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  • Texas | Columns

    Three-Legged Willie

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman
    Three-legged 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 of lawyers.

    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 court session.

    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 County.”

    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 him.”


    © Bob Bowman
    October 23, 2011 Column
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    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
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    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

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