An Act: To Provide for the Protection of Texas

According to some modern sociologists, Texas culture is among the major influences of American society today.  Even despite waves of immigrants (an amalgamation of Tejano, Anglo, Irish, Cajun, and African cultures) and the many tragedies impacting life in the Lone Star State, Texas retains its unique and highly attractive cultural identity.

It is true that “Texas is a whole ‘nuther country.”  There are reasons for this.

Mostly a one-way trip

On 21 April 1519, eleven Spanish galleons dropped anchor just off the wind-swept beach on the island known today as San Juan de Ulúa.  An extraordinarily brave Spanish conquistador by the name of Hernán Cortés had arrived with 550 hardy soldiers.  When the ships were unloaded, Cortés ordered the ships burned to the waterline.  There would be no “going back.”  These Spanish explorers would either succeed in this new world, or they would perish in it.  He venido a plantar mis raíces aquí.

The story of Hernán Cortés is quite similar to those of other European explorers and settlers.  Europeans, judging their circumstances as hopeless or their opportunities limited, set out on a voyage that they knew would very likely become a one-way trip, that would take them to a place completely foreign to them.  They must have known there would be many challenges.  They had to know that some of those would be insurmountable.  Some trials might even kill them — although it may be true that people back then didn’t dwell on such possibilities.  These attitudes, more than any other factor, may tell us something significant about the living conditions in the old world — that people were willing to risk their lives rather than to remain chained to a bleak existence in the country of their birth.

So, they went to the new world from Spain, Portugal, France, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and Italy — and others.  They went to the Americas to change their luck, their circumstances, to become free men and women, to live or die by their own wit and their own labors.  The New World became a great gamble.  Most, like Hernán Cortés, would either succeed or perish.  

This is also the story of Texas — which, with few exceptions, mirrors the story of human migration to the United States.  Texas migration began a few years later, obviously, but the Anglos who made their way to Texas were as hardy as anyone in Señor Cortés’s entourage or aboard the Mayflower.

Why so much interest in Texas?  Land.  In the United States, western expansion prompted the wealthiest Americans to invest in available land — a somewhat subjective term on account of the fact that American Indians already owned it.  By the time these land speculators were done, there was no affordable land in the United States for tens of thousands of poor, recently arrived migrants.  $1.25/acre for land may not seem like much to us today, but when people only earned from between thirty-three cents to fifty-cents per day ($120-$183 annually), $450.00 for a 320-acre tract (the minimum purchase), was more than most people could afford.

In Texas, the land was available for twelve and a half cents per acre.  Moreover, Stephen Austin guaranteed every settler a league of land.  In acreage, 4,428 acres.  It would have cost the newly arrived Texan $553.50, payable in six years.

Not everyone who moved to Texas was a saint, nor were many of them what we might call desperados.  They were simply men and women who were the product of their experiences.  Some people were already “broken” by the time they arrived in Texas — broken in ways that rendered them irreparable.  The difficulties of life in a hard land destroyed more than a few people’s lives; hostile Indians took thousands more.  There were many factors affecting life in Texas: rampant disease, floods, drought, heat, frigid temperatures, bad guys, and hostile Indians.  Consequently, the average lifespan of a Texan in 1859 was 47 years.  Yet still, they came.

Texas was as much of an “idea” in 1821as the American Revolution was in 1776, and Texas — like the new world, drew people in like a magnet.[1]  It still does.  Nearly thirty million people live in Texas today; around half of those are “naturalized” Texans.  One can’t help where they were born, but people do get to choose where they live.

Protecting the Homeland

Texas’ second president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had no affinity for the American Indian.  We don’t know why, exactly, but his deep loathing for Indians lasted throughout his life.  As president, he vowed to protect the people of Texas from hostile tribes.  More than that, he vowed to see Indians permanently removed from Texas — the method of elimination inconsequential to him.  He send a message to the legislature stating, “It is a cardinal principle in all political associations that protection is commensurate with allegiance, and the poorest citizen, whose sequestered cabin is reared on our remotest frontier, holds as sacred a claim upon the government for safety and security, as  does the man who lives in ease and wealth in the heart of our most populous city.”  Lamar’s act to provide for the protection of Texas created an 840-man regiment of fifteen companies to serve the Republic for three years.  These men were paid $16 per month.

