Making Waco Men Better Since 1852

William Oakes

William E. Oakes


Chief Justice of McLennan County
Delegate at 1868 State Constitutional Convention
Union Army Veteran
Buried in Texas State Cemetery near Stephen Austin

William Oakes was born in the summer of 1829 in Tennessee but his family moved to Texas in 1845 where they settled near Marlin. After the death of his father, his mother moved the family to Waco and built one of the first houses in the area.

Oakes worked as a physician in early Waco and joined with 92 men such as D.R. Wallace and John Sears to form the historic Waco Medical Association. It seems Oakes joined Waco 92 some time during the 1850s but our records before 1861 were lost in a fire. We do know that he served with Brother Speight and others on a committee in 1857 charged with hosting the annual Grand Communication of the Grand Lodge of Texas in Waco. In those days, the Grand Lodge meetings moved around frequently and this early session held in Waco gave 92 men the inspiration to fight for a permanent address of the Grand Lodge in Waco. It took nearly half a century before this dream came true.

Oakes owned a blacksmith shop in downtown Waco near the Square. Eventually, he traded the property for two mules and it later became the location of the ALICO building. During this pre-War era, Oakes was one of the founders of the Waco Baptist Association.

In 1860, amid unclear circumstances, Oakes and his neighbor Albert Gholson had a dispute resulting in Gholson being killed by Oakes. That same year, Oakes was elected to serve as Chief Justice of McLennan County which was then the equivalent to the modern title of county judge. Like his more famous friend, Sam Houston, Oakes openly and vehemently opposed secession. He remained on the bench until 1862 when he enlisted in the Union Army. This was not surprising as he was a Republican and many men of that party joined the North. However, Oakes fell into a disagreement with his enrolling officer, killed him, and fled to the border of Mexico.

In March 1865, Oakes organized a group of men in Brazos Santiago near present-day South Padre Island. His brother, Robert, was one of the first sheriffs in central Texas and joined William at Brazos Santiago. They became officers for Company C of the 2nd Texas Cavalry US.  Together, they fought at Palmito Ranch and White’s Ranch, the final battles of the Civil War. Afterwards, Oakes returned home to Waco.

In February of 1868, William Oakes was elected to represent McLennan, Falls, and Bell Counties at the State Convention and so he was in Austin at the State Capitol on August 24 when he died and was buried at the Texas State Cemetery near where Stephen F. Austin is buried.