Texas Legends Debunked

1. The Alamo’s defenders were soldiers. False. Six were attorneys, including William Travis (Travis County is the seat of our state government in Austin).


2. Our state’s legal system started in 1836 when the Republic of Texas was founded. False. Its roots are in Spanish law going back to Coronado’s conquest in 1641.

3. Texas tort reform took wing because Joe Jamail’sPennzoil v. Texaco enormous verdict. False. Punitive damages made up only 40% of Pennzoil’s actual damages and the First Court of Appeals ordered a remittitur (reduction) of them. However the case stirred up a lot of controversy about so-called “runaway juries” that caught the attention of conservative lawmakers.

4. Arbitration and mediation were not used here until 25 years ago. False. These alternative means of dispute resolution have been a part of American law since the 1640s and are widely used now as part of a trend to prevent juries from deciding disputes.

5. The Texas constitution grants Texas the right to secede from the Union. False. Article I, Section I, states that “Texas is. . . subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

6. Judge Roy Bean always “hung ’em high” while enforcing the “Law West of the Pecos.” False. He hung one or two men — as he ran a courthouse out of his saloon.

7. Women did not serve as Texas judges until the 1960’s. False. In 1925, Governor Pat Neff appointed three of the first women attorneys in the state to decide the case of Johnson v. Darr involving insurance coverage. This was the first all female court in the history of the U.S.

8. Texas law cases did not impact the Civil Rights movement. False. In 1949, postal worker Herman Sweatt, an African-American, hired later U.S. Supreme Court Justice and legendThurgood Marshall, won admission to the University of Texas Law School, and laid the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education and the end of “separate but equal” segregation in America.

9. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hemphill decided a legal dispute by
pulling a Bowie knife from beneath his black robe and slaying his opponent. Partially false. It was not a Bowie knife! And our first chief justice was hardly a savage man, as he made homestead protections and community property rights for women part of Texas law.

10. The myth of “one Ranger, one riot. ” Almost true, except for the time that the Republic’s president, Sam Houston, tried to move the Texas Archives from Austin back to
Houston. He was stopped by an Austin widow, tavernkeeper Angelina Eberly, who used a cannon and a riotous crowd to keep two Texas Rangers from removing the papers.

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