front of the Williamson Museum in Georgetown
is a statue of the county's namesake, Robert McAlpin Williamson. Dapper
in a long-tailed coat, double-breasted vest and cane, he projects
all the strength and wisdom we'd expect to see in a namesake. But
wait a minute. What's the deal with that leg? Or legs?
The left leg is normal looking enough, but the right one, well, there's
two of them. One is pinned back behind his knee, but another one extends
to the ground without benefit of a foot. That's an accurate representation
of how people of his day saw Williamson, and it's why they called
him "Three-Legged Willie."
The odd moniker comes from an illness Williamson suffered as a teenager,
when he came down with what he called "white swelling" but was most
likely polio. Since the illness left his right leg drawn back at the
knee he took to wearing a peg leg that extended from his knee to the
ground. A tailor sewed an extra piece of cloth to the knee of his
trousers to cover the wooden leg, leaving him with one good leg, one
bad leg and one wooden leg. His friends took to calling him Three-Legged
| Born in Georgia
in either 1804 or 1806, Willie came to Texas in the 1820s under circumstances
as hazy as his birthdate, but he left a legacy as durable as his statue.
He organized the first three companies of Texas Rangers for the Republic
of Texas, served as a judge on an otherwise lawless frontier and
as a senator for both the Republic of Texas and the state. He also
found time to serve on the Republic's Supreme Court. Three-Legged
Willie was no slacker.
Early day settler Noah Smithwick knew and appreciated Williamson,
and wrote of him in Evolution of a State: "To Judge Williamson,
nature had been indeed lavish of her mental gifts, but as if repenting
of her prodigality in that line, she later afflicted him with a grievous
physical burden. He would leave a court room over which he had just
presided with all the grace and dignity of lord chief and justice,
and within the hour be patting Juba for some nimble footed scape-grace
One time Willie danced so hard he broke his wooden leg and woke up
Smithwick in the middle of the night, calling "O Smithwick; come here;
here's a man with a broken leg."
Smithwick, a blacksmith, took the fractured limb to his shop and braced
it up so that it was as good as new. The Judge, Smithwick wrote, "went
on his way rejoicing."
The best-known story concerning Williamson as a frontier judge - and
there are many - took place in Shelbyville
when he was appointed to judge a mob of men not eager to be judged
by Three-Legged Willie or anybody else. The mob's lawyer penned a
resolution stating that court simply would not be held that day, and
basically dared Williamson to do something about it.
Williamson read the resolution aloud, then asked the defense attorney
to cite a law allowing such a proposal. The lawyer produced a Bowie
knife and laid it on the bench.
"This is the law that governs here," he said
Willie produced a long-barreled pistol and slammed it down on top
of the knife, declaring "This is the constitution that overrules it"
and court proceeded without further delay.
Willie told a story on himself concerning a time when he was part
of a survey team in present-day Williamson
County that encountered a large herd of buffalo.
Willie decided he just had to chase one of the big woolies down. Despite
warnings from his more prudent companions, Williamson channeled his
inner Comanche and galloped his horse in full pursuit of the buffalo.
The chase ended when his horse hit a patch of mud and performed a
feat of acrobatics that separated Three-Legged Willie from the four-legged
horse. The horse recovered and continued on its way without Willie,
who remained stuck in the mud, his leg and crutch hopelessly mired
in the muck. His companions eventually got around to rescuing him.
Some accounts point to that story as the inspiration for naming Williamson
County in Three-Legged Willie's honor. A more accepted version
places the naming in 1848 when citizens in the western end of a sprawling
Milam County petitioned
the legislature for a new county with offices closer to their settlements
than Nashville-on-the Brazos. The legislators agreed to create a new
county but weren't sure what to call it.
When one senator suggested "County of San Gabriel" Williamson reportedly
stood up and protested against having any more saints in Texas.
The majority then voted to name the county for Williamson. The bronze
statue of him was unveiled in front of the Williamson Museum in 2013,
giving his likeness a permanent residence in a county where the real
Three-Legged Willie never lived.