Watts, Arthur Thomas (1837–1921)

By: Robert Wooster

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 1, 1995

Arthur Thomas Watts, Civil War soldier and jurist, son of John and Patience (Lott) Watts, was born in Covington County, Mississippi, on August 31, 1837. He was educated at Zion Seminary, then studied law under Judge John McNair, was admitted to the Texas bar in 1859, and practiced law in Polk County until the Civil War. Tax rolls indicate that he owned two slaves in 1860. With the outbreak of the war Watts joined the Sixteenth Mississippi Infantry Regiment. He was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia and saw action in Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign and at most of the eastern front's major battles. He was twice wounded. After the war he returned to his Polk County legal practice. In 1872 he was elected to the Thirteenth State Legislature, during which he proved a vigorous opponent of Reconstruction. He also helped formulate legislation that allowed the state to pay its debts to the Texas and Pacific Railway through land grants rather than taxation. Watts moved to Weatherford in 1874 and formed a law partnership with Samuel W. T. Lanham, who was later governor. By 1878 Watts had moved to Dallas. He was appointed to the Court of Commission of Appeals, an adjunct to the state supreme court in 1880, but he resigned in 1885 to resume his Dallas law practice. Watts proposed the abolition of jury trials in both civil and criminal cases in favor of a tribunal of three judges in 1891. In 1901 he settled in Beaumont, where he was appointed by Governor Lanham as judge of the Sixtieth District Court, and later he joined several Beaumont law firms. He was also a Mason and a member of a variety of professional organizations. Watts retired in 1920. Having lost his eyesight, he often visited the springs at Mineral Wells. He married Mary Victory on June 3, 1870, and they had six children. Watts died in Beaumont on June 28, 1921.

James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885). National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: White, 1891-).
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Robert Wooster, “Watts, Arthur Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/watts-arthur-thomas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995

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