By Joyce Whitis
Oxford is a surname familiar to most everyone in Erath County. That name is associated with law and attorneys and men that serve their fellow men in a helpful, honest way. Today William Hall Oxford, local attorney and third generation lawyer, sits at his desk in his office that once was the projection booth for popular movie theater, the Ritz. When the theater closed in the mid-fifties, the building was used as a retail store, and the owner sold Singer sewing machines and icemakers. Bill’s parents purchased the building to locate King Abstract Company’s business and his father’s law office. Bill’s office is located at 159 South Graham. Bill enjoys a full schedule with areas of practice in corporate law, real estate, probate, estate planning and other fields. He is proud of his third generation family connection with law and enjoys telling the many stories about his illustrious family.
Mrs. Deliah Ann Oxford Hill was born December 30, 1845 in Hopkins County. Her account of family living, traveling conditions and experiences with the Indians provides a clear picture of what settlers’ lives were like ‘in the good old days.’ William Hall Oxford, known locally as “Bill,” enjoys pulling out a faded letter written by Deliah Ann, written when she was a young girl.
The letter begins: “At the age of twelve my father, W.C. Oxford (Bill’s great-grandfather), together with my brothers and sisters, nine of us in all, some of which were married, moved to Erath County, ten miles north of Stephenville. This move was made in three Ox wagons and one horse wagon. Our progress was very slow but the weather was fine and we were happy except for the fact that we were liable to run into hostile Indians at any time.
“We came through Fort Worth in 1857 and the best I can remember there wasn’t anything there except a log house or two. The settlers had built them and used to fort up there against the Indians for days and weeks sometimes.”
Thus Bill Oxford can trace his family in Erath County before the War Between the States and read actual accounts of the bitterly cold winters and other hardships endured pretty much alone in a largely unsettled land with hostile Indians that raided the settlements intent to kill or steal the horses and livestock.
According to an account of early life in Erath County, titled “People-Events and Erath County, Texas” by Arden Jean Schuetz and Wilma Jean Schuetz and Ennis Favors, published in 1971, Claiborne Oxford, cousin of Bill Oxford was shot in the back by renegade Indians in 1871. “Claiborne looked from his house and saw Indians stealing his horses so he hollowed at his kinfolks and the men took off after the thieves. During the battle, Claiborne was fatally shot by an arrow but rode home to die. He is buried in the old Oxford Cemetery now known as the Acrea Cemetery about 8 miles east of Stephenville. This is the location for the AddRan College, founded by the Christian Church goers and the forerunner of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
The journal goes on…. “Then came the war (War Between the States) which increased our hardships. Women had to spin all their thread and yarn, weave cloth for all our clothes, also for sheets, pillowcases, counterpanes and everything we used. We knit our socks and stockings and gloves.”
“My grandfather, Judge W. J. Oxford was born on a farm nine miles northeast of Stephenville on May 11, 1861 and lived there his first 21 years.” Bill said. “His father, Brink Oxford enlisted in the Confederate Army and was away from home fighting the Yankees until the surrender in 1865.
“Brinkley ‘Brink’ Oxford and his father, W.C. Oxford, moved from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Erath County in the 1850s. Brink received a patent from the Governor of Texas to 160 acres of land in 1870. W.J. was one of four sons born to Brink. My Great-Grandfather had limited opportunities for an education, but he was fortunate to be able to attend the old AddRan College (later Texas Christian University in Fort Worth) at Thorp Springs.”
“Despite his lack of formal education, W.J. was an aggressive learner and enjoyed teaching country school for two years before taking up the study of law. He was admitted to the bar at Stephenville October 18, 1886. In 1888 W.J. was elected County Attorney. He served six years as County Attorney then began General Practice before being elected Judge of the 29th District where he was reelected several times.” Bill leaned back with a smile of pleasure as he talked about his ancestors and their achievements.
“W.J. retired from the bench and then accepted a position for 5 years as chief council for Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company, headquarters in Thurber,” Bill continued. “It was when he closed a profitable case for them that he was paid $3,000 in silver coin. He stowed the money in the back of his buggy and drove back to Stephenville. The next morning he made plans to build what is known as the ‘Oxford House’ on Graham Street, near today’s Stephenville United States Post Office.”
“I was particularly proud of the 18 months in 1985-1986, spent restoring the Oxford House built by my grandfather in 1898. My wife Paula operated the Oxford House as a bed and breakfast for 12 years. A few years ago, the property was sold and the beautiful old home relocated to the Stephenville Museum Grounds. Since then the house has undergone extensive renovation and will be open to visitors when the restoration is completed.
“Judge W.J. Oxford was the father of W.J. Jr. who earned his law degree at the University of Texas in 1934 and joined the Justice Department in Washington. He served 30 months in the Pacific Theater in WW II in the Navy as attorney for the men on the ship. After he returned to Stephenville and to law practice, he got a call one day from Governor Alan Shivers. ‘Is this Judge Oxford?’ Shivers asked. ‘No, that was my father who passed away.’ The answer came back from Shivers, ‘Well, you’re Judge Oxford now.’”
Bill Oxford was born and raised on a farm 2 miles east of Stephenville and spent his time working on the farm, chasing goats on a horse before school and operating an egg farm with 6,000 chickens that laid 4,000 eggs a day, even on Sundays.
“I graduated Stephenville High School in 1965 and Tarleton State University in 1971 with a degree in history,” Bill said. “I worked with my parents who purchased King Abstract Company in 1964, spent 5 years working for title insurance companies in Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston and returned to Stephenville in 1975 to purchase King Abstract Company.”
Bill was accepted to Oklahoma University School of Law in 1976. He received juris doctor degree in 1978 and was admitted to Texas Bar in May of 1979. He has operated a law office as a sole practitioner for 37 years. Over the years Bill has served as Erath County Democrat Chairman, President of the American Cancer Society of Erath County, Director for Stephenville Bank and Trust for 20 years, Director of Texas Land Title Association of Texas and was elected Erath County Attorney for 5 years.
“Stephenville has always been the center of my world and I am so fortunate to have been able to meet and assist so many good people from our city over my many years in the legal and title insurance business.” Bill said. “I hope to be able to continue my practice as long as I am able to help those who seek my advice.”
Photos by Southern Grace Photography and Provided by the Stephenville Historical House Museum