Where Williamson County got its name

He was a lawyer.

He was a newspaper editor.

He was a Texas Ranger.

He was a member of the Republic of Texas legislature.

He was a judge.

And he was disabled.

Let’s hear it for the man for whom Williamson County, Texas, is named.

The Legal Genealogist was just poking around old Texas laws, getting ready for this weekend’s 2019 seminar of the Williamson County Genealogical Society, and was toying with the idea of seeing how many times the word Williamson appeared in the Texas statutes before Williamson County was formed.

Turns out the answer would have been “way too many” since Williamson County wasn’t formed until 1848,1 and Robert McAlpin Williamson had been a member of the Republic of Texas Legislature since 1840.2

So I decided to read up on Williamson himself.

And boy am I glad I did…

What a character.

Robert McAlpin Williamson

Born in Georgia, disabled as a teenager by tubercular arthritis that left him using a wooden leg fastened to his right knee, he became known as “Three-Legged Willie.” He read the law while he was ill and was admitted to practice law in Georgia when he was just about 19 years of age.3

That wasn’t nearly enough for “Three-Legged Willie.” He lit out for the frontier, and ended up in Texas by June of 1827. And there he catapulted himself into Texas history.

The State Bar says that, in San Felipe de Austin, “Williamson became friends with Stephen F. Austin and William B. Travis. He practiced law and co-founded a newspaper, the Cotton Plant, in 1829. By 1830 he had been appointed the first prosecuting attorney for the San Felipe district. He served as editor of the Texas Gazette and then the Mexican Citizen until 1831.” During the Texas Revolution, “he was made major of the Texas Rangers. Despite his disability, he was a capable horseman and a skilled marksman.”4

I kind of like the way another source describes his service alongside Travis:

Travis soon became a leader in the Texas Revolution alongside San Felipe’s alcalde, the Republic’s future Supreme Court Judge, “Three-Legged Willie” Williamson. Travis’s fame resulted in General Santa Anna’s issuance of arrest warrants for Travis and Williamson—dubbed by Santa Anna as “obnoxious Texans.”5

In 1836, Williamson became a judge and associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court. And the stories continue to grow:

Williamson was a colorful character, and numerous legends about him persist. The most famous of these, though it varies according to its source, involves the first court session held in Shelby County. The region was known for its lawlessness during the violent years of the Regulator-Moderator War, in which two rival vigilante groups battled for control. As court was about to convene, a man stood before the court and made a motion that the local citizens had declared court should not be held. When Williamson asked the grounds for his request, the man reportedly plunged a Bowie knife into the table that served as the judge’s dais, and stated in effect, “This is the law that governs here.” Judge Williamson rose to his feet, drew his pistol, laid it on the table next to the knife, and replied, “If this is your law, this is the constitution that overrules it.” The trial proceeded without further interruption…6

Williamson married, had seven children, ran for office and served in the Legislature of the Republic of Texas, lost races for other offices including lieutenant governor in 1851 and died in Wharton County in 1859.7

Robert McAlpin Williamson.

“Three-Legged Willie.”

An obnoxious Texan.

A weekend in his county is going to be a blast.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Three-Legged Willie,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 15 Mar 2019).

SOURCES

  1. See “An Act … to create the County of Williamson, …,” 13 March 1848, in H.P.N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols. (Austin : Gammel Book Co., 1898), 3: 76-77; digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (https://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 11 Mar 2019).
  2. See “Robert McAlpin Williamson (c. 1804-1859),” Justices of Texas 1836-1986, Jamail Center for Legal Research, Tarlton Law Library (https://tarltonapps.law.utexas.edu/ : accessed 14 Mar 2019).
  3. Ibid. See also “WILLIAMSON, ROBERT MCALPIN (THREE LEGGED WILLIE),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/ : accessed 14 Mar 2019).
  4. Robert McAlpin Williamson (c. 1804-1859),” Justices of Texas 1836-1986, Jamail Center for Legal Research, Tarlton Law Library (https://tarltonapps.law.utexas.edu/ : accessed 14 Mar 2019).
  5. Dylon O. Drummond, “The Toughest Bar in Texas: The Alamo Bar Association,” The Appellate Advocate, Spring 2015, PDF online, Texas State Bar (https://www.texasbar.com/ : accessed 14 Mar 2019).
  6. Robert McAlpin Williamson (c. 1804-1859),” Justices of Texas 1836-1986, Jamail Center for Legal Research, Tarlton Law Library (https://tarltonapps.law.utexas.edu/ : accessed 14 Mar 2019).
  7. Ibid.
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