Rangers and Sovereignty - Daniel W. Roberts - ebook

Rangers and Sovereignty ebook

Daniel W. Roberts



This eBook edition of "Rangers and Sovereignty" has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Rangers and Sovereignty is an autobiography written by Captain Dan W. Roberts. It brings the exciting tale of his service as a Texas Ranger. Roberts describes in detail the battles that the Rangers fought in, the different criminals they dealt with, and some of the events in their own lives. Contents: The Deer Creek Fight Packsaddle Mountain Fight Enlistment and First Scout Fugitive List Lost Valley Fight With Forces Even "The Wind Up" Third Saline Fight Moved Camp to Las Moras The Staked Plains Fight Viewing Out A Road Capt Roberts Married The Mason County War Rio Grande Campaign On the March Fort Davis Scout The Potter Scout—1880 Waiting on the Courts Pegleg Stage Robbing—1880 Stealing Saddles Cattle Stealing Mavericks The Killing of Sam Bass Considering Results Fence Cutters Horrel War The Old Texas Rangers Interesting Letters Adios Rangers Old Spanish Fort Old San Antonio Road A New Texas

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Daniel W. Roberts

Rangers and Sovereignty

The True Story of the Criminal Pursuits, Campaigns and Battles of Texas Rangers in 19th Century
            Published by Books
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Table of Contents

Biographical Sketch
The Deer Creek Fight
Packsaddle Mountain Fight
Enlistment and First Scout
Fugitive List
Lost Valley Fight
With Forces Even
"The Wind Up"
Third Saline Fight
Moved Camp to Las Moras
The Staked Plains Fight
Viewing Out A Road
Capt Roberts Married
The Mason County War
Rio Grande Campaign
On the March
Fort Davis Scout
The Potter Scout—1880
Waiting on the Courts
Pegleg Stage Robbing—1880
Stealing Saddles
Cattle Stealing
The Killing of Sam Bass
Considering Results
Fence Cutters
Horrel War
The Old Texas Rangers
Interesting Letters
Adios Rangers
Old Spanish Fort
Old San Antonio Road
A New Texas

Biographical Sketch

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D. W. Roberts was born in the State of Mississippi, in Winston County, October 10th, 1841. His father, Alexander Roberts, came to Texas in 1836, and helped the Texans fight the battles of the Republic for nearly four years, being in many engagements with the enemy, the most noted of which was the Plum Creek fight, which has gone into the history of Texas.

Soon after the Plum Creek fight, my mother prevailed on father to take his family to some place of safety, firmly believing that wholesale murder would be their fate: (Father's judgment was waived) and her love of family won her cause, and they went back to Mississippi in 1839.

During their stay in Mississippi, I was born, making that State my native soil, but father's love for Texas had never subsided, and his turn came to persuade mother back to Texas, where he joined his old comrades again in 1843. I was about two years old when they returned to Texas.

My father followed up the frontier, and I was reared, and almost rocked in the cradle of Texas warfare. When I was a small boy, I developed some very peculiar traits of character, not peculiarly good, but rather strangely peculiar.

We were fond of dwelling alone, to commune with Nature's beautiful work. I had my favorite pecan trees, and would conceal myself under them, to hear the crows murmur to each other, while they were gathering the splendid nuts.

My father's recital of early Texas battles had imbued me with the spirit, that those old Texans were the rightful lords of that grand and new republic, and that their heroism should be sustained, and when I grew to be a man, that I would devote my life to the cause that my father so loved.

In my boyish dreams I was always in command of men. My education was limited to the common English branches. As I grew to manhood, I could see that war should not be our occupation, but the constant raids of savage foes upon Texas, gave us the field that our more youthful days had pictured for us. We were "put in command of men," and our stewardship will follow. Our work was more preparatory for civil government, consequently we were never a politician, but always adhered to democratic principles.


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We set out in this writing to record the work of Company ''D", Frontier Battalion, not for any selfish consideration. But, being almost importuned by our real friends to do so, we thought we could tell what we really know to be true in a way that might spin out a thread strong enough to bind together an intelligent idea of the needs of that service, how the service was performed, and at least a vision of the final disposition of the horrid Indian question. Our egotism doesn't lead us to say that Texas did it all; but our little part is richly treasured in the archives of our "native heath"—Texas. Our sorrows are there, also, in many a grave not even marked by human hands to show where our brave defenders met death— yielding the last sacrifice in defense of Texas.

