Three-Legged Willie: A Legendary Hero of Texas History

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Tony Maples Photography


In 2013, a great statue was erected in the likeness of a famous Texan in front of the Williamson Museum in Georgetown, Texas. The statue is of a man with three legs; a good leg, a bent leg, and a wooden leg. He is the man history remembers as “Three-legged Willie.” In a time and country where having a debilitating disease might hold you back from becoming a prominent leader in Texas history, Robert McAlpin Williamson didn’t let his three legs hold him back. When Willie was 15, he contracted a disease that left his right leg permanently bent at the knee. He had a wooden leg strapped to that knee, and he learned to walk again. The man called Three-legged Willie went on to become a soldier, congressman, and judge who helped shape the Texas we know and love today.

Willie was born in Georgia in the early 1800s. Not much is known about his birth or how he came to Texas. He became well-read in his teens while excluded from society by his illness. According to the Texas State Historical Association, in his late teens, Willie was admitted to the bar and practiced law. When he migrated to Texas, he established a newspaper where he was living in San Felipe de Austin. He later went on to write for the Mexican Citizen and the Texas Gazette.

When Willie experienced Mexican tyranny, he rose to leadership as a delegate for the Texas colonists. The provisional government instated him as a major, and he was given orders to organize a company of rangers. He later participated in William H. Smith’s cavalry in the Battle of San Jacinto. In return for his service, he received 640 acres of Texas frontier from the state.

Three-Legged Willie: A Legendary Hero of Texas History

Photo: Courtesy The Williamson Museum

In 1836, Willie was elected to the Supreme Court by the First Congress of the Republic. He would go on to serve as a congressman in the house and in the senate. One year when Willie was a frontier judge, a mob got out of hand. When the mob’s lawyer stated he had postponed court for the day, Willie called the defense attorney to cite a law that supported such a proposal. The lawyer showed Willie a Bowie knife and declared the knife was the law that governed them. Willie then showed a long-barreled pistol to the lawyer and claimed the gun was the constitution that overruled it.

After losing a race for congress in 1850, Willie retired to his farm with his wife and made the education of his seven children his main priority. He also wrote about the history of events that led to the Texas Revolution.

Williamson County was established in his honor in 1848. In the next decade, Three-legged Willie suffered the loss of his wife and another illness that affected his mind. Three-legged Willie lived one year longer than his wife and died in 1859 in his father-in-law’s home in Wharton, Texas. He is forever remembered through his participation in the Texas Republic, and his statue stands tall in Williamson county on his good leg, his bent leg, and his wooden leg.