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Oran Milo Roberts (1815-1898)

Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1857-1862
Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1864-1866

Oran Milo Roberts was born July 8, 1815 in the Laurens District of South Carolina and was raised near Ashville. When Roberts was ten his father died, and he moved with his mother to a small farm. He worked on the farm and attended school in a log schoolhouse during the winter months. Roberts shared his father's dream that he would one day enter the legal profession. In 1832, at the age of seventeen, he left home to attend the University of Alabama.

Following his college graduation in 1836, Roberts, then twenty-one, got a job tutoring the children of a judge. The position offered him access to his employer's law books, and he eagerly took advantage of the opportunity. He completed his law studies in the office of William P. Chilton, who later became an Alabama Supreme Court judge. In 1837 Roberts married and was admitted to the bar. The following year he was elected a representative to the Alabama legislature.

Oran Roberts moved to San Augustine, Texas in 1840, where he established a law practice and began a long and distinguished career as a Texas jurist, statesman, and educator. In 1844 Sam Houston appointed him district attorney. The following year he was appointed district judge by Gov. Henderson. He also served as president of the board and lecturer at the law school of the University of San Augustine. In 1857 he was elected associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Roberts was an outspoken proponent of states' rights, was instrumental in calling the Secession Convention in Austin in January 1861, and was unanimously elected its president. He was among the leaders who succeeded in passing the ordinance removing Texas from the Union. When the Civil War broke out, Roberts resigned his position on the bench and helped to organize a regiment in East Texas. Following Chief Justice Wheeler's suicide in 1864, Roberts was elected to fill his vacancy on the court.

After the war, Roberts was elected to the U.S. Senate, but as "unpardoned rebels" the southern senators were not allowed to be seated. He returned to private practice and opened a law school in Gilmer, Texas in 1868, where he taught for two years. Among his students was Sawnie Robertson, a future Texas Supreme Court justice.

Gov. Richard Coke appointed Roberts chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1874, and he was elected to the position in 1876. During his time on the bench, Roberts was involved in rewriting much of Texas civil law. He served on the court during "momentous times of conflict and change" under four state constitutions: 1845, 1861 (Confederacy), 1869, and 1876.

In 1878 Roberts was elected governor, and his longtime associate, George F. Moore, succeeded him as chief justice. In 1880 Roberts was reelected governor. As governor, he advocated sweeping fiscal reforms, reduced debt, and increased the public school fund. During his terms The University of Texas at Austin opened and plans were made for the present Capitol building.

Following his retirement from political office, Roberts served as a professor of law at The University of Texas from 1882-1892, where his students fondly called him "the Old Alcalde." While a professor he wrote an important textbook, The Elements of Texas Pleading (1890), as well as several other books. After he retired from teaching he moved to Marble Falls, where he focused on writing about Texas history. Returning to Austin in 1895, he became the first president of the Texas State Historical Association, an organization he helped found.

Oran M. Roberts died in Austin May 19, 1898 at the age of eighty-three. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin. He was said to have been admired by friends and adversaries alike for his integrity, sincerity, and honor, and was remembered as a just and impartial judge, a firm and conservative governor, and a kind and painstaking law professor.

Notable opinions

His opinions extend from Hart v. Weatherford (19 Texas reports 57) to Lacoste v. Deffy (49 Texas reports 767).

Duncan v. Magette, 25 Texas reports 253 (or 245?) (1860) "is familiar to every Texas judge and most Texas lawyers." (23 Texas Bar Journal 727).


Davenport, Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 49-59 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Dixon, Ford. Roberts, Oran Milo, Texas Handbook Online ( Last Updated July 18, 2001).

In Memoriam: Proceedings Touchinig the Death of Hon. Oran M. Roberts, Late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 92 Texas reports v-xii (1898).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 273-284 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Norvell, James R. A Texas Portrait: Oran M. Roberts, 23 Texas Bar Journal 727 (1960).

Extended bibliography

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People 70 (Austin, Texas: Steck Co., 1935).

Bentley, H. L. The Texas Legal Directory 56 (Austin, Texas: Democratic Statesman Office, 1877).

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 30 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Brass Tacks. "Brass Tacks" and Governor Roberts' Administration (San Antonio?, Texas: n.p., 1882?).

Brown, Patrick. A Study of the Laws Passed During the Administration of O. M. Roberts, Governor of Texas , 1879-1883 (Master's thesis, Sam Houston State Teacher's College, 1949).