We challenge the world to produce a citizenship or soldiery more loyal to home and country. Our oldest citizenship were ''diamonds in the rough" and no polish has ever added to their intrinsic value. The great big warm hearts of their sons and daughters needed no psychologist to interpret their spirit growth. They were modestly, and innocently, great from birth. When "patent-leather civilization" overtook them they were ill at ease to embrace its gilded charms; but reassurance came to them in a knowledge that good society came from a good base.

We shall abstain from politics, religion or law, only to give a definition of politics, offered by a statesman, who said: "Politics is anything pertaining to law." But from this we dissent, and offer a substitute: "Politics is anything for the betterment of our institutions of government.'' Religion is the outgrowth of moral ethics, but Christianity is a different thing. Law is the executive branch of both politics and Christianity, it rather seeks shelter under Christ's precedents. Some may say that these great questions have no analogy to the subject; but a great state, trying to operate a government under their power, must have a cause and justification.

We had to meet a condition, not a law, of savage atrocity. We could not apply our law in revenge, which made our case clearly one in self defense. The State of Texas realizing this could only operate a force within state lines. The Rangers were her militia, as the name "Ranger" had no standing in law. It came to us more from tradition, when Texas was a republic, and is dear to us yet. The moral force of its meaning will never die in Texas.

Texas found that the practical acquisition of her frontier furnished an asset to the state, which vastly augmented her wealth. The live-stock industry easily copes with cotton, sugar and rice, on a basis of money value. Her fruits and cereals only supply home consumption. Her truck gardening is a big item in supplying all our early markets. And can we claim a modest little part in bringing about all this? We abide the answer from true Texans.


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After the war between the states, the first Democratic Governor elected in Texas was Richard Coke. The citizens of Texas, realizing that the state was over-run with Indians and outlaws, following in the wake of war, found that the battles of its first great pioneers would have to be, in a measure, fought over again. Not for the independence of a republic, but, for the life and liberty of her people, guaranteed by the constitution, and compact of states. Consequently, in May, 1874, Governor Coke recommended to the legislature, then in session, to authorize the raising and equipping of a battalion, of six full companies of Rangers, consisting of 75 men to each company, rank and file, to be placed on the Texas frontier, extending from Jacksboro, in Jack County, to the Rio Grande River, bordering on Mexico a distance of 600 miles, on the north and west of the interior of the state.

That legislature was composed of the sterling men of the state, who didn't weigh money, with the lives of our people, and after passing the bill appropriated $75,000.00 to put the Battalion into action as quickly as possible. The six companies of the Battalion were organized and officered as follows: On the extreme east of the line was Captain John Ikard. Then, coming west, was Captain Stevens, then Captain Jeff. Malty, then Captain C. R. (Rufe Perry) commanding Company D. Then came Captain Neal Caldwell and Captain Pat Dolan on the extreme west. The respective companies were distributed approximately 100 miles apart. Our Adjutant General was Wm. Steele; our Major was John B. Jones. Our Quartermaster was Wm. M. Kenney.

Major John B. Jones was the moving spirit of the field work and directed it almost entirely himself. Major Jones was a man of great administrative and executive ability, and none of the Rangers could beat him to a real live scrap with the enemy. He was the right man in the right place. Major Jones detailed five men from each company to serve as an escort with him in traveling from one company to another, up and down the line of companies. That he endured hardships and hard fighting will be mentioned later.

After we had been in the service about five months having had some fighting in the meantime, our Quartermaster informed Governor Coke that the appropriation, $75,000.00, would not maintain the six companies for two years, or until another legislature could make further appropriation, the deficit being about one-half of the needed sum. Consequently, Governor Coke ordered a reduction of the force to 40 men to each company, rank and file, which was done immediately.

When the reduction of companies came Captain "Rufe" Perry resigned as captain of Company D, and recommended Lieutenant Dan W. Roberts to take command of the company. This was done over our First Lieutenant, W. W. Ledbetter, who was a splendid gentleman. Mr. Ledbetter feeling the sting a little quit the service.

As I have only contemplated a record of the service of Company D, frontier battalion, we hope no officer or man of the battalion will think that we are not big enough to give equal justice to all. My purpose is to give a faithful record of what I know to be true, and I can only represent Company D backed by the archives of the state.

