Columbus Court Oak R.I.P.

Historical Period: Republic of Texas (1836-1845)
Historical Topic: Law & Order, Republic of Texas
Species: Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
County: Colorado
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

Texas had declared herself a Republic. The Alamo had fallen. Santa Anna's army was out to quell the rebellious Texans with superior forces. Many fled in panic. General Houston, in the retreat that followed, instituted a scorched-earth policy to destroy buildings or anything else that could be used by the enemy. The entire town of Columbus was destroyed.

With the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, people returned to Columbus and commenced a period of reconstruction. There was no place in which to hold court and this gave historical importance to the Columbus Court Oak.

It was under the generous branches of this majestic live oak that the first term of the Colorado County District Court, under the Republic of Texas, was convened in April 1837 by the Honorable Robert McAlpin Williamson. He was called by his enemies “three-legged Willie.”

In his youth, Williamson had suffered a crippling disease that left his right leg permanently bent at the knee. To give himself greater mobility, he wore a wooden leg. He covered the wooden leg and his real legs with trousers that had three legs.

The first recorded case tried under this venerable tree occurred on May 17, 1839, and affords an example of early frontier justice. Before the Honorable District Judge James W. Robinson appeared William Bibbs. The charge was grand larceny. After hearing the indictment, Bibbs “plead guilty, and threw himself upon the mercy of the court.”

Judge Robinson decreed that “the prisoner should receive on this day 39 lashes on his bare back, [be] branded in the right hand with the letter “T”, and pay the cost of suit or be kept in custidy [sic] until he did pay said cost.

"Whereupon it being made appear that the prisoner being unable to pay the cost of said suit, the court did by the authority invested in them by the law exonerate him, the said W. H. Bibbs, the prisoner, from said cost and be discharged from custidy.”

The stump of this famous oak is located in the middle of Travis Street, on the east side of the Colorado County Courthouse, in Columbus.