Governor Oran Milo Roberts was the seventeenth governor of Texas, serving from January 21, 1879 to January 16, 1883, succeeding Richard B. Hubbard and preceding John Ireland. He was the last of at least six children born in Laurens County, South Carolina on July 9, 1815 to Obadiah Roberts (1769-1827) and Margaret Ewing Roberts (1776-1859). Biographical sketches say that he was educated at home until he was seventeen. One anecdote has him telling his mother around that time that although he had respect for the agricultural life they were living, he had higher aspirations than working on the land. Then, using funds borrowed from a brother in law, in 1832 he left home to enter the University of Alabama, graduating in four years with a law degree.
The following year, 1837, he was married to Frances Wycliffe Edwards (1819-1883), also born in South Carolina. The wedding took place in St. Clair County, Alabama. Roberts practiced law in Alabama for about four years before the couple and their young daughter moved to Texas. Roberts opened up a law office in San Augustine where he lived for about the next sixteen years.
While continuing his law practice, he he also served as district attorney (appointed by Sam Houston), district judge and in 1857, he accepted an appointment as associate judge in the Texas Supreme Court. The Civil War loomed and Roberts served as President of the Succession Convention that voted for Texas to leave the Union. During the war, he served with the Eleventh Texas Infantry, which he helped raise from counties including Nacogdoches, Rusk, Cherokee, Greg, Franklin, Harrison, Titus, Panola, Shelby, San Augustine, Kaufman, Van Zandt, and Hopkins. During the war, the regiment served in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He left the army and returned to Texas in 1864 where he served as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
After the war ended, he participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1866. He was later elected to the United States Senate, but was not “seated” along with several other elected individuals because of their service in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Roberts later served as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1874 and won his election as governor in 1878, serving four years.
After serving as governor, Roberts retired from politics. He then began teaching at the University of Texas and wrote on Texas history. Roberts is noted for helping to organize the Texas State Historical Association and served as its first president. In addition, he served as the first Dean of the University of Texas Law School.
Governor Roberts and his wife Frances Wycliffe Roberts had at least seven children, all but one of which were born in Texas. Frances died in 1883 and four years later Governor Roberts married Catherine Harding in New Braunfels, Texas. Catherine was the widow of John Pelham Border (1819-1873), born in England, who had settled in Texas prior to the Texas Revolution. Border had participated in numerous battles including the Battle of San Jacinto. He later raised his own Confederate battalion which was named for him. He and Roberts likely served in some of the same areas during the war.
Roberts passed away in Marble Falls some twelve years later on May 19, 1897. Governor Roberts and his first wife, Frances Wycliffe Roberts, are buried in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery. His second wife, Catherine Harding Roberts, is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
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