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  • Love on the Frontier

    Mike Cox

    The lanky young ranger faced a tough choice, worse than life or death: Turn in his badge or lose the woman he loved.

    Unfortunately, he loved being a ranger as deeply as he cared for his fiancee. He liked the freedom of scouting the frontier, looking for hostile Indians and trigger-happy outlaws, making camp in one trouble spot until things settled down and then moving on when all hell busted loose somewhere else. He relished the camaraderie with the other boys in the company, as sturdy a group of young men as he ever hoped to ride the river with. Beyond that, he knew his work made Texas a safer place to live and work. And if he stayed in the Rangers, he knew that before long, he would make captain. He had run cattle before enlisting in the Frontier Battalion, but rangering suited him a lot better than pushing a herd.

    On the other hand, Luvenia Conway was the sweetest and prettiest girl in Columbus. The idea of giving up Luvenia left a heavier feeling in his stomach than the cook's sourdough bread.

    Sitting around the campfire at night, drinking coffee and pondering his predicament as the other boys of Co. D told stories and pulled pranks, the lieutenant had just about decided to quit.

    When battalion commander Maj. John B. Jones rode into Co. D's camp that August day in 1875, he also had a problem. He had heard that one of his best men planned to resign in the name of matrimony. Well respected by his men and the law-abiding citizens of Texas, Jones took the lieutenant aside. Marriage was no barrier to a promising career, he said. He would approve a leave of absence for as long as the lieutenant needed, and then he could bring his new bride back with him. She could stay in camp.

    Roberts took the deal. Even so, after his initial elation wore off, the lieutenant started worrying again. He had cavalierly accepted Jones's offer without consulting with his intended. What would his fiancee think about leaving the comforts of home to camp beyond the edge of settlement, where Indians still left arrow-studded bodies strewn around smouldering cabins and wagonbeds, and where outlaws felt they could pretty much do as they pleased, so long as they could shoot better and ride faster than anyone who disagreed?

    Nervously, the lieutenant saddled up and rode east to Columbus, a town of elegant ante-bellum homes shaded by ancient oaks and sweet-smelling magnolias, a place where Indians had not been a danger for decades. Meeting with his beautiful fiancee, who had never even ridden a horse, Roberts outlined the major's offer.

    Luvenia had already told the ranger "yes" once, when he asked her to marry him. She did not hesitate when she heard his second proposal.

    "My friends thought that I was courageous; in fact, quite nervy to leave civilization and go into Indian country," she later wrote. "But it did not require either; I was much in love with my gallant captain and willing to share his fate wherever it might be. Besides the romantic side of it appealed to me strongly. I was thrilled with the idea of going to the frontier...."

    The young couple married on Sept. 13, 1875 in Columbus. At the depot, the conductor held the Austin-bound train until the ceremonies ended so the newlyweds could leave immediately on their honeymoon--a trip to Indian and outlaw country.

    In Austin, the couple awaited the arrival of the rangers who would travel with them to Co. Dís camp. Escorted by two rangers, the couple "set out on our bridal tour," she would write. "I'm sure there was never a more delightful one, and there can never be another just like it."

    Though her surroundings were hardly what she was accustomed to, Luvenia did not complain about having to live in a tent. At least it had wooden flooring. Her husband, who indeed had promoted to captain, taught her to shoot and fish. Often, while some of the men were in the field, she stayed around camp with the other rangers, spending her time hunting and fishing. She grew tolerably good at both.

    The rangers brought her pets and otherwise pampered her, and she in turn "mothered" them. Major Jones, ever the Southern gentleman, occasionally sent her candy and fresh fruit, addressing the box to "Assistant Commander, Company D."

    For nearly six years, the couple traveled across West and Southwest Texas as the rangers of Co. D dealt with Indians, cattle thieves, fence cutters, vigilantes, stagecoach robbers and killers. Finally, on Oct. 12, 1881, the captain left the Rangers and the couple moved to New Mexico Territory.

    They returned to Texas in 1914. After living for a while in San Antonio and then Driftwood, in 1917 they moved to Austin.

    A quiet and unassuming man, Roberts died in Austin on Feb. 6, 1935. Gov. James V. Allred ordered the Texas flag flown at half-staff above the capitol and approved Robertsí burial in the State Cemetery.

    One of only a handful of rangers who ever bothered to write his memoir, in a way he lived on. His wife also wrote of her experiences on the frontier. The captain's account, sprinkled with occasional humor, was a modest, matter-of-fact summary of his state service. Luvenia's recollections were more colorful.

    "It was with regret I parted from the Ranger camp where I had spent so many happy days," she wrote. "Camp life afforded many pleasures, which, coupled with duty and a determination to serve the people of Texas well and honestly, have caused us to treasure the memory of those years."


    © Mike Cox - February 6, 2013 column
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