A Father’s Big Boots and Not Much Time to Fill Them

Oftentimes biology is destiny, and sometimes big names appear in small print.

For several weeks in 1883 this classified ad ran in the Fort Worth Gazette. Tucked between a physician and a contractor, that’s the twenty-three-year-old son of Sam Houston.

Temple Houston was Sam Houston’s last child, born in 1860 (when Sam was sixty-seven), and the first child born in the Texas governor’s mansion.

This is the census listing of the Sam Houston household at the governor’s mansion in August 1860. The day of the listing is difficult to read but appears to be “thirteenth.” If so, census taker Wood knocked on the door of the governor’s mansion the very day that Temple Houston increased the household by one.

Sam Houston died when Temple was three, but Temple inherited his father’s sense of adventure. Temple joined a cattle drive at age thirteen, later worked on a Mississippi River steamboat. He was large of stature, multilingual, and flamboyant. He also inherited his father’s love of law and politics. When Temple opened his law practice in Brazoria in 1881 at the age of twenty-one, he was the youngest practicing attorney in Texas. In 1882, at age twenty-two, he was appointed district attorney of the Thirty-Fifth Judicial District. And when he was elected a state senator in 1884 he became the youngest in Texas history at age twenty-four. The state Constitution requires a minimum age of twenty-six, but, hey, with the son of Sam Houston, who was counting? Temple Houston served four years in the Senate. (Photo from Legislative Reference Library of Texas.)

The Gazette on December 8, 1883, reported that District Attorney Houston, then living in Mobeetie in the Panhandle, was shutting down disorderly houses (brothels). But in 1899 he agreed to defend—on short notice—Minnie Stacey, a “soiled dove” who roosted at the Dew Drop Inn in Woodward, Oklahoma. Many trial attorneys to this day consider Temple’s extemporaneous closing argument to the jury—known as the “Soiled Dove Speech” or “Plea for a Fallen Woman”—to be a classic. The all-male jury quickly acquitted the woman by a unanimous verdict.

An extract of Houston’s closing argument: “Gentlemen of the jury: You heard with what cold cruelty the prosecution referred to the sins of this woman, as if her condition were of her own preference. The evidence has painted you a picture of her life and surroundings. Do you think that they were embraced of her own choosing? Do you think that she willingly embraced a life so revolting and horrible? Ah, no! Gentlemen, . . . Our sex wrecked her once pure life . . . and only in the friendly shelter of the grave can her betrayed and broken heart ever find the Redeemer’s promised rest.”

In 1887 the Fort Worth Gazette referred to Houston as a correspondent. He was in town often. Temple and Fort Worth banker Otho S. Houston, who in 1897 would be reported as an eyewitness during Airship April, were first cousins.

In fact, in 1891 Temple Houston moved to Fort Worth to practice law, staying at the Pickwick Hotel. He was active in the local Democratic Party. This clip is from the 1892 city directory.

In 1888, when the new state Capitol was