The very next day, on 1 January 1839, the legislature approved two additional acts: one allocating $75,000 to fund eight companies of “mounted volunteers,” and another appropriation for $5,000 for 56 men to serve on the Gonzalez frontier for three months.  Congress approved two companies of equal size for San Patricio, Goliad, and Refugio counties.  There did not appear much synchronization in the legislature; there also did not appear any coordination with the treasurer.

But the Texas Rangers were at least motivated.  Famed Indian fighter John Henry Moore mustered his men and went looking for hostile Comanches.  His force included forty-two Lipan and Tonkawa Indians, whose hatred for the Comanche was only surpassed by that of the Texas Rangers.  But Indians were not the Rangers’ only enemy: there was also no love lost between the Diablo Tejano (Devil Texans) and the Mexican Army.  No military force was more ruthless on the field of battle during the Mexican/American War than the Texas Rangers.

Texas seceded from the Union in late January 1861.  There were not many Civil War battles in Texas between then and 1865, but Texans did make a major contribution to the Confederate States Army.  Notable among these organizations was Terry’s Texas Rangers.

Post-Civil War Period

In 1865, the Governor of Texas appointed Richard Coke, from Waco, to serve as a Texas District Court Judge.  In 1866, Coke was popularly elected to serve as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court.  In 1867, Union Governor-General Philip Sheridan fired Coke and four other justices because, in his view, they impeded the goals of Union Reconstruction.  Had Sheridan not fired Judge Coke (and others), we may never have heard of Richard Coke today, but his dismissal made Coke a celebrity in Texas.  Moreover, Sheridan’s act helped Coke and others form a Democratic Coalition that ruled Texas for a hundred years.

The darkest period in the history of the Texas Rangers was the Reconstruction Period (1865-1873).  Governor Edmund J. Davis, a former Union general, and radical Republican politician re-organized the Texas Rangers into the Texas State Police (TSP).  Davis charged the TSP with enforcing the highly detested Union-imposed carpetbagger laws.  Worse, Davis’ decision to hire black police officers, who enforced those unpopular laws, created deep resentment among Texans.  Following Davis’ administration, Texans would not elect another Republican to the governorship until 1978.

Richard Coke won his election against Davis by a large margin, but Coke’s election wasn’t without challenges.  The (radicalized) Texas Supreme Court ruled Coke’s election “invalid.”  In response, Texas Democrats seized the second floor of the Capitol building (the governor’s office).  Governor Davis called for state troops, who refused to obey Davis’ orders.  Davis then telegraphed a plea for help from President Ulysses S. Grant, who refused to send federal troops.  Ultimately, Coke assumed office on 15 January 1874.

In May 1874, Governor Coke convinced the legislature to appropriate $75,000 to organize six companies of Texas Rangers with 75 men for each company (A through F).  Hostile Indians played havoc with West Texas settlers since the withdrawal of Union troops from the frontier in 1861.  Governor Coke’s point of view was  — enough is enough.  The organization then formed was known as the Frontier Battalion and the legislature gave it two distinct missions: protect the frontier from Indian depredations and enforce the criminal statutes of Texas in conjunction with county sheriff’s departments and the Texas district courts.

Daniel Webster Roberts became one of the hardy boys.  Roberts was born in Winston County, Mississippi in 1841, the son of Alexander (Buck) and Sabra Roberts.  Buck moved his family to Texas in the year of the Texas Revolution (1836), but three years later, out of concern for the safety of the family, Sabra insisted that her husband return her to Mississippi.  Buck and his brother Jeremiah remained behind in Texas.  Both men participated in the Battle of Plumb Creek under Captain Mathew Caldwell (known as “Old Paint”) from Gonzalez, Texas.  Afterward, Buck returned to Mississippi to see if he could talk any sense into Sabra.  The family returned to Texas in 1843.

