Foreword: Book 1

Taming Texas: How Law and Order Came to the Lone Star State


The laws people choose for themselves describe the society they live in. Does it protect individual liberty? Respect property rights? Limit government? Treat people equally? Try to provide justice to the rich and poor, the strong and weak, alike? To us, the answers may seem simple. But over the years, judges and lawmakers have fought against power and prejudice to produce the society we enjoy today.

This book is about how that happened in Texas. Settlers from Spain and Mexico brought with them a civil law tradition that had its origins in Roman law two thousand years ago. At the same time, other pioneers from the United States believed in a common law system borrowed from England. Coming together in this wild frontier, people from very different cultures and backgrounds had to find new ways to settle their disputes and establish order. They recognized women’s rights, protected homesteads, tamed the railroads, and fostered the independent spirit that had brought them here in the first place.

Many early lawmakers are well-known heroes of early Texas history—like Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, and Lorenzo de Zavala. Others’ names are not as familiar—Francisco de Arocha, John Hemphill, Robert “Three-Legged Willie” Williamson (yes, he was a Justice on the Texas Supreme Court!)—yet they, too, played important roles in the early court system. Together they created a legal system, tamed the frontier, and made Texas a safe place to live and work. This book tells their stories.

Over the years, as people have changed, Texas laws and courts have changed with them. Today the Texas court system is one of the largest in the country, with more than 3,000 judges deciding more than 10 million cases every year. Courts’ decisions affect all of us. As we look to the future, we must not forget the past that led us here.

I have spent most of my life as a judge. Serving the people of Texas has been a great honor. Reading this book may inspire you to learn more about the Third Branch of government and to become a lawyer or judge. I hope so.

Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice
The Supreme Court of Texas