Thursday, June 6, 2013

Brilliant Old West Lawyer - Temple Lea Houston

Two years ago, at a DAR (Daughters of American Republic) luncheon, I had the pleasure of listening to a very engaging speaker on the life of Temple Lea Houston. I’ve grown up hearing about the exploits of his father, Sam Houston. I even lived in Huntsville for a short time and spent many pleasant hours touring Sam Houston’s home, but I hadn’t ever given much thought to the man’s children.

Amazing since Temple Houston turned out to be such an important figure in Texas/Oklahoma history himself. He was the youngest of eight children and was the only one born during Sam Houston’s reign as the Governor of Texas. Unfortunately, he was orphaned at age 7 and was sent to live with an older sister in Georgetown, Texas. In all likelihood, he may have known my forefathers as they were prominent citizens of Georgetown themselves during this time.

But Temple was destined for great things and left home at 13 to join a cattle drive. Later, after working as a page for the US Senate in Washington, D. C., he developed a love for law and enrolled in TAMU in 1877 (100 years prior to my own enrollment in that same university). At age 21, he was the youngest to pass the bar and open his own law practice in the state of Texas.

While becoming a lawyer was indeed quite an accomplishment, it was his theatrics in the courtroom that earned him a memorable place in Texas and Oklahoma history. The man could deliver a speech that enthralled listeners, but he had no problem punctuating his points with extra drama. Once, to prove a point, he shot two Colt 45s filled with blanks at a stunned jury. The jury found the defendant guilty but because “they scattered and mingled with the crowd” when Houston shot off his colts, he was granted a mistrial. The next time around, the man was acquitted.

In 1894, Temple moved his family to Woodward in Oklahoma territory where he served as legal counsel for the railroad. A very skilled marksman, he got into a fight with the brother of outlaw, Al Jennings. He shot and killed the brother and was tried and acquitted for the man’s death on the grounds of self defense.   

His most famous defense was called the “soiled dove plea” in which he managed to have a prostitute released from charges of plying her trade after the jury deliberated only ten minutes. The speaker I saw acted out the speech with all the passion and elocution Temple Houston must have employed, and I could see why the jury would be so swayed.  

I wish I’d known about this colorful figure at the time I wrote Julia’s Golden Eagle.  His background would have provided a lot of ideas for drafting that scene. Not only does Jake have to go through a court trial for murder, but later, he discovers his own passion for the law and decides to attend law school.


The prosecution had called all their witnesses. The judge declared a break for lunch, and Jake was escorted back to his cell. He hoped Bob could find Miss Julia Stanton before the trial commenced again. If not, he might face the end of a rope or worse, life imprisonment at the State Penitentiary in Huntsville.
He shuddered. He’d prefer a hangman’s noose to imprisonment again. Even after five years, the horrors of that Yankee hellhole still haunted him. He’d lie awake at night and wonder why God had spared his miserable life while all around him, men lay dying. Closing his eyes against the traumatic memories, he waited quietly for the trial to continue.
“You don’t seem too concerned about the trial.”
Jake opened one eye then the other. A man of medium height with flaming red hair leaned casually against the wall facing Jake’s cell. He gazed at Jake with an intensity that was almost frightening. His jeans were creased and worn where the tie down for a gun would have been. The sheriff must have confiscated his weapon.
“’Peers to me like you’re not doing so well at that trial. In fact, you’ll be lucky to get twenty years. My guess is a life sentence.”
Jake closed his eyes again; ignoring the taunts the man threw his way. Outwardly, he maintained a detached attitude. In truth, fear gnawed at his insides. He prayed to God in hopes God had not forgotten him. With an afternoon of testimony still left, Julia Stanton would come to his rescue. She had to.
And then there was his brother, Tabor. He had his lawyer send out several telegrams expecting at least one to find its way to his brother. These thoughts gave him a measure of hope, but realistically, he knew his days were numbered. A black curtain of despair blanketed his mood. A stay in prison would surely kill him as easily as the noose, only the death would be long and drawn out.
Movement caused Jake to snap his eyes open. “Enjoying the show, mister?”
The man, dressed all in black as if he were the grim reaper himself, sauntered closer to the bars. His visitor had the audacity to grin. “As a matter of fact, I am. Thanks.”
“I get the feeling, you didn’t come all the way over here to gloat. What do you want?” Jake asked, his emotions strangely under control.
“Believe it or not, Mr. Nolan, I want the same thing as you.”
“A million dollars and a sassy lady?”
“You’re not a very likeable fellow, are you? Never mind. I guess facing charges of murder when you aren’t guilty has left you slightly bitter and a tad resentful.”
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That got Jake’s attention. He uncurled his body and sat up on the cot.
He kept his features carefully schooled. “All right, I’m listening. I’m your captive audience.”
“A real comedian. I can’t save you from this trial, but I want the real culprit. I want the real killer brought to justice. I need to know what you know and what you think you don’t know. I need you to recall even the slightest detail of that night. Try to remember trivial things.”
“What’s in it for me?” Jake leaned against the rough, stone wall.

              “A clear conscience when you meet your maker.”


  1. Great post. I have to admit I had never paid any attention to Sam Houston's children. I'm very pleased to add this information to my research. And your excerpt is intriguing. Wishing you continued success.

  2. Thanks so much, Caroline. I imagine there are a lot of colorful characters that get overlooked. I would have never known about this one except for that speaker. Wish I could remember his name.

  3. Ciara--I've heard of Temple Houston, or read his name in passing, but I did not know his actual identity. He was certainly a colorful figure, and a great attorney, too, obviously.
    And your excerpt is stunning. I give you an A on it! Just right, with a hook at the caught my attention!
    Thanks for the good research on an intriguing character.

  4. Thank you, Celia. I wanted to do this for my first article with this blog but alas, I had no time to put it together the way I wanted. Now that summer's here, I have more time - well, I'm supposed to have more time. The fire down our street and the A/C going out yesterday have made life interesting.

  5. How interesting. I never think about the offsprings of famous people either. He does sound like quite an interesting character for stories. Wouldn't it have been something to sit in one of his trials.

  6. What an interesting man, Ciara! I wish we had film of these old timers. I sure enjoy learning more about historical figures. Interestingly, I just learned that Ben Franklin's grandson was also named Temple, which is a name I never really considered a name LOL. Enjoyed the post.

  7. Yes, I would have dearly loved to hear him during a trial,Paisley.

    As for Temple being an interesting name, you're right. I thought maybe Temple, Tx might have been named for him but I just looked it up and alas that's not the case. Temple, TX was named for a railroad engineer, Benard Moore Temple. Hmm, might have to look into his life next, eh?

  8. What an interesting character, Ciara. Now I want to know if Jake gets off or not. Great post.

  9. Good post. I like it. It was interesting to read it. Great thank's author for sharing…


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