The Roberts family lived in Blanco County when the Mexican War broke out in 1846.  Sabra informed her husband that if he wanted to remain in the midst of all the bloodshed, he was welcome to do exactly that, but she was taking herself and the kids back to Mississippi — where they remained until 1855.  Sabra passed away later that year in Blanco County.  Eventually, Buck remarried and sired another six children.

In 1855, Dan Roberts was 14 years of age and, like most children then and now, was filled with a sense of adventure.  Back then, kids didn’t play cowboys and Indians, they lived it.  Few places in North America presented a greater threat of Indian hostilities than Texas.  Battling Indians was what most people did when they weren’t working their farms and ranches 12-16 hours a day.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Dan joined Captain W. H. Perry’s company of mounted rifles in the 26th Brigade of Texas Militia.  He served as a scout in a company whose mission was to protect West Texans from Indians.  The Indians, of course, wasted no time taking advantage of the fact that there were no soldiers to keep them at bay.  Later, in 1862, Dan joined Colonel Peter Woods’ 36th Cavalry.[2]  When the regiment was dismounted in 1864, Roberts (and a good many others) quit the army and returned home.

In 1862, the state’s frontier defense was converted to Confederate cavalry and transferred out of Texas.  To replace these men, the legislature created a new militia organization designated as the Texas Frontier Regiment — renamed “Texas State Troops” in 1863.  The 1,000-man organization was remarkably consistent: it was not only ineffective in preventing Indian depredations along the western frontier, but it was also equally inept in preventing or reacting to cross-border raids by Mexican bandits, apprehending military deserters turned outlaw, draft dodgers, and fugitives from other states.

In 1869, back in Blanco County, hostile Indians raided the farm of Thomas Phelps over near Cypress Creek, three miles south of Round Mountain.  Indians killed Thomas and his wife and mutilated their bodies.  By the time neighbors discovered the Phelps’ remains, it was too late for pursuing the hostiles, but the incident was enough for the men of Blanco County to form a volunteer militia and agree that they would no longer tolerate Indian depredations.  The next time the Indians attacked, Blanco County men would pursue them and kill every last one of them.  They didn’t have long to wait.

On 15 August 1872, Comanche Indians were spotted on a hill near Dear Creek.  Ten volunteers rapidly assembled and, in their excitement, charged around the hill straight into an ambush.  Two men were killed outright.  As the detachment went to ground seeking cover, George Roberts, Dan’s brother received a gunshot wound that entered his hand and exited below his elbow.  After removing George from the line of fire, the seven remaining men held their ground.  Dan Roberts maneuvered to catch the Indians in a crossfire but received a wound in the leg before getting into position.  The six remaining men then abandoned their position to carry Dan and George to a nearby farmhouse.  The farmer, a man named Johnson, sent for Cicero Rufus “Rufe” Perry.[3]

Perry immediately responded to Johnson’s call for help.  Mustering volunteers, Perry rode to Deer Creek but found that the Indians had already withdrawn.  When Texas Senator H. C. King learned of the Deer Creek fight, he introduced a  bill to award each man a model 1873 Winchester Rifle.[4] 

In May 1874, Governor Coke appointed Major John B. Jones, a veteran of the Civil War, to command the battalion.[5]  On the recommendation of Jones, Governor Coke appointed Rufe Perry as a Texas Ranger Captain; Jones placed him in command of Company D.

Upon its formation, the Frontier Battalion interested Dan Roberts, but he was contemplating a move to New Mexico and hesitated to apply.  On 10 May 1874, Robert’s friend, and mentor, Rufe Perry, talked him into accepting a commission as a second lieutenant in Company “D”.  Dan Roberts accepted.

Company D’s main encampment was along the banks of the San Saba River, some twenty miles south of Fort McKavett.  One fact of life of Texas was that Texans and Comanches reviled one another.  But if the Comanche detested Texans, they positively loathed Texas Rangers. 

