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KEY, WILLIAM MERCER (1850–1923). William Mercer Key, lawyer and judge, was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, on October 20, 1850, the son of Jasper Newton and Mary (Howard) Key. His family brought him as an infant to Gonzales County, Texas, in 1853; after the Civil War they moved to Burleson County and finally settled in Williamson County. Key was primarily self-taught, remaining at home to work on the family farm. In the early 1870s he moved to Austin to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1875. He married Izora Scott in December 1876; they had four children. From Austin, Key moved to Georgetown, attended the county convention of 1878 as delegate from that town, and became county judge of Williamson County in 1885. He served as district judge from 1888 to 1892, when he was named associate justice of the Third Court of Civil Appeals to succeed H. C. Fisher. Key was reelected to the court in 1897, 1903, and 1909. In February 1910 he was appointed chief justice of that court. Among the important cases he handled was the Waters-Pierce case of 1907, in which he wrote the opinion upholding the judgment of the lower court and the severe penalties imposed on the Waters-Pierce company. Key was a Democrat, a Mason, a Shriner, and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He died in Austin on November 13, 1923.


Book of Texas: A Newspaper Reference Work (Houston: Houston Chronicle et al., 1914). Dallas Morning News, November 14, 1923. Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Deborah D. Powers, The Court of Appeals at Austin, 1892–1992 (Austin: State House Press, 1992). Proceedings of the Texas Bar Association, 1924. Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973). Ocie Speer, Texas Jurists (Austin, 1936).

Marie Giles


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Marie Giles, "KEY, WILLIAM MERCER," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 30, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.