The Deer Creek Fight

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The first Indian fight in which I took part occurred in August, 1873, which was a little more than a year prior to the time the legislature passed the bill providing for the battalion of Rangers to patrol and protect the immense district which might properly be called the outposts of advanced civilization.

The battle was between a small posse of citizens of Round Mountain and a band of marauding Indians which had committed a horrible murder in that neighborhood just a few days before. This butchery was only one of the many which was being perpetrated from day to day along that long stretch of lonely, unprotected border, and afforded convincing proof that some sort of police protection was imperatively needed.

The victims of the Indians were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Phelps, who lived on their ranch near Cypress Creek some three miles to the south of Round Mountain, in Blanco County. Round Mountain was a small settlement which was only about fifty miles distant from Austin. The grave dangers and deadly perils which menaced the pioneers will be understood all the more readily when it is shown that the Indians carried on their merciless warfare of robbery, arson and murder within fifty miles of the capital of the state.

Mr. and Mrs. Phelps left their home and walked down on Cypress creek to enjoy a few hour's fishing. Mrs. White, who was Mrs. Phelps' mother, was left at home to take care of the children. A short while after Mr. and Mrs. Phelps left the house Mrs. White heard the firing of guns in the direction of the creek. She knew only too well the terrible significance of these sounds. A negro boy scared almost out of his wits, hastened to the house of the nearest neighbor and gave the alarm. The ''pony" telephone rapidly spread the report and friends hurried to the scene of the killing. The bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Phelps were found on the bank of the creek, where they had been murdered and scalped. The Indians then had a start of several hours, which was too big a lead to overcome, even if an armed posse had been ready to take the trail.

On the following Sunday several of the young men of the neighborhood gathered at the home of my father, Alexander (Buck) Roberts. Repairing to the shade of a little grove nearby, we held a council of war. The situation was too plain to admit of a misunderstanding. The issue involved a matter of life and death and we faced it fairly and squarely. The one resolution introduced and unanimously carried was that the next time the Indians came into our neighborhood, we would follow and fight. There was nothing heroic in our resolution; on the contrary, we were simply governed by the law of self-preservation. If we remained at home and permitted the Indians to continue unmolested in their raids, there was a strong probability that, family by family, nearly all of us would be butchered; while if we engaged them in battle there was at least a fighting chance that we could ''get" some of them. We could do no worse than be killed in the fight and that was a better prospect than being butchered as we slept.

We did not have to wait long after the council of war was held. Within just a few days the report was received that the Indians were in the country to the north of us and were moving south. Again the ''pony" telephone was put in operation and the news carried from house to house.

There were only six of us who rode out from Round Mountain to find the trail and run down the Indian band, whose number we had no means of knowing. In the party were Thomas Bird, Joe Bird, John O. Biggs, Stanton Jolly, George T. Roberts (my brother), and myself. We struck the trail on Hickory Creek, about ten miles from Round Mountain. A short time after we struck the trail we were overtaken and joined by Captain James Ingram, William Ingram, Frank Waldrip and "Cam" Davidson. This unexpected reinforcement brought our squad up to a fighting strength of ten men.

All of us were young men, but we were seasoned plainsmen inured to the hardships of life on the frontier. We knew how to ride hard and shoot straight. The equipment of arms of our squad was very poor, probably inferior to the equipment of the Indians. I remember that several of the boys had only six-shooters and they were not very good ones. I had an old Spencer saddle-gun which had been in the army service. It was a big calibre rifle, with a magazine holding seven shells, and perhaps the best gun in the squad.

On the trail we found where the Indians had killed two beeves and carried away practically all of the meat. The big trail of horses tended to confirm our suspicion that we were trailing a big band. We learned later that every horse had a rider.

We followed the trail at a gallop when the lay of the ground made that speed possible. After following the trail for fifteen miles we saw an Indian run down from the top of a little hill, from which vantage point he had been spying over the back trail. He was about a quarter of a mile away when we sighted him-We knew that the band must be near and that the fight was about to begin. Putting our horses into a dead run we moved forward and around the little hill.

As we came within range they opened fire and our answering volley was fired before we dismounted. With cunning and strategy they had chosen well the place to be overtaken. As we swept into plain view and into the range of their guns we realized that every natural advantage was theirs, but no matter how great the handicap we were there to fight. They were entrenched in a little draw or shallow ravine to the right of the hill and far enough distant from the hill to prevent us from using that eminence for a breastwork. Our only means of attack was in the open, from the front. To add to their advantage there was a scrub growth of Spanish oak on each side of the ravine. On the further side of the ravine their horses were tied.

The mare that I was riding was young and badly tired, which left me considerably in the rear when the first volley was fired. When I reached the squad I found that my brother had been wounded in the first exchange of shots. A big bullet had struck him on the right side of the face, grazing the cheek bone just under the eye, passing through the nose and grazing the left cheek bone as it passed out. An inch higher and further in would have resulted in instant death. I asked Stanton Jolly to move George out of range and take care of him. This reduced our fighting force to eight men.

We continued to pepper each other as best we could, the final result in doubt from the very beginning. We could not even see when our bullets were finding lodging in the targets. While the others held their ground directly in front, I edged around to the left, and finally reached the side of the gully.

From this point I could fire down the gully and as long as I could hold the position, put the Indians under a sort of cross-fire. I had a much better view and could do more effective work from this position. When an Indian would rise from behind the brush to shoot at me, the boys in front had a better shot at him, and when he exposed himself to shoot at the squad, my time came to shoot.

The bullets struck all around me, but I used the Indian tactics, jumping from one side to another of the gulley, with my gun always in position to take advantage of an opening for a fair shot. I suspect I must have grown a little bit careless when there was a momentary lull in the firing. I was standing, partly exposed, with my gun in position, when a big bullet struck me in the left thigh, missing the bone and passing entirely through my limb. The shot did not knock me down, but the blood spouted so freely that I thought the main artery had been severed. By this time William Ingram had worked his way around and was firing on the Indians from a short distance from me. I called to him that I had been shot and feared I was mortally wounded, but urged him not to come to me. I continued to stand with my gun in position to shoot.

"Bill" Ingram was a big, heavy-set, good natured boy, somewhat easy going, but he had the heart of a lion. It was useless to tell him to avoid danger when a comrade had been shot and needed his services.

Disregarding the fire of the Indians, he came directly to me. Finding me helpless and in a condition apparently serious, he went out to the open and brought back his horse. Lifting me into the saddle he led the horse out through the shower of bullets.

My wound was bleeding so freely and I was suffering so much for water that the boys realized that they must get me away quickly. We found water within a mile of the scene of the fight, and from there I was carried to Johnson's ranch, about two miles further on. The only injuries sustained by our squad were the two slight wounds on Joe Bird, who had both shoulders grazed by bullets. Several of the horses were slightly wounded.

After carrying George and myself to Johnson's ranch where we could have attention, one of the boys rode over and reported the fight to Captain Rufe Perry, who lived half a mile away. Hastily summoning all the men available he went at once to the battle ground, hoping to resume the fight. He found that the Indians had departed as soon as we ceased firing and gave up the fight. He took the trail westward and followed it some distance, but found that the band had a long start that it would be impossible to overtake them before night. Four or five of their horses had been left dead on the battle ground. Captain Perry found many blood spots on the trail where the dead and wounded had been laid on the ground.

These Indians were trailed out of the country by other parties. They numbered twenty-seven warriors, so I was informed by parties who saw them come in. One of the parties which trailed them out reported finding the graves of four of the braves who had been consigned to the happy hunting ground as the result of the fight with us.

While I lay convalescing, Hon. H. C. King, State Senator came to pay me a visit. He was deeply stirred by the report of the fight. He was one of the type of man made famous by Kipling, with plenty of red blood in his veins. He went from our home direct to Austin, where the legislature was then in session, and introduced a bill which provided for a gun to be given to each one of us who participated in the fight, as a testimonial of the State's appreciation of the services we tried to render. The guns awarded were repeating Winchesters of the model of 1873, which had just been perfected and put on the market. I have my gun yet, and I hardly need to add that it is among the most treasured of all my possessions.

The oftener I think of the Deer Creek 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. Captain Rufe Perry, who is mentioned in this chapter, was the first commander of Company ''D" of the Texas Rangers, when the battalion was organized a year afterward. Of those who were in the Deer Creek fight, only three other than myself are alive today, so far as I can learn. "Bill"Ingram lives in Schleicher County, Texas; Joe Bird is still in or near Round Mountain, and John O. Biggs is a resident of Silver City, New Mexico.

Packsaddle Mountain Fight

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Being almost coincident with our Deer Creek fight, we copy Mr. James R. Moss' account of the Packsaddle Mountain fight. The Moss brothers, and the Roberts brothers were a team that always pulled together, and we never knew a Moss to balk.