Texas has long been a home for colorful persons, with colorful monikers. Here’s a sampler of some you might know…and others you might not.
Three Legged Willie – Robert McAlpin Williamson was a lawyer, ranger, San Jacinto vet and judge, among other things. Not to mention an all-around interesting character. An illness in his youth caused his right knee to be fused, leaving his lower leg parallel to the ground when standing. He lashed a peg to it and gained a nickname, but never lost a step.
Shanghai Pierce – Abel Head Pierce, the larger than life cattleman, was literally too big for his britches. Reaching six foot five after a growth spurt, young Abel was forced to wear trousers that exposed a good bit of ankle. His friends said he looked like a Shanghai rooster, a particularly long-legged breed.
Bigfoot Wallace – Texas Ranger William Alexander Anderson Wallace was a large man, but did not have overly big feet. He got the name because of a case of mistaken identity. In the vicinity of Austin in 1839 lived a terrifying Waco Indian who stood six foot eight and left a fourteen inch moccasin track in his wake. Everyone referred to him as Chief Bigfoot. One night the Indian entered the kitchen of Wallace’s neighbor and tore the place apart.
The neighbor finding moccasin tracks outside his door blamed Wallace, who was known for always wearing moccasins. Wallace proved his innocence by placing his much smaller foot in the Indian’s track. His friends thought this the height of humor and he was thereafter known as Bigfoot.
Lady Bird Johnson – Born Claudia Alta Taylor, she got her better known name from a nursemaid who proclaimed her, “Purty as a lady bird.” Her father and brothers called her Lady, but LBJ called her Bird.
The Great Western – Sarah Bowman landed in Texas with Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation in 1845. Armies had camp followers in those days and Sarah earned her keep by cooking meals for junior officers and providing “other comforts.” The army boys started calling her by the name of a famous steamboat of the day which was noted for its size. At six-two, Sarah stood more than a foot taller than the average woman back then. Rip Ford said that she, “had the reputation of being something of the roughest fighter on the Rio Grande and was approached in a polite, if not humble, manner.”
Dooley Wilson – Arthur Wilson, born in Tyler in 1894, is best known for playing Sam, the piano player in Casablanca. He got his nickname as a young Vaudevillian, when his signature song was “Mr. Dooley”
D. U. Barziza – Barziza was the son of both Italian and Virginian nobility. He came to Texas in the 1850s and practiced law in Robertson County. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted in Company C of the Fourth Texas Infantry (Hood’s Texas Brigade). He was wounded and captured at Gettysburg. When they put him on a train bound for a Yankee prison camp, he escaped by jumping through a window while the train was moving. He made his way to Canada, hopped a schooner to Bermuda and was back in Texas within a year.
It’s a great story…but let’s get back to his name. D. U. stood for his actual given name: Decimus et Ultimus. That’s Latin for “Tenth and Final.” Had his parents finally figured out how this kept happening?