The Lone Star State’s ‘Armless Wonder’

Quentin Durward Corley was the youngest county judge in Texas when he
took office in 1912 at the age of 28 years. He was also the only double-amputee
judge in the state.

A path changed

“Around the courthouse, Judge Corley is known as the ‘Armless
Wonder,’” Francis White Johnson wrote in A History of Texas and
, published in 1914.

In 1905, Corley fell off a train in Utica, N.Y. The accident claimed his
entire right arm and his left arm below the elbow.

  In addition to his own prosthesis, Quentin Durward Corley invented a mechanism to assist him in driving.
  In addition to his own
prosthesis, Quentin Durward Corley invented a mechanism to assist him in
driving.Text Text Text Text Text Text Text Text
  Image: Library of Congress, Prints
and Photographs Division

He invented a left-arm prosthesis and a gadget for adjusting his collar.
He patented both in 1912. Later he got married, raised a daughter and lived to
the age of 96 years.

“He has the use of pen, pencil, knife and is able to write in
longhand or can use the typewriter, and can do many things, which are hardly
conceivable without the full use of his arms,” Johnson wrote.

The mother of invention

Corley was born in Mexia, Texas, in 1884. After graduating from high
school in 1901, he became a bookkeeper and stenographer.

“During this time he … studied civil engineering with the
intention of following that profession,” Johnson wrote. The accident
occurred “just when he was about ready to take up the active work of this

The loss of his hands forced him to seek other work, Elizabeth Archer
wrote in The American magazine.

“As soon as he was able to work, he began as ‘Straw Boss’
on a grading outfit. But … he was planning mechanical devices that would take
the place of his natural arms,” she wrote.

She described his prosthetic device: “The end of the arm is a hook.
The lower jaw of this hook is made of spring steel and the upper of brass. The
ratchet wheel … is worked by a string. When the arm is bent, a lever can
be pulled toward the front of the hook; and when the arm is bent after the
principle of the elbow joint, the wheel is turned. There are four points on the
wheel, and these points as they go around with the wheel, shove the lower jaw
down. Then, as the wheel turns farther around, the jaw is released and clamps
down on anything wanted,” she wrote. “This hook arm is unscrewed from
the arm proper when Judge Corley desires to use any other apparatus. When he
desires to eat, a knife is inserted under the plate or socket around which the
webbing goes. On the end of the hook proper is a small hook attachment which
serves many purposes … such as assisting in fastening buttons, putting papers
in envelopes, and holding a pen … in writing.”

Taking the wheel

Corley also taught himself to drive.

“He has invented an application by which he regulates the flow of
gasoline and controls the speed of his car, and a second attachment by which he
guides the machine,” Johnson wrote. “Two leather straps enable him to
crank the car without assistance.”

Archer wrote that Corley’s car was like any other car “except
that there is an arm attachment on the wheel with which to guide it … Judge
Corley puts his automatic arm through this ring and can hold the steering wheel
steady … Since purchasing the car he has driven more than fifteen thousand

Lead by example

Corley prepared himself for the bar and bench by studying law at the
Dallas firm of Muse and Allen. In 1907, he passed the Texas bar exam and began
practicing law in Dallas.

He was elected a justice of the peace in 1908 and elevated to the county
judgeship 4 years later, Johnson wrote.

“Probably few men in the entire state of Texas have better
exemplified the principle of self-help, or have made better use of the
opportunities of life in spite of the limitations of physical powers, than
… Corley.”

His “general popularity is based, not only upon his personal
character and his gallant fight against difficulties, but upon his practical
value as a working member of his community. He has been a man of worth, and
well deserves the esteem with which he is greeted by all his fellow
citizens,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson concluded: “The fiscal and administrative affairs of the
county could not have been placed in better hands than those of Judge Corley,
who throughout his career in public life, has shown an unquestionable devotion
to the public welfare, and has also exemplified efficient honesty that is
everywhere needed in the public service.

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