It joined the ranks of Texas militias across the state, nine black and 38 white.
Corpus Christi brickmason Evan M. Mack was voted the company’s first commanding officer and the body reported to the Texas adjutant general.
“A brick mason and a widower with two sons,” writes the Corpus Christi Police Department, “Mack was an Army veteran, enlisting as a free black man in Company I, 116th Infantry US Colored Infantry Regiment from 1864 to 1867.”
Around the time of its formation, the Texas Legislature revised the state’s militia-related code — reconstituting the bodies into “Volunteer Guards” which, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “set forth the legal requirements to form military companies and elect officers, while providing reporting obligations and bonding instructions to procure firearms from the state, etc.”
Another revision was done a decade later in 1889 by the Legislature. Among the bureaucratic reshuffling in House Bill 515 of the 21st Regular Session was a requirement that the voluntary enlistment periods for militias span not less than three years.
“[I]t shall not be lawful for any body of men whatsoever, other than the regularly organized volunteer guard, to associate themselves together as a military company or organization, or to parade in public with arms in any part of the state, without the license of the governor therefor,” the law reads.
The 1889 law was cobbled together so abruptly that the Legislature expedited its passage: “Whereas there is in existence no law which sufficiently provides the manner by which the militia of the state shall be governed, and the lateness of the session creates an emergency and imperative public necessity authorizing the suspension of the constitutional rule requiring bills to be read on three several days, and the rule is suspended.”
Increased oversight, requirements, and scrutiny caused Roberts Rifles to fold. In 1892, a white regiment was granted rights to the name; the former “Roberts Rifles” changed its name to the Bluff City Guards. Mack continued to serve as the body’s captain.
About the difficulties faced by these regiments in maintaining their operations under the new rules, the TSHA says, “While the state supplied firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements, each company commanding officer had to obtain a bond for this equipment in an amount ranging from $800 to $1,600.”
“Each member of the company had to provide for his own uniform, had to incur the cost of maintaining the equipment from the state, had to provide for a proper armory to safeguard that equipment, had to pay for his own travel expenses, and lost time and pay at his place of employment to report for drills and inspections. Throughout the state these burdens became unbearable and took their toll on many, especially the laboring poor.”
But before the militia folded, Roberts Rifles was the centerpiece of the community’s Juneteenth celebrations; the now-federal holiday of Texas origins celebrates Galveston’s notice that the Civil War had ended, two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
At the time of Roberts Rifles’ creation, Corpus Christi had a population of 3,257 — substantially smaller than Galveston, at that time the state’s largest city, home to over 22,000 people.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.