Judge Charles H. Willingham

JUDGE C.H. WILLINGHAM has been continuously identified with Runnels county since the days prior to its organization, and when he first established himself in these parts the territory now embraced by the county lines of Runnels county boasted not more than one hundred inhabitants. He has watched the district develop and has had a generous share in the work of progress and upbuilding, so that his pride in the county is indeed a pardonable one, and his record here is one of the highest order. When the county was organized in 1880, he was soon after elected to the office of county judge, and he was continued in the office for twenty consecutive years, by reason of his good behavior on the bench, so it has been said. Certain it is that he gave a service that was highly pleasing to the county at large, and when he retired from political activities some years ago to devote himself more closely to his farming and ranching interests, the people felt that they had lost a capable public servant, and one in whom they might place the utmost confidence. He has, since that time, refused to permit his name to be used as a candidate for any office, except that of the Legislature, devoting himself quietly to his private interests and enjoying a well earned rest from the demands of the public. Essentially a self-made man, Judge Willingham has made the most of every opportunity that came his way, and his record of efficiency and accomplishment is one that undeniably entitles him to mention in a historical and biographical work of this order, whose aim it is to perpetuate to the public and to posterity the records of such as he.

Judge C.H. Willingham was born in Washington county, Texas, on October 26, 1855, and to further establish the exact date of that event, the Judge gives the information that it occured on Friday morning, at three o'clock. He is a son of A.J. and Martha Willingham. The father was born in Georgia, coming to Texas in 1838 and settling in Washington county. At that time the place was more or less a wilderness, and when he settled on a farm in the heart of the county, he took upon himself the herculean task of carving a home out of the virgin wilds. He proved himself entirely equal to the emergency, it appears, for he maintained a continuous residence there from then until 1902, when he died, at the advanced age of ninety-six years, well preserved and hale indeed, for one of that splendid age. The mother, too, seemed to find the hardships of pioneer life in a new country not detrimental to her health and strength, for she is yet living in Washington county, ninety years of age, and in the enjoyment of all her faculties and a fair measure of health and strength. In further mention of these worthy people, it should be said that the father was a man who saw life in its most turbulent aspects as a soldier in the Texas army from 1838 to 1856, and he served in the Mexican war under General Taylor, as well as in the Confederate army during the long civil conflict between the north and south. In the Mexican war he was taken prisoner at Black Fort, but though he was successful in making his escape almost immediately, nearly all the other prisoners were killed in their attempted escape. A fearless man, staunch and true, he went his way through life ready to meet whatever came to him of good or ill, and always ready at a moment's notice to take up arms in the defense of whatever cause he felt a sympathy for. He was a true soldier of fortune, but withal a splendid citizen, earnest and hard-working all his days, and he was honored and loved in Washington county to the end of his career. The family is one of South Carolina origin, and there are to be found today many splendid families of the name of that state.

Nine children were born to these parents, and of the five sons and four daughters, all are yet living with the single exception of one daughter.

Judge Willingham was the first born of the nine children of his parents, and he was deprived of any educational advantages whatever to the age of eighteen years, owing to the fact that the public school system had not penetrated to the region of his birth at that time, and private schools were of equal scarcity. That misfortune, however, did not deter him from making an effort in his own behalf when he came to years of responsibility, and when he was eighteen he went to Baylor University, working his way from the bottom of the ladder of learning through the entire course of the University. He worked outside and paid his own way, so that he is indebted to no one for his education. He studied civil engineering in Baylor University, and when he had finished his studies the first work he undertook was with the G.C. and S.F. Railroad. He worked from Galveston to Fort Worth and from Temple to Lampasas, Texas, with this company, two years and eight months being spent in their employ, and he then accepted a commission with the same road to locate their land certificates in the wilds of the western part of the state. This was no simple task, and it required all the hardihood and fortitude of the young man, son of his father though he was, to carry out the work. But he was determined to make good, and he spent six long hard years in the work, having his own contentions with Indians, wild animals and the poisonous reptiles that infested those hitherto untouched regions. But he felt in his work the pride that Kipling attributes to his explorer in his poem of that name, and the work that he performed in those early days of his career made an impress for good upon his entire life, and he has a pardonable pride in his accomplishments of those years.

