Willie limped into Texas in 1827, a young
man in his early twenties, already a capable and respected lawyer.
Born Robert McAlphin Williamson, Willie came from a Georgia family
When he was fifteen, his school career was terminated by an illness
which confined him to his home for two years and left him a cripple
for life. His right leg was drawn back at the knee; the wooden leg
which he wore from the knee to the ground resulted in his widely-known
title of "Three Legged Willie." Williamson read much during his illness,
was admitted to the bar around the age of nineteen, and likely practiced
law in Georgia for more than a year.
In the late 1820s he migrated to Texas
and settled at San
Felipe de Austin.
Willie’s deformity did not make him a weakling. On the other hand,
the deformity was tough on him. His reputation as a judge became legendary
in East Texas.
Willie was a circuit court judge for the Shelbyville
district and made his first appearance in East
Texas on the third Monday in September of 1837.
The night before he opened court, a group of radicals decided that
the idea of submitting to a Republic
of Texas judge was distasteful and made plans to break up Willie’s
The judge and his entourage arrived and set up court under the shade
of an oak tree at Shelbyville
and used a wooden box as the court’s bench.
When Willie seated himself, the band of ruffians walked in and informed
him that no such court would be held. When Willie asked the man what
authority he had, the man pulled out a large knife and said: “This
is the law of Shelby
Willie pulled out a long-barreled pistol and slapped it on the table
beside the knife ”If that is the law of Shelby
County, this is the constitution that overrides your law.”
As the ruffian slipped away, Judge Williamson said,”Mr. Sheriff, will
you please call the grand jury.”
Some people living in those days said Willie was so tough that he
could have tried and convicted the devil himself if the sheriff had
brought him to court.
Willie reportedly gave a sentence to a Shelby
County man. “Sheriff, take this man across the Serbian River,
and if he ever comes back, or even wets his toes in the river, shoot
23, 2011 Column
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