During one early fight, Roberts ran down an Indian brave, who promptly surrendered.  It would not have been unusual for a Ranger to refuse a Comanche’s surrender and kill him outright, but Roberts couldn’t do that; he took the Indian’s surrender and turned him over for trial.  The Indian, named Little Bull, was eventually convicted of murder and mayhem.  He spent the rest of his life, another ten years, in the Huntsville state prison.  He died of tuberculosis.

When Roberts wasn’t fighting hostiles, he assisted county sheriffs and state courts in law enforcement duties.  Texas outlaws posed almost as much a danger to settlers as the Indians.  Despite the prohibition of marriage to serving Texas Rangers, Dan Roberts fell in love with Miss Luvenia Conway.[6]  He wanted to marry her, but couldn’t do that and remain with Company D.  Roberts informed Captain Perry that he was submitting his resignation.  Perry spoke with Jones, who then granted special permission for Roberts to marry while in service with the Texas Rangers.

One of Major Jones’ more perplexing problems was the Mason County War, a feud between Anglo and German residents of that county.[7]  Cattle rustling was rampant throughout the county, and so too was the wanton murder of prisoners awaiting trial for rustling.  Involved in the kerfuffle was former Texas Ranger Scott Cooley and famed gunslinger Johnny Ringo.[8]  On 18 February 1875, Dan Roberts left Ranger camp and proceeded to the town of Mason (in Mason County) to obtain grain.  Arriving in town, Roberts paid a courtesy call on the county sheriff, John Clark.  Clark had five men under lock and key awaiting arraignment for cattle rustling.

Suddenly, a mob of forty or more men appeared with the intention of breaking the prisoners out and lynching them.  Dan Roberts moved to assist Sheriff John Clark and a bystander named James Trainer in preventing the breakout, but over-powered, the three men looked on helplessly as the mob marched their victims down the Mason-Fredericksburg Road.  A half-mile out of town, the mob strung the men up and began shooting them.  Roberts, initially thinking that the mobsters were shooting at he and Clark, returned fire.  Clark and Roberts saved two of the men.  Clark later made several arrests, but despite Roberts’ testimony, the grand jury returned no indictments.

In 1878, Dan Roberts resigned from the Rangers and moved to Houston, but due to troubles along the Mexican border, Major Jones convinced him to return to Company D — then stationed at Laredo.  One of the reasons Roberts found success along the border was his willingness to work with Mexican authorities to fight border banditry.  With this cooperation, Roberts was able to cross over into Mexico to pursue bandits with no fear of repercussions from either Mexican officials or his superiors.

On 25 June 1880, Roberts received a telegram from Judge G. M. Frazer at Fort Stockton requesting Texas Ranger assistance.  Numerous robberies over several months stymied local lawmen and nearby military authorities could not interfere in civil matters.  Roberts dispatched Sergeant E. A. Sieker and eight rangers; Major Jones also dispatched Sergeant L. B. Caruthers of Company E.  The rangers scouted the area surrounding the Davis Mountains looking for the robbers.  It came as no shock to the Rangers on 3 July 1880 that the desperados resisted arrest.  Captain Roberts told the story in his after-action report:

The bandits were about a mile ahead of the Rangers and the boys being eager to get to them struck out a little faster.  The robbers, observing the pursuit, left the road striking for a canyon some distance away.  With the Rangers heading straight for them at full speed, the bandits reached cover, dismounted, and took positions behind large rocks that fringed the area of the gulch.  As horses are not all created equal, only four Rangers managed to get within close range.  Sieker, Russell, Carson, and Bingham made up the quartet.

As the Rangers approached, firing commenced from behind the rocks, two bullets striking Carson’s horse and one through the brim of his hat, and Bingham was shot dead.  Carson, Sieker, and Russell dismounted and as [robber] George Davis showed up from behind a rock to shoot, Sergeant Sieker and Carson fired at him almost simultaneously, Sieker’s bullet striking him in the breast and as he fell, Carson’s bullet went through his head.

