Williams, Oscar Waldo (1853–1946)

By: Glenn Justice

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 19, 2019

Oscar Waldo (O. W.) Williams, lawyer, surveyor, historian, and county judge, son of Jesse Caleb and Mary Ann (Collier) Williams, was born in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, on March 17, 1853. Williams spent his childhood in Carthage, Illinois, where his father established a general merchandise store. He studied at Christian University in Canton, Missouri, and Bethany College in West Virginia before receiving a law degree from Harvard University in 1876. Poor health, diagnosed as tuberculosis, forced Williams to seek an arid climate. The following year he moved to Dallas and found employment as a surveyor of public lands. For the next three years he went on several surveying expeditions to West Texas. He kept detailed journals of his travels. Williams did surveys in several counties and laid out Block O of Lubbock County, the site of the city of Lubbock. In 1880 the lure of silver mines drew Williams to Shakespeare, New Mexico, where he prospected without success. He returned to Dallas and on December 15, 1881, married Sallie Wheat, the daughter of a prominent Dallas family and a graduate of Christian College in Columbia, Missouri. The couple belonged to the Christian Church. The first of their five children, O. W. Williams, Jr., was born in Dallas in 1883. The following year Williams and his family moved to Fort Stockton, where he accepted a job as deputy surveyor of Pecos County. He was appointed a surveyor and land agent of the University of Texas in 1886. In the same year he was elected Pecos county judge, a position he held until 1888. His prohibitionist views caused him to lose the election of 1890. He was reelected county judge in 1892 and continued in office for eight years following a failed Pecos River cotton irrigation project that left him deeply in debt. Turning to scholarly pursuits, Williams wrote "Route of Cabeza de Vaca in Texas." The article was published in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association in 1899. He joined the Texas State Mineral Survey from the University of Texas to conduct a field study of minerals and plant and animal life in the Big Bend region in 1901. Two new species of ants were discovered by Williams, one of which was named for him. Williams acquired large amounts of land in Pecos County, and his law practice grew considerably after the discovery of oil in West Texas. He was keenly interested in the oil business, leased most of his land, and prepared leases and contracts for others. Two of his sons, Waldo and Clayton, were involved in the drilling of the first oil wells in Reagan County. Williams produced several pamphlets, including The Big Snow of 1878 in 1933 and Muddy Wilson and the Buffalo Stampede in 1938. After a long illness he died on October 29, 1946, and was buried in East Hill Cemetery near Fort Stockton.

Oscar Waldo Williams, Pioneer Surveyor, Frontier Lawyer: The Personal Narrative of O. W. Williams (El Paso: Texas Western College Press, 1966).


  • 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.

Glenn Justice, “Williams, Oscar Waldo,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/williams-oscar-waldo.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 19, 2019

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