Robert McAlpin Williamson: Texan to the core
Thunk! The sharp-honed Bowie knife plunged into the wood of the judge’s make-shift dais. “This is the law that governs here,” said its owner. The judge eyed the Shelby County man and the crowd behind him. Lawlessness had plagued this part of Texas for too long. Order needed to be restored. Judge Williamson stood up and pulled out a pistol. “If this is your law, this is the constitution that overrules it,” he said, laying the pistol next to the knife. Court proceeded without further interruption.
Written into the fabric of Texas history are the stories of men and women whose interminable spirit and love for the land forged a republic and later a state. Robert McAlpin Williamson was such a man. Lawyer, newspaper editor, Texas Ranger, cavalryman, judge, and statesman—he exemplified the larger-than-life persona of many early Texans.
Mickie Ross, Executive Director of the Williamson Museum and a sixth-generation Texan, describes the county’s namesake: “He wasn’t born here [in Texas], but he got here as quickly as he could. I think that’s what makes Texas different is people who come here and embody what everybody believes Texas is,” she explains. “Williamson fought for Texas, he believed in Texas. He fought not only physically in the [Texas Revolution], but he also fought for what he thought was right for Texans. That’s what makes Williamson so remembered.”
Williamson was born in Georgia around 1804. When he was fifteen, an illness left his right leg permanently bent behind him at the knee. Williamson walked by leaning his right knee on a peg leg, garnering him the name “Three Legged Willie.” At nineteen, he became a lawyer and practiced law in Georgia before moving to San Felipe de Austin, Texas, in the late 1820s.
The growing calls for Texas’ independence from Mexico appealed to the young firebrand. Williamson edited three newspapers, often writing in favor of independence. In November 1835, he was a delegate to the Consultation—a prerevolutionary meeting that established a provisional Texas government. Williamson was commissioned there as a major in the newly formed Texas Rangers.
On April 21, 1836, Williamson took the fight to the Mexican army. During the Battle of San Jacinto, he rode in the cavalry wearing a nine-tailed coonskin cap. Approximately one thousand Texans defeated the Mexican army in eighteen minutes in a decisively one-sided battle.
“While he is not a hero of the [Texas] revolution on the same tier as Travis, Houston, Bowie, and Crockett, in terms of having influenced the movement towards the revolution, he was close,” says Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, a sixth-generation Texan and a Williamson enthusiast. “I think Williamson and others like him represented and fostered a renegade, independent-thinking Texas spirit.”
After the revolution, Williamson served a new role in the burgeoning Republic of Texas. He was elected judge of the Third Judicial District, often covering vast stretches of hill country on horseback as he fulfilled his duties. “You got the impression Williamson could be a tough judge, but he also had a heart and did not ignore the way that human emotions could play themselves out [in the courtroom],” Judge Stubblefield says.
In 1840, Williamson left the bench and spent ten years in Congress. First, as a representative and senator during the Republic and after annexation in 1845—something he strongly championed, even naming one of his sons “Annexus”—he served two terms in the Texas Senate. But no matter what hat he wore—judge, lawyer, cavalryman, legislator—Williamson’s unwavering dedication to Texas is something the folks of Williamson County can be proud of.