Brown, Robert T. (1873–1952)

By: Jerrell Dean Palmer

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: January 29, 2022

Robert T. Brown, judge, was born in 1873 at Brown's Lake, three miles north of Henderson, Texas, the son of Taylor Brown, Jr. His mother was the daughter of Robert W. Smith, a Texas army officer who fought at San Jacinto. Brown was educated in public schools and at Rock Hill Institute, near Minden. He read law in the offices of John Arnold and W. C. Buford. Brown said that he received his training "in the field with chain and compass," and since most of the estimated 25,000 cases he tried during his twenty-seven years on the bench involved boundaries and titles, it was to his advantage that he knew the territory. He was admitted to the bar in 1898 and served two terms as county attorney. In 1924 he became district judge of the Fourth Judicial District, which at that time included Rusk, Panola, and Shelby counties. The East Texas boom produced thousands of lawsuits, and many important ones came to Brown's court. He sat on the case against Columbus M. Joiner to put the oil well Daisy Bradford No. 3 into receivership. He sat on Joiner's cases against Ed Laster and H. L. Hunt, both of which resulted in Joiner's withdrawing his complaint. Brown's court decided in favor of Parade Gasoline Company when its residue gas was involved in the New London School Explosion.

Judge Brown became known for his dry wit. His judgment in the case against Joiner has become famous: "I believe that when it takes a man three and a half years to find a baby he ought to be able to rock it for a while. This hearing is postponed indefinitely." About the attraction of oil: "If you want a successful gathering of long-lost kinfolks, just manage to find oil on the old homestead." And about the failure to find it: "Nothing, not even the facts, can settle a lawsuit as quickly and as thoroughly as a dry hole." Brown was a Mason. He died of a heart attack in his courthouse office on October 24, 1952, and was buried at Lakewood Memorial Cemetery in Henderson.

James Anthony Clark and Michael T. Halbouty, The Last Boom (New York: Random House, 1972). Dallas News, October 14, 1951, October 25, 1952. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Lawyers
  • Oil and Gas and Natural Resources Law

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jerrell Dean Palmer, “Brown, Robert T.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
January 29, 2022