Since its original printing in 1952, the publication of the Handbook of Texas has been made possible through the support of its users. As an independent nonprofit, TSHA relies on your contributions to close the funding gap for the online Handbook and keep it a freely accessible resource for users worldwide. Please make a donation today to preserve the most comprehensive encyclopedic resource on Texas history. Donate Today »


Sallie Lewis

WATKINS, THEOPHILUS (1819–1883). Theophilus Watkins, irrigation pioneer, was born in Kentucky in 1819. He was married to Susan Williams, and they had one daughter. After his wife's death he moved to Texas in 1845 with his brother, Charles, and lived for a time near the site of present Sabinal, on land later known as Watkins' Flat. In 1848 he went to California but returned to Kentucky in 1850; he moved back to Texas in 1854, this time bringing his daughter. He was a captain at Fort Inge near Uvalde, and his company protected the area from Indian attacks. On December 1, 1867, he was married in Kentucky to Frances Anna Elizabeth Mosely; they had six children. Watkins settled in the valley of the Frio River, Frio Canyon, in what later became Real County, where he saw the possibilities for an irrigation system with water from the Frio River. In 1868, together with F. Smith and Newman Patterson, he constructed a ditch ten miles long and five feet wide, with a depth ranging from three to four feet. It was a gravity canal supplied with water by means of a dam built of brush and gravel on the main Frio River. The ditch was not put into full operation until a charter was granted to the Lombardy Irrigation Company on August 20, 1875. The ditch was still in operation in the 1960s, and the dam had been rebuilt a number of times. Watkins died in 1883 and was buried in the cemetery at Rio Frio.

Grace Lorene Lewis, A History of Real County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1956).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Sallie Lewis, "WATKINS, THEOPHILUS," accessed August 22, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox