William Lewis Davidson, soldier, lawyer, and judge, was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on November 5, 1845, the son of Asbury and Mary (Fly) Davidson. His father, a Methodist circuit rider, moved his family to Texas in 1851. Davidson attended Gonzales College and Stonewall Institute. He volunteered for the Confederate Army at age sixteen and served in Company B of the Thirty-second Texas Cavalry. In an autobiographical sketch written many years later, Davidson wrote that his company was an elite unit and the only one completely equipped with cavalry carbines, swords, and six-shooters west of the Mississippi. On his return from the war Davidson appears to have been involved in attacks on carpetbaggers and Reconstruction forces. One story claims that federal troops put a price on his head and that his mother smuggled food to him in a forest hideout for several months. In any case, he soon pursued a more staid career in the law and was admitted to the Texas bar in 1871. He married Susan B. Howard in Gonzales County in 1870, and they had seven children.
Davidson practiced law at Gonzales until he moved in January 1887 to Georgetown, partly if not wholly to send his children to Southwestern University. He was appointed assistant attorney general of Texas by Governor Lawrence S. Ross and served from 1887 to 1891, when he was appointed to the Court of Civil Appeals by Governor James S. Hogg. He was reelected to that position from 1892 to 1920. His legal philosophy, as presented in his autobiography, was characterized by a conservatively dim view of government interference, a concern for preserving the personal liberties of the individual, and an extreme aversion to paternalistic legal measures. Prohibitionists regarded him as an extremely influential opponent who consistently struck down their legislative efforts (see PROHIBITION). Davidson suffered a stroke of apoplexy while fishing in Austin and drowned on January 25, 1921. He was interred in the State Cemetery.
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Austin American, January 26, 27, 1921. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Davidson, William Lewis,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 30, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 1, 1994