Seeing this deadly work of the Rangers, the three surviving robbers broke and ran.  Finally realizing they could not escape; they chose to surrender upon the promise that they would not be harmed.  In the excitement of the gunfight, the Rangers had not realized that Bingham was dead.  When they did find out, they almost killed the surviving robbers.  Sergeant Sieker, in charge of the scout, reported to Captain Roberts, “We charged the party, and took their stronghold.  Then we had the advantage, for the first time, and then they surrendered.  Had I known Bingham was killed at that time, I should have killed them all, but we disarmed them before we knew it.  Then they prayed for mercy.”

One of the robbers was Jesse Evans, formerly a pal of Billy the Kid.  He was tried and found guilty of murder (for the death of Bingham) and sent to Huntsville State Prison.  He managed to escape, however and was never heard of again.

In deference to his wife’s health, Captain Roberts resigned from the Rangers in 1882 and moved to Nogales, New Mexico, a gold mining town.  The Roberts lived in Nogales for thirty years where Roberts worked as a stockman and a miner.  They adopted the children of Daniel’s brother, George, who were named Fred and Lillie Roberts.  Lillie grew up to become the wife of New Mexico’s Governor J. F. Hinkle.  Eventually, Dan and Luvenia returned to Austin, Texas, where they lived out their days.  At Dan’s funeral, the pastor described Roberts as a “diamond in the rough, who though he sleeps, is not dead — because when Captain Dan W. Roberts dies, all Texas will die.” 

Sources:

  1. Brecher, F. W.  Losing a Continent: France’s North American Policy, 1753-1763.  Greenwood Publishing, 1998.
  2. Holbrook, S.  The French Founders of North America and their Heritage.  Atheneum Press, 1976.
  3. Baenziger, A. P.  “The Texas State Police during Reconstruction: A Reexamination.”  Southwestern Historical Quarterly, April 1969.

Endnotes:

[1] “Texas isn’t a state — it’s a state of mind.”  —John Steinbeck

[2] The 36th formed in 1863, serving in the trans-Mississippi Department and engagements at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.  When the regiment was ordered dis-mounted, the Confederate States Army seized the horses (which were the personal property of the men).  Woods protested the order to move by rail to Beaumont and refused to obey it.  After the regiment marched and counter-marched the Texas coast for several months, 157 of Wood’s troopers quit the army and returned to their homes.

[3] Rufe Perry was a son of Alabama who moved with his parents to Texas in 1833.  He participated in the Texas Revolution with service under such notables as William W. Hill, John H. Moore, Sam Highsmith, Thomas Green, Edward Burleson, Mark Lewis, and John Coffee Hays.  In August 1844, Perry received serious wounds during a fight with Comanche warriors near the Nueces River.  Left for dead, Perry (with three separate wounds) walked 120 miles from Uvalde to San Antonio, unarmed, and without food or water.  Rufe Perry was one tough bird.

[4] Dan Roberts carried his rifle with him everywhere he went for the rest of his life.  Of his memory of the Deer Creek fight, Roberts later recalled, “The oftener I think of the fight, the greater is my wonder that all of us were not killed.  We were outnumbered by more than three to one, had arms that were inferior to the enemy’s and were compelled to fight in the open, at close range, while the Indians had shelter.  I can account for the miracle of our escape only by believing that it was an act of providence.”

[5] Jones (1834-1881) was a son of South Carolina, served in the 8th Texas Cavalry during the Civil War, served as a captain in the Texas Rangers, commanded the Frontier Battalion, and later served as the Adjutant General of Texas. 

[6] Luvenia Roberts later authored a book titled A Woman’s Reminiscences of Six Years in Camp with the Texas Rangers.  First published in 1928 and reprinted in 1987 by the State Press of Austin.

[7] See also: The Hoodoo War.

[8] See also: Mysterious Johnny


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Civil War, History, Justice, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Act: To Provide for the Protection of Texas

  1. Layla Elizabeth Kanas-Gonzalez says:

    Excellent! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andy says:

    Any history of Texas is welcomed with enthusiasm and attended to thoroughly.

    Excellent read.

    Like

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