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 Texas : Features : People

TEMPLE LEA HOUSTON: SON OF SAM

Even with his father's fame;
he made a hefty name for himself.


by John Troesser
Although he was the first child born in the Governor's Mansion, Temple found out (upon reaching adulthood) that fact and a two-cent piece would buy him a cup of coffee. He lived with his sister after the death of his parents and by the time he was thirteen he either signed up or his sister signed him up to go on a cattle drive where the coffee was free. Our sources tell us he later took a job as a night clerk on a Mississippi riverboat. That was a pretty impressive entry on a 19th Century resume, although it doesn't mean as much now.

In New Orleans, a Senator Winwright, a friend of Temple's father arranged to have Temple serve as a congressional page in Washington-on-the-Potomac. Apples, they say don't fall far from the tree, and so it was in Temple's case. While Sam had been adopted into the Cherokee clan, Temple was adopted into the tribe of lawyers and became a politician.

The truth is that Temple earned his law degree by returning to Texas and entering the brand new Agricultural and Mechanical College. It was so new that they hadn't even started telling Aggie jokes yet. They did start telling them in Temple's freshman year, but they didn't learn about punch lines until after Temple transferred to Baylor University (back when it was still in Independence, Texas). He graduated with honors in 1880 and passed the bar to become the youngest practicing lawyer in the state.
Temple Lea Houston portrait
Temple Lea Houston
Photo courtesy Texas State Library
He was the Brazoria County Attorney in 1881 when the Governor offered him the job of DA for the entire Panhandle region. The 35th Judicial District was comprised of 26 unincorporated counties, and accommodations were at the best dismal. Not wanting to be alone on the high lonesome, Temple got married on St. Valentine's Day 1883 to Laura Cross of Brazoria and they moved to the town of Mobeetie, which had been known as Hidetown only a few years before.

They weren't there long, when Temple got elected state senator. He spent a few years in Austin making lots of friends and some enemies. He gave the dedication speech in 1888 for Texas ' new Capitol building, stating that the capitol building would some day be of interest to archeologists.

He ran for Texas Attorney General, but lost, and returned to the Panhandle to do legal work for the railroad.

He and his family then moved to Oklahoma and Temple added to his flamboyant reputation by taking on controversial cases.

One case involved defending a woman named Minnie Stacy - a woman with a soiled reputation. He had all of ten minutes to prepare a defense. Since everyone in town knew her - or perhaps we should say everyone in town was aware of her reputation, Temple knew that a defense was hopeless. So he attacked men in general for creating women like her and was so forceful in his condemnation that there wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom - excepting the lawyers.

Temple wore his hair shoulder-length and would walk down the street holding hands with his wife. He liked to wear Prince Albert coats and rattlesnake-skin neckties (a popular tourist item in San Antonio). It is said that Edna Ferber in her book Cimmaron modeled her character Yancy Cravat on Temple Lea. Cimmaron was made into a movie - twice.

Temple survived an assassination by somehow managing to be shot in his law book. The book and bullet were recently on loan to The Bob Bulluck State History Museum in Austin. He is famous for his defense of Minnie Stacy - but also for a remark made to a judge about a prosecutor: "Your honor, the prosecutor is the first man that I've ever seen that can strut while sitting down."

He unsuccessfully ran for Governor of Oklahoma, and died of a brain hemorrhage in 1905. One of the most elaborate floral arrangements was from Minnie Stacy. While the rest of his family rests in Texas , Temple is buried beside his wife in Woodward, Oklahoma.

John Troesser
First published
October 2002

More on Temple Lea Houston:

The Other Houston: Temple Lea Houston by Charley Eckhardt
Temple Houston by Clay Coppedge
Lost Sword by Mike Cox
Source:
The Golden Heritage and Silver Tongue of Temple Lea Houston by Bernice Tune, Eakin Press 1981

An Informal History of Texas from Cabeza de Vaca to Temple Houston, Frank X. Tolbert, Harper, 1961
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