Daniell, Lewis E. Texas, The Country and Its Men 110 (Austin?, Texas: the author, 1924?).

1 The New Encyclopedia of Texas 260. Ellis A. Davis and Edwin H. Grobe, eds. (Dallas, Texas: Texas Development Bureau, 1929?).

1 The Historical Encyclopedia of Texas 205. Ellis Arthur Davis, ed. (Texas Historical Society, 1936?).

DeCordova, Jacob. Texas; Her Resources and Her Public Men 273 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J. B. Lippincott, 1858).

DeShields, James T. They Sat in High Place 110, 112, 167, 170, 199, 266, 271, 277, 278, 305, 376 (San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Co., 1940).

Evans, Clement Anselm. 11 Confederate Military History 600 (n.p.: Confederate Publishing Co., 1899).

Fulmore, Z. T. The History and Geography of Texas as Told in County Names 205 (Austin, Texas: The Steck Co., 1915).

Haley, James Evetts. Fort Concho and the Texas Frontier 282 (San Angelo, Texas: San Angelo Standard Times, 1952).

History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Tarrant and Parker Counties 600 (Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Co., 1895).

Johnson, Francis White. 2 A History of Texas and Texans 1088 (Chicago, Illinois & New York, New York: The American Historical Society, 1914).

Johnson, Sidney Smith. Texans Who Wore the Gray 14 (Tyler?, Texas: the author, 1907).

Kittrell, Norman Goree. Governors Who Have Been, and Other Public Men of Texas 37 (Houston, Texas: Dealy-Adey-Elgin Co., 1921).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 273 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Manning, Wentworth. Some History of Van Zandt County 142 (Des Moines, Iowa: The Homestead Co., 1919).

Norton, Frank Edgar. The Major Administrative Policies of Oran Milo Roberts, With an Introduction to His Life (Master's thesis, University of Texas, 1925).

Richardson, Thomas Clarence. East Texas, Its History and Its Makers 562 (New York, New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1940).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 34 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

The Encyclopedia of the New West. William S. Speer, ed. (MarshAll, Texas: The United States Biographical Publishing Co., 1881).

Thrall, Homer S. A Pictorial History of Texas 600 (St. Louis, Missouri: N. D. Thompson & Co., 1879).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 1, page 3, 71, 77, 100, 128, 145, 233, 236, 249, 251, 262
Volume 2, page 2, 91, 95, 104, 117
Volume 11, page 303
Volume 12, page 87, 209
Volume 18 page 178, 186, 194
Volume 21, page 65
Volume 22, page 315
Volume 31, page 3, 4, 29
Volume 33, page 1, 9, 21
Volume 37, page 219
Volume 40, page 140
Volume 41, page 1
Volume 42, page 311, 313n, 402
Volume 44, page 25n, 93, 125, 162, 356, 441, 446, 489, 495
Volume 45, page 241
Volume 46, page 66
Volume 47, page 274, 309, 329, 409
Volume 49, page 163, 573
Volume 50, page 162, 269, 396, 450
Volume 51, page 239
Volume 52, page 216, 218
Volume 53, page 334, 435, 438
Volume 54, page 192, 393, 395
Volume 55, page 71, 347, 452, 453
Volume 56, page 67, 437, 517
Volume 57, page 124, 371
Volume 58, page 395, 401, 420, 421, 435
Volume 59, page 500
Volume 60, page 3, 8, 17, 109, 111, 307, between 410 and 411, 436, 437, 583
Volume 61, page 167
Volume 62, page 143, 145n, 146, 156, 159, 162, 203, 334
Volume 63, page 65, 67, 82
Volume 64, page 297, 398, 513, 520
Volume 65, page 172, 177, 180, 449
Volume 66, page 498
Volume 67, page 168, 172, 298, 327, 329, 337, 338, 340
Volume 68, page 468
Volume 69, page 123, 232, 233, 237, 238
Volume 70, page 354
Volume 72, page 350, 521
Volume 73, page 235
Volume 78, page 12, 70n, 72n
Volume 80, page 428
Volume 82, page 435

Additional information available in Texas Bar Journal as follow:
Volume 23, page 727

Norvell, James R. Oran M. Roberts and the Semicolon Court, 37 Texas Law Review 279.

Brown, Frank. Annals of Travis County and of the City of Austin 19:49. Archives Division, Texas State Library (Austin, Texas).

Oran Milo Roberts Papers. Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas (Austin, Texas).