Bexar County Judge Robert B. Green, 1865-1907
by Andrew Gill
Robert B. Green was born on May 16, 1865 just after the end of the Civil War; the house in which he was born still stands in San Antonio, Texas. The Green family was hard working and well-educated but had fallen on hard times during the post-war depression that characterized much of the South. His father Nathaniel Otto Green and his uncle Col. Alec Green were both lawyers by profession, and undoubtedly contributed to young Robert's interest in law and politics. His mother, Martha Fulton Green, was known for being a personable woman but still pledged an unwavering allegiance to the Southern cause. Three of her brothers, for one of whom Robert was named, had all fought and died on the Southern side of the war. Her father's law practice was burned by Union troops in the outset of hostilities, which only deepened her ultimate refusal to be reconstructed by committing her loyalty to the new government. This was the household in which Robert spent his youth, a background which fostered his eventual interest in community activism and his reputation as a practical and diligent man.
Spending much of his young days at work to support his family, Robert was eager to pursue an education when he came of age. He went to Texas A&M, where he proved to be an excellent student, and was highly regarded by his peers and his professors. During his last year at college, he was chosen to captain the Belknap Rifles, which was a prestigious army drilling company for young men. Robert evidently profited from his experience with the Rifles, learning the tenets of community service and the benefits of cooperation. Later in his political career, he recognized the lack of opportunity for youth in the county and advocated for the improvement of juvenile corrections facilities.
Being interested in law from his early days, and having a natural understanding for legal concepts, Robert attended law school in Lebanon, Tennessee. Following his graduation from this school, he adjusted quickly to the profession and to the business and legal environment in San Antonio. In 1891 he attracted the attention of Senator Richard Coke, and served as his secretary in Washington, D.C. for the next two years. Upon his return from this position in Washington, and evidently demonstrating great proficiency as a young lawyer, it was suggested that Robert pursue a political career. His opportunity came with a vacant judiciary position in the Thirty-Seventh District Court. This seat, originally offered to Robert's uncle Col. Alec Green, was given to Robert following Governor James Stephen Hogg's acceptance of the Colonel's suggestion that the honor be passed to his promising young nephew. In 1893, at the age of twenty-eight, Robert became what was rumored to be the youngest district judge in the country. This responsibility entitled him to a yearly salary of two-thousand dollars, which was very welcome to the Green family amidst the ongoing period of depression and the ailing state of his father Nathaniel Green's law practice.
In 1893, the young judge, dressed in his Belknap Rifles uniform, met his future wife Rena Maverick Green at a Maverick family dinner party. Rena was the granddaughter of Samuel Augustus Maverick, the famous Texas politician and patriot from whom the moniker "Maverick" was coined. Interestingly, Robert would come to win the election for Bexar County Judge in 1900, the very same position held by S.A. Maverick in 1863. In 1897, Robert took Rena for his wife, and the two settled into a house on the street which is now known as Broadway. On a trip during the same year to Washington, D.C., Robert took Rena to see the Supreme Court chamber, remarking to her that it was his life aspiration to sit as a judge in this courtroom.
During his tenure in the district courts, Robert became astute in dealing with the obstacles faced in easing Texas out of the depression that characterized the era. Among the problems especially prevalent in Bexar County were a heavy debt and the failure of a significant percentage of local businesses. To complicate matters, employees of the county were paid in script, a paper substitute for money that devalued against official currency on an almost daily basis. These issues, along with county officials' inability to correct the problems, led Robert in his decision to run for County Judge. In his campaign speech, Green announced that he would reduce his salary by one-hundred dollars a month until the county was finally out of debt. This promise, along with the other social and civic reform propositions that characterized his campaign platform, painted Robert as a personable yet capable administrator. This image contributed to his election as Bexar County Justice, and he immediately set to work on the construction of roads to revive local business and agricultural ventures. The construction of these roads, many of which adjoined surrounding cities for the first time, carried a cost of five-hundred thousand dollars. Because San Antonio was still in heavy debt, and could not afford such a payment, Green called for the first bond issue ever considered in Bexar County. Citizens voted in favor of the proposition, and with the Judge personally overseeing their construction, the county enjoyed its first set of truly permanent roads.
An utmost concern facing cities in the South following the Civil War was the welfare of the families of Confederate veterans and their widows. More specifically, such individuals were dependant upon the governments of their home, the former Confederate states, to receive any financial recompense for their service. Given the general state of economic depression and the institution of a new government in the South, the retirement pensions of these individuals were endangered. Bexar County, having sent a significant percentage of its citizens to fight, saw many combat veterans and their widows apply to receive this support. Because of Green's efforts to revive the economic and social heartbeat of the county, all debts had been paid and the pensions of those qualifying individuals applying during his tenure were granted. Robert evidently understood the social and economic importance that such payments held, and for his fulfillment of this responsibility and his compassion as a Judge. He was eventually given an honorable burial at the Confederate Cemetery, a part of the East Cemetery Complex off East Commerce, in his beloved San Antonio.
Having served as county judge for six years, and encouraged by the success of his term, Robert decided to run for the State Senate. Much like his campaign for Bexar County Judge, his platform in the Senatorial election addressed the insufficiencies of the state system of correction for young offenders. Having been a Judge, he understood the social importance of such institutions; his wife Rena noting in her memoirs that "it was very onerous for him to send juveniles to such unsatisfactory facilities". After this successful campaign, he was elected to the Senate in 1907, and shortly after was appointed to an investigatory committee to review malfeasance charges brought against U.S. Senator Joseph Bailey. Green's findings, unfortunately, were never published. On a hunting trip at the Maverick family ranch in December of 1907, he suffered a heart attack which brought immediate death. The Austin newspapers ran the next day, 2 December, with statements from both the Attorney General and Texas Governor expressing their grievances.
Green, Rena Maverick. Robert B. Green: A Personal Reminiscence. San Antonio: Privately Printed, 1962.
Rena Maverick Green Papers, The Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.