His work in the deserts and the mountains ended, Mr. Willingham determined to devote himself to the study and practice of law, and accordingly went to Brenham, Texas, there taking up the study of law in the offices of Breedlove & Ewing, at the same time studying in the Brenham law school. He applied himself to such purpose that he was admitted to the bar on October 28, 1879. When he had finished his studies, his finances were exhaused utterly. is choice of a location had been made, however, Runnels county, or that part of the state that later came to be Runnels county, being the place he had settled upon as the one where he should practice law, and nothing daunted because of his penniless state, he took his few belongings upon his back, and barefooted, set out for his destination, a distance of three hundred and sixty-eight miles. When he arrived, he found work at once in surveying and running lines for the projected county. The county was definitely organized in April, 1880, with a population of perhaps one hundred souls and less than two years later he was elected county judge, in which office he continued for twenty years, as has already been stated. In 1901 Judge Willingham was elected to the state legislature, serving for four years and performing his duties as a legislator as faithfully and as ably as he had those of county judge.

For some years past the judge has been devoting himself to the cattle business and farming, finding it a most attractive and absorbing enterprise. So much so, indeed, that he has definitely withdrawl from all public service, declining all overtures to public office.

All his life the Judge has been a stanch Democrat, and has worked valiantly for the best interests of the party. His support is yet given to the political activities of the county, although he is not so active as in former years.

A member of the Masonic fraternity and of the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias and the Praetorians, as well as the Woodmen of the World, he is well-known and prominent in fraternity matters in Ballinger. He is a member of the Christian church.

On May 17, 1882, Judge Willingham was married to Miss Leslie E. Carr, at Comanche, Texas. She is a daughter of J.D. Carr of Cadiz, Kentucky, a well known merchant of that place, who later came to Comanche county, Texas, and engaged in the mercantile business. He died in 1912 at the age of ninety-three, the mother having preceded him in 1910.

Five children have been born to the Judge and his wife. Ralph E., the eldest, was born in March, 1884; Arthur C., June, 1886; and Miss Zannatte, born in September, 1888. Two others died in infancy.

No more enthusiastic Texas may be found than Judge Willingham. He knows the state from border to border and is prepared to speak intelligently upon the subject of her boundless resources and the manifold advantages and opportunities she holds out to homeseekers. A citizen of the most loyal order, he has given of his ability in the most priaseworthy manner, and to him much credit is due for his splendid work in the development and upbuilding of the county that he assisted in organizing, and in which he served as judge for twenty consecutive years. None is better qualified than he to speak conclusively of the advance and progress of this section of the state in the past quarter century, and none have performed more worthily in the years that have passed.

Family of Charles Henry Willingham

Charles Henry Willingham born: 26 October 1855 Washington County, Texas
died: 22 March 1934
married: 17 May 1882 Comanche County, Texas
parents: A. J. Willingham & Martha O'Neal
buried: Evergreen Cemetery, Ballinger, Runnels County, Texas
Lillie Eggleston Carr born: 1858
died: 30 November 1938
father: J.D. Carr
buried: Evergreen Cemetery, Ballinger, Runnels County, Texas
Infant son Willingham born: 23 March 1883 Runnels County, Texas
died: 23 March 1883 Runnels County, Texas
Ralph Edward Willingham born: 29 March 1884 Runnels County, Texas
died: 29 November 1953
spouse: Ora Leath Legg
buried: Evergreen Cemetery, Ballinger, Runnels County, Texas
Arthur Carr Willingham born : 23 September 1885 Runnels County, Texas
died: 24 February 1951
married: 5 December 1909 Runnels County, Texas
spouse: Vida Estelle Compton
buried: Evergreen Cemetery, Ballinger, Runnels County, Texas
Zannatte Willingham born: 12 March 1888
Infant Willingham born: 6 January 1890 Runnels County, Texas
died: 6 January 1890 Runnels County, Texas


Source: A History of Texas and Texans by Frank W. Johnson, The American Historical Society, Chicago and New York, 1914, ppg. 1209-10