Dan W. Roberts Was a Gallant Texas Ranger - J. Marvin Hunter, Sr.
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, October, 1951]
Captain Dan W. Roberts, who passed away at his home in Austin, Texas, in 1934 at the age of 93 years, was one of God's noblemen. He was survived several years by his devoted wife, Louvina Conway Roberts, whom he married in 1875, while he was still in the Ranger service, and who spent six years of her married life in a Ranger's camp deep in the heart of a hostile Indian country. She was a gentle little woman, beloved by all who knew her.
Captain Roberts was born in Winston county, Mississippi, October 10, 1841. His father, Alexander Roberts, came to Texas in 1836, and helped the Texians fight the battles of the Republic. In 1839, the family removed to Mississippi, and during their stay in that state the subject of this sketch was born. The family came back to Texas in 1843, and settled near Round Mountain in Blanco county. Here Dan Roberts grew up, and participated in many of the Indian fights of that early day. In an interview with him he related the following to the writer:
"Before joining the Rangers I did some service in the line of Indian scouting and some fighting. My first experience of this kind was in what was known as the Deer Creek fight in 1873. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Phelps, who resided where my parents lived near Round Mountain in Blanco county, while fishing, had been murdered and scalped by savages. A. meeting of the men of the locality was held and it was resolved we should, whenever Indians appeared within our vicinity, pursue them and if possible rout them. We knew this to be better tactics than to permit them to come up on us, our relatives and friends, and murder us in the night. It was not long after the killing of the Phelps couple we learned Indians were raiding in our vicinity. There were only six of us in the party that rode out after them from the Round Mountain settlement. They were Thomas Bird, Joe Bird, John O. Biggs, Stanton Jolly, George Travis Roberts, who was my brother, and myself. We struck the Indians' trail on Hickory Creek, and while following it were joined by Captain James Ingram, William Ingram, Frank Waldrip and Cam Davidson. This unexpected reinforcement augmented our number of ten. All were young but seasoned plainsmen, inured to the hardships of frontier life. We all knew how to ride hard and to shoot straight. The equipment of our band was poor, probably inferior to that of the Indians. I remember several of our boys had no weapons other than pistols—not very good ones at that. I had an old Spencer saddle gun which had been in army service. It was of .56 caliber and its magazine held seven shells. It was probably the best weapon in our ordnance. We came upon a place on the trail where the Indians had killed two steers and carried away with them practically all of the meat. We also had noted the tracks of many horses, so we knew the Indian band was large.
"After following the trail at a run for fifteen miles we saw an Indian, who was on an eminence, run down rapidly. He was about a quarter of mile from us, and evidently had discovered us at the same time we first saw him. Then we knew his band must be near. We spurred our horses to a faster gait and moved around a little hill. When we came within range of the Indians they opened fire on us. Our answering volley was discharged before we dismounted. Cunningly they had selected the place in which to be overtaken, and as we swept into plain view and within range of their guns we realized that they possessed every natural strategic advantage. But we never troubled ourselves about the handicap. We were there to fight. They were sheltered by a little draw or shallow ravine, and our only way of attack was in the open directly in their front. To add to their advantage there was a growth of scrub Spanish oak on each side of the ravine they occupied. On the further side of the ravine they had tied their horses. The mare I rode had tired greatly in the chase, and this caused me to be considerably in the rear of our party when the Indians opened fire. When I reached our force I found my brother had been badly wounded when a large size ball had struck him on the right side of the face, grazing the cheek bone just under the eye, passing through his nose and grazing his left cheek bone, where it emerged. Had the wound been an inch further back it would have been fatal. I asked Stanton Jolly to remove my brother beyond range and take care of him, which he did. This reduced our force to eight men.
