The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today.

Font size: A / A reset

Support Texas History Now

Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.

Become a TSHA Member Today »

Watkins, Theophilus (1819–1883)

Sallie Lewis Biography Entry

Theophilus Watkins, irrigation pioneer, was born in Kentucky in 1819. He was married to Susan Williams, and they had one daughter. After his wife's death he moved to Texas in 1845 with his brother, Charles, and lived for a time near the site of present Sabinal, on land later known as Watkins' Flat. In 1848 he went to California but returned to Kentucky in 1850; he moved back to Texas in 1854, this time bringing his daughter. He was a captain at Fort Inge near Uvalde, and his company protected the area from Indian attacks. On December 1, 1867, he was married in Kentucky to Frances Anna Elizabeth Mosely; they had six children. Watkins settled in the valley of the Frio River, Frio Canyon, in what later became Real County, where he saw the possibilities for an irrigation system with water from the Frio River. In 1868, together with F. Smith and Newman Patterson, he constructed a ditch ten miles long and five feet wide, with a depth ranging from three to four feet. It was a gravity canal supplied with water by means of a dam built of brush and gravel on the main Frio River. The ditch was not put into full operation until a charter was granted to the Lombardy Irrigation Company on August 20, 1875. The ditch was still in operation in the 1960s, and the dam had been rebuilt a number of times. Watkins died in 1883 and was buried in the cemetery at Rio Frio.

Grace Lorene Lewis, A History of Real County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1956).

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

Sallie Lewis, “Watkins, Theophilus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 10, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995