 Ritter’s family moved to Sevier County, Arkansas.

According to Confederate service records and Ritter’s own account on his Confederate pension application, he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private in Company K, Twenty-seventh Texas Cavalry (also known as Whitfield's Legion or the First Texas Legion). Records of the War Department show that he enlisted on March 20, 1862, in Polk County, Arkansas. In Whitfield’s Legion, he fought at the battles of Iuka and Corinth. He was captured at the battle of Hatchie’s Bridge on October 5, 1862, and was paroled. Ritter was captured a second time on Carter Creek Road between Franklin and Spring Hill, Tennessee, on April 27, 1863. The Union Army sent Ritter to Nashville, Tennessee, and then to the military prison in Louisville, Kentucky. In May 1863 Ritter was sent to Baltimore, Maryland, paroled at Fort McHenry, and returned for duty to the Confederate Army. By December 1864 Confederate service records list Ritter as a deserter, but statements from fellow veterans T. D Harlan and W. Z. Burke on Ritter’s pension application swear that he did not desert from service and instead was discharged from service when the war ended.

During his service in the Civil War, his wife, Laura Louise Anderson, whom he married on April 28, 1861, in Sevier County, Arkansas, looked after their daughter Elizabeth Caroline. His first wife died during the war, and he married Martha Jane Daugherty on August 6, 1865. They had nine children: Martha E., Louis Frank, Mary Edna, Kittie Pascal, Lillie Hester, Jimmie Henry, Josephine, Harry, and Crissee. Only four of their children lived into adulthood.

Ritter traveled back and forth between Texas and Arkansas until the Civil War. In 1871 he was living and working in McClanahan, Falls County, Texas, where he became a prominent member of his community. In the mid-1880s Ritter found it difficult to remain a member of a church for a long period of time. First, he joined the Blue Ridge Baptist Church but then converted to the Methodist denomination. Later, he returned to the Baptist denomination and joined the Center Baptist Church in McClanahan.

Ritter’s second wife died in March 1885, and on July 1, 1885, he married Sarah Josephine Shaunfield in Tom Green County, Texas. They had six children: Charles, Donnie, Van Olinn, Myrtle Agnes, Viva Estelle, and Levi Nicholas. One child, Charles, died at an early age.

Ritter was an active citizen of the town of McClanahan and Falls County. He served as the superintendent of the Falls County Poor House and was elected to the finance committee of Falls County Baptist Association. His political beliefs led him to join the Grange and the Falls County Farmers’ Alliance.

In the early 1890s he was elected three times for public office—twice at the county level and once at the state level. First, in 1890 he was elected justice of the peace for Precinct 6 representing McClanahan. He was elected in 1892 as county commissioner for Precinct 1 representing McClanahan. In 1894 he was elected to the Twenty-fourth Legislature as a Populist representing the Sixty-first District, composed of Falls County. While in office he served on two House committees: the Claims and Accounts Committee; and the Land Office, Special Joint Committee to Investigate Moving the Stock and Stock Raising. Ritter introduced one bill in the legislature, but it died in committee. The bill proposed an amendment to the Free Public School Laws to allow for the elections of African-American trustees to African-American schools. Ritter’s bill promoted the Populist plank of equal access to education and potentially courted the African-American voters so they would support the People’s Party. He was dedicated to the success of his party and wanted the Populists to grow in popularity across the state. In February 1895 the Populist legislators, including Ritter, called for a meeting to be held the following month in Austin for the purpose of establishing a daily newspaper devoted to promoting the People’s Party’s philosophy and campaign events. After his one term of service in the Texas legislature, Ritter returned to his family in Falls County. In 1901 he moved to Water Valley, Texas, in Tom Green County.

On September 26, 1916, Ritter died from pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonia. He was buried in Water Valley Cemetery in Tom Green County, Texas alongside his third wife and several of his children.

Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Texas, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C. Dallas Morning News, February 26, 1895. Falls County Historical Commission, Families of Falls County (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). Galveston Daily News, July 2, 1896. Journal of the House of Representatives Being the Regular Session of the Twenty-Fourth Legislature (Austin: Ben C. Jones & Company. 1895). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: V. B. Ritter (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=3571&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=ritter~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed December 10, 2013.

  • Twenty-fourth Legislature (1895)
  • House

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

Brooke Wibracht, “Ritter, Van Buren,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ritter-van-buren.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 16, 2013