"We continued to pepper the Indians and they us, with the final result from the beginning in doubt. We could not see when our bullets found lodgment. As the remainder of our party were holding their ground directly in front of the enemy, I edged around to the left, finally reaching the side of the gully. From there, as long as I was able, I put the Indians under a crossfire. There I had a much better view and could do more effective shooting, for whenever an Indian rose from behind the brush my time came to shoot, and I did so. Bullets struck all around me. I used Indian tactics from one side of the gully to the other, always holding my gun in position so as to take advantage of an opening for a fair shot. Perhaps I grew a trifle careless. During a momentary lull in the firing, I was standing with my gun in position when a large bullet struck me in the left thigh, missing the bone, but passing entirely through the limb. This shot did not knock me down, but the blood spurted so freely I thought the main artery had been severed. By this time William Ingram had worked around near where I was and I told him I believed I was mortally wounded and urged him not to come any closer to me for fear he might be shot. I continued to stand with my gun in position to shoot.
"Bill Ingram was a heavy-set, good-natured boy, but with the heart of a lion. It was useless for me to tell him to avoid danger when a comrade was in need of his services. Utterly disregarding the fire of the Indians he came right up to me. Finding me helpless he went into the open, caught his horse, brought the animal back and lifted me up into the saddle, while a perfect deluge of bullets rained about us. He carried me out of range of fire. My wound bled so freely, and I was so athirst for water, that our band realized that my brother and I both should be taken from the field. Another of our band, Joe Bird, had been grazed by bullets that glanced from both of his shoulders and several of our horses had been slightly wounded, so we retired to Johnson's ranch, two miles distant, where we who were wounded got proper attention, while a courier was sent to Captain Rufe Perry, who lived half a mile distant. Perry and my comrades went back after the Indians but the savages had fled and got such a start our force was unable to overtake them, so the Indians got away
"In that Deer Creek fight our strength was ten at the start, but two of our number were unable to continue, while a third was also wounded, so at the time we were compelled to abandon the conflict we had but seven men to cope with twenty-seven savages, or almost four times our number. We succeeded in killing four Indians and wounded a number of others."
In speaking of his enlistment in the regular Texas Ranger service, Captain Roberts said:
"In May, 1874, I had made plans to remove to Mexico to engage in commercial lines, and I had planned to get married before going. It was just about this time the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers was being organized. Just before I was about to start to the place where I was to be married I received a brief letter from Captain Rufe Perry, who had been commissioned and placed in command of Company D of the Texas Rangers. In his letter he said: 'Meet me in Austin on May 10.' When I received the letter I had not the remotest idea what he wanted me to meet him there for, but a second letter, with a more imperative ring, impelled me to go to Austin. A few minutes after my arrival in Austin I met Captain Perry on Congress Avenue as he was coming down from the capitol. After exchanging greetings, without any comment he handed me a commission as second lieutenant of Company D. Frontier Battalion. The document had been signed but a few moments before by Governor Coke. Captain Perry watched me closely as I read the document, and at the conclusion of my reading I remarked: 'I guess you have got me,' and I then and there accepted the appointment and returned to my home for my equipment and joined the company on its march to the frontier. Because of my enlistment in the Ranger service it became necessary to postpone my marriage, which took place more than a year later, while my company was stationed on the San Saba river, above the town of Menardville."
When Mr. Roberts had been in the service on the frontier for about five months, Captain Rufe Perry resigned as captain of Company D, and Lieutenant Roberts was appointed to take command of the company.
In continuing his reminiscences, Captain Roberts said:
"In August, 1874, while our command was encamped on the San Saba river, about twenty miles below Fort McKavett, our first scouting was done. Eight men, together with myself, were detailed to make it under my command. At the end of the first day's march we camped near the headwaters of Little Saline Creek, where we found a spring of good water. George Bird was sent out to kill a deer. Six of the other members were sent out to graze the horses. Corporal Matt Murphy of Mobile was in charge of the horse guard. We dubbed him the 'Mobile Register.' Notwithstanding the fun we had with him he was game and a good fellow. Bird returned to camp just at sunset, and was in the act of laying down his gun when firing in the neighborhood of the horses was heard, and also the Indian war whoop, leaving no doubt regarding the meaning of the shots. Bird picked up his gun and started toward the horses. I was at his side, and by the time we reached the horses we found that Indians had given up the attack after the exchange of two volleys. They had intended to surprise our party, but found the boys ready and willing to fight, so the redskins took to flight. The Rangers loosened the hobbles, mounted their horses bare-back and rode straight to camp for saddles. We then went on the trail and followed it until it became too dark. In their hurried departure the Indians dropped blankets, trinkets, and a hat.
"Early the next morning we resumed following the trail for thirty miles. and found evidence of having wounded several of the Indians. Late in the afternoon the Indians, as they were in the habit of doing when closely pursued, scattered, breaking into small bands to meet again at an agreed rallying point, always remote and generally in a direction other than the one in which they had been traveling. We correctly drew such a conclusion. The band we were after consisted of twelve Comanches. Those Indians, and most others, had a mania for stealing horses, whether they needed the animals or not. They always endeavored to stampede the horses of Rangers or teamsters, or any other persons whose animals were in herd. Captain Perry as a precaution had adopted the practice of not only using hobbles but sidelines to secure our horses. The hobbles were short chains with leather straps, secured about the forefeet of the horses. The sidelines were secured to the hobbles and then to one of the hind feet of the horse. No horse so secured could move faster than a walk, and while thus fettered Indians could not possibly drive them away from us, and yet the horses could graze with comfort. Besides this, a guard was always detailed to guard the horses while they grazed, the men arranging their reliefs so as to avoid hardships as far as possible, but all were required to remain within close rifle and even pistol shot of the horses."
In 1870, Herman Lehmann, an eleven-year old German boy was captured by Indians in Mason county, and four years later came near being recaptured by Captain Roberts' Rangers in a battle upon the Concho Plains. Lehmann was with the Indians for nearly ten years, and became to all intents and purposes a wild Indian. He was afterwards restored to his people and became re-civilized and Made a good citizen. He died in 1935. The writer of this article knew Herman Lehmann quite intimately for thirty-five years; in fact, I wrote his book "Nine Years With the Indians" for him. He related to me many of the details of the fight between the Rangers and the Indians, and what a singular escape he had from being captured by the Rangers. Captain Roberts told of this fight as follows:
"Old Moch-Oash, or Magoosh, was chief of the Lipans, but he claimed to be an Apache, and as late as 1914 was living on the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. At the time of which I speak he was leading a band of a dozen Indians on the Concho Plains when, after a long pursuit, we came upon them. They had two prisoners, one a German boy named Lehmann, from near Mason, and the other a Mexican boy from near Uvalde, who had been captured by them some years before. We captured the Mexican boy, but Lehmann got away. He had been riding behind a wounded Indian, and our men killed the horse on which they both rode. It fell on Lehmann and pinned him beneath it. Magoosh broke to the left with six bucks and I went after him with three of my men. I must tell you who those brave men were—Jim Hawkins, Paul Durham and Nick Donnelly, the latter an Irishman. Donnelly loved peace, but a fight with him was a mere incident. We pursued Magoosh and his band at full speed for three or four miles, when we saw one of their horses weakening and gradually falling back. We fired several times at the rider, when all of a sudden he jerked up his horse, wheeled him about and came back to meet us, yelling in Spanish that he was a friend. I told the men not to shoot him. We turned the Mexican over to Donnelly and told him to stay with him until we returned. We were making pretty nearly an even race with those ahead of us and could see blood running down the back of one buck. At a distance of about two miles our horses began to weaken. We could see a little clump of mesquite brush the Indians were making for, and when we got near this brush we could see a horse tied in it. We shirred around on either side of the brush, but could see no Indians anywhere. We looked ahead and saw them still going, but never could get much closer. Two of them were on a big mule that belonged to John Bright. We kept up the best lick we could, but they gradually got out of sight. The little pack mule I was riding kept an easy lead all day. Don't talk to me about a mule. If he'll run at all and you give him a start you'll never catch him. Although we pursued the Indians until all of our horses had tired out, old Magoosh and his band got away from us."
Herman Lehmann, the German boy captive mentioned by Captain Roberts, told me about this fight on the Concho Plains. Captain James B. Gillett, who died some years ago at his home in Marfa, was one of Captain Roberts' Rangers who participated in the fight, and also tells of it in his book, "Six Years with the Texas Rangers." In 1926, forty-nine years after that desperate engagement, I brought Captain Gillett and Herman Lehmann together, at the Trail Drivers Reunion in San Antonio, and they talked over the details of the battle, and Lehmann convinced Gillett beyond any question of doubt that he was the white boy who was pinned under the dead horse, and eventually made his escape back to the Indians. In describing the fight to me, Lehmann said:
"It was early in the morning, while we were cooking our breakfast, the meat of a colt we had killed, when we discovered the Rangers coming rapidly on our trail. They had discovered us and we barely had time to mount our horses before they were upon us. Our men scattered and only four of us remained to fight the Rangers. Some of the Ranger force followed a retreating Indian, whose horse's leg was broken by a shot, and he jumped up behind Mockoash, a Lipan who was with our party, and they ran away. Another Indian, my chief's brother, ran west afoot. I rode up beside him and he jumped up behind me, and we made for our comrades, but the Rangers were too quick for us and cut us off, and those who were after Mockoash and his companion turned on us, placing us between two fires. The warrior behind me was named Nusticeno. He protected us on one side with his shield, and I held my shield on the other side. I directed my arrows to those in front and he sent his arrows backwards. Several bullets hit my shield, and I could hear them fairly raining on Nusticeno's shield. My horse was shot down and he fell upon me. Nusticeno dropped his bow and grabbed mine and ran away. I was pinned under the dead horse, and could not move, and I thought my time had come. I lay perfectly still when two Rangers dashed up; I heard a loud report and it seemed to me that I felt a bullet graze my temple. For a moment everything went black. Then I heard the Rangers talking and opening my eyes I saw they were looking at me, and from their actions they must have discovered I was not an Indian. They both dashed away after Nusticeno and I could hear them firing at him. I listened to the firing until I thought they were out of sight, and then I managed to extricate myself and scrambled out from under my fallen horse and crawled some distance on my belly and hid in the grass. After a little while the Rangers came back to look for me. I could hear them riding about and talking and for a short time they were very close to me. I lay still in a slight depression, well hidden by the high grass, hardly daring to breathe for fear they would find me there. The Rangers stayed on the battleground and searched for an hour or more and finally left, going east. I remained in my hiding place until they were out of sight, then I got up and cautiously surveyed my surroundings. I went to my dead horse, but all of my weapons had been taken, and I had nothing to supply myself with food or for defense. My comrades were all gone, possibly all killed, I did not know. I found Nusticeno's body about six-hundred yards from where My horse had been killed. He had been scalped, and all of his weapons taken. We had with us at the beginning of the fight a little Mexican boy, and when the Rangers came near he quit the Indians and ran toward them with uplifted arms. They carried him away with them.
"I knew I was a long distance from my Indian headquarters, perhaps three hundred miles or more. I had nothing on but a buckskin jacket, and no way of providing myself with food. I started on the Indian trail, heading back toward our encampment away up in the Yellow House Canyon to the northwest. I traveled day and night, subsisting on grasshoppers, lizards, bugs, roots,and anything that I could find. I nearly starved for water. Finally I came to a small cave that contained water, but how to get it out was a problem. But I was desperate, so I crawled down into that cave head foremost and by desperate effort squeezed myself between the rocks until I reached the water. After drinking my fill I found that I was fastened, and began to think I would not be able to get out of that tight place. However, I kept kicking and worming backwards until I succeeded in reaching the surface. I traveled wearily on, following the right direction, until I came to where the Indians had killed an antelope some days before. The wolves had eaten all of the flesh that was left, but I sucked the bones and gnawed on the hide for nourishment. I ate prickly pear, and one day I was so nearly starved for water I ate dirt where a mud hole had been formed by a recent rain. I finally came to a spring where I drank copiously, but I had starved so long the water nauseated me and I could not retain it. I lay around, bathing my parched tongue in the water until I could drink a little. I remained there for a day and night and recuperated, catching a few frogs, which I ate raw, and considered them dainty morsels. I finally went on and reached the Indian village. The Indians who had escaped from the Rangers had reached the village some days before and had told that we all were killed."