Williamson County Texas – No more “Sans” thanks to “Three Legged Willie”

Williamson County, Texas – No more “Sans” thanks to “Three Legged Willie”

Ever wonder why our home county is named “Williamson”? Most people would guess that it was named after some prominent resident who resided here or did some great thing in the county’s history. In fact, it was named after a man who never even lived here! Our county’s namesake is Robert McAlpin Williamson and although his connection to Williamson County doesn’t go much further than the name, his life makes for quite a story.

He was born in Georgia sometime between 1804 and 1806. Orphanrobert-mcalpin-williamsoned by the death of his mother and the abandonment of his father before his first birthday, he was raised by his grandmother in Milledgeville, Georgia. He studied law and was admitted to the bar by the time he was twenty. He must have been a peculiar site in Georgia courtrooms, as five years earlier, he had contracted a form of arthritis that left his right knee locked at a 90 degree angle for the rest of his life. Since the leg was perfectly healthy (other than the fact the knee wouldn’t unbend) the decision was made not to amputate the useless appendage. Instead a wooden leg was attached to the knee, giving him the nickname “Three-Legged-Willie.” Apparently he didn’t much care for the name since no one was willing to use it to his face.

Despite his odd deformity, something he obviously never saw as a limitation, he joined Stephen F. Austin’s colony in 1827. Some stories claim that the move was not of his own choosing. By those accounts, he was on the run after injuring a rival suitor in a duel over a young lady. Once in Texas, Williamson expended his considerable energy in founding and editing several newspapers and serving as the first public prosecutor for what later became Travis County. Never held back by his deformed leg, Williamson was an excellent rider and marksman and was soon appointed a Major in the Texas Rangers. He fought Comanches on the frontier and the Mexican Army at Gonzalez and San Jacinto. He helped to write the first constitution of the Republic of Texas and served as a Supreme Court Justice and Circuit Judge. (District Judges rode circuits within their districts and simultaneously served as Supreme Court justices.)

After ending his career in the Texas judiciary, he ran for and won office in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate in the Republic of Texas. After the annexation of Texas, he served as a representative in the state government and it is here that we come to the story of how Williamson County came to bear his name. In 1848 the state legislature, responding to a petition from 107 residents of western Milam County, decided to split off what is now Williamson County. The question came up as to what they should call what is now our home county. The most favored name seemed to be “San Gabriel” for the river that runs through it and was an early center of settlement. An objection was raised by Representative Williamson who stood up and irreverently exclaimed that, “We’ve already got enough San’s in Texas!” One of his legislative colleagues responded by proposing that since he disagreed with the name San Gabriel, they should just name the new county for Judge Williamson himself. The motion carried and today we live in Williamson County rather than San Gabriel County.

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