Robert McAlpin Williamson was born in Clark County, Georgia in 1804. His mother died shortly after his birth and his father left him to be raised by his grandparents. When he was 15, he came down with what was then called tubercular arthritis in his right leg. A bone infection disease, tubercular arthritis causes very painful swelling of weight-bearing joints and almost always results in deformation of lower legs. Robert was bed-ridden for months and when he recovered, his right leg was paralyzed and shrunken to uselessness below the knee.
During his illness and months of recovery, he studied math, Latin, literature and the law. He became a lawyer and was admitted to the bar when he was only 19 years old. After practicing law for a little over one year, Robert left Georgia and traveled to Alabama and New Orleans. Rumor has it he became involved with a married woman in New Orleans and fled to Austin, Texas in 1827 after severely wounding her husband in a duel.
After arriving in Texas, Robert became friends with Stephen F. Austin (the "Father of Texas") and William Barrett Travis, practiced law and founded a newspaper, The Cotton Plant. He also became good friends with strong drink and late nights in bars and saloons. It was about this time that Robert did something with his useless leg that would earn him an interesting nickname and assure his place in Texas lore. He hired a local woodworker to carve a peg leg for him which he attached to his right knee and folded the useless part of his leg behind him. He had his clothes tailored with three legs - one for his good leg, one for his peg leg, and one for his bad leg. With his good leg, bad leg, peg leg, and walking stick, he made a memorable site. Soon everyone started calling him "3-legged Willie." Nobody enjoyed the name more than Robert himself and he began to introduce himself as 3-Legged Willie.
Noah Smithwick, Austin's blacksmith, told the story of how 3-Legged Willie came pounding on his door very early one morning - very early for Noah, very late for 3-Legged Willie, who was returning home from an all-night carousing. When Noah opened his door, Williamson stood there teetering and said in a loud voice, "Look here, Smith! A man has fallen down and broken his leg. Would you be so kind as to lend a hand?" In his inebriated state, 3-Legged Willie had hung his peg leg in a gopher hole and snapped it in two.
One morning after another night of liberal imbibing in one of his favorite saloons, 3-Legged Willie happened to come upon an orphaned buffalo calf and decided on the spot to catch it and make it his pet. The calf was only about half-grown, but it was plenty big enough to handle himself. Willie made it home where he grabbed a rope, jumped on his horse, quickly rode back and roped his intended pet. Unfortunately, the young buffalo wanted nothing to do with Willie and he promptly head-butted him, knocking Willie to the ground about 6 feet backwards. Willie, not one to easily be denied, got up, dusted himself off, and approached the buffalo once more. Again Willie ended up on the ground several feet away from where he started. This happened twice more by which time Willie evidently sobered up enough to realize this particular buffalo wasn't going to be his pet anytime soon. He decided to remove his rope and let the animal go, but the buffalo wasn't about to let Willie get anywhere near him for any reason whatsoever and butted him several more times. By now, Willie was plenty fed up with this nonsense. He mounted his horse and removed one of the heavy iron stirrups before riding close up on the buffalo and jumped on his back. While the buffalo jumped about bawling and kicking and bucking all over the field, Willie hung on for dear life with one hand and beat the animal on the head with the stirrup in the other until the poor beast fell and was finally killed. Willie pulled out his knife, butchered it right where it fell and took the steaks home.
After Texas became a republic, Willie became one of the very first circuit-court judges. His was a large circuit which included Gonzales County, an area with little to no law. The rough citizens who lived there had even refused to have a courthouse built so what little court that got held was conducted in the shade of a large live oak tree.
Willie, or "Judge Williamson" as he was now called, decided to bring law to Gonzales county whether it wanted it or not. He rode into town one day to preside over a trial of several local cowboys who had been arrested by a Texas Ranger. He strolled over to the live oak tree, laid a plank of wood over several whiskey barrels and sat down on a nail keg. He leaned his walking stick and shotgun against the tree, placed his law-book and gavel on the plank and pronounced court to be in session. By now, a large number of spectators had gathered around and evidently decided to let Judge Williamson know how they felt about their regard for a court. They began shouting, whistling, and making a general loud ruckus. The louder the judge called for order, the louder the unruly crowd became.
Soon enough, Judge Willie had had enough of such nonsense. He reached beside him, picked up his shotgun, cocked the hammer and laid it on the plank of wood in front of him with his finger on the trigger. Things got real quiet real fast. In a scary calm voice, he said, "This court is coming to order. If it doesn't come to order right now, I am, by God, gonna kill somebody and I am not particular who I kill." Court came to order right then and every time thereafter when Judge Williamson held court in Gonzales County, it came promptly to order.
Judge Willie became even more of a Texas legal-system legend when he had a drunken lawyer arguing a civil case in his court. The defense lawyer didn't have much of a case and was hoping his eloquence would sway the judge to find in his client's favor. As he continued to argue his case during the afternoon, he kept refreshing his evidently dry mouth from a brown jug he kept at his table. The more he refreshed himself, the more rambling and twisted his reasoning became and the louder he got.
After listening patiently for most of the afternoon, Judge Willie became exasperated and asked, "Counselor, where is the law to support your contention in this matter?"
Perhaps due to the liquid in his brown jug, the lawyer forgot who he was standing in front of. He reached under his coat and pulled out a foot-long Bowie knife, waved it at the judge and said, "This, by God, is the law in this case!"
Judge Willie promptly reached under his coat, pulled out a horse-pistol with a bore big enough that a large man could stick his thumb into it and pointed it straight at the lawyer's head. The hammer was back and the judge's finger was on the trigger as he declared, "And this, by God, is the Constitution. You, sir, are overruled." It is said the front of the lawyer's pants suddenly became wet as he quickly sat down behind his table.
The legacy left by Judge Willie is as a fair and honest judge who possessed a good amount of common sense, but not someone to be messed with. Perhaps we could use a few modern-day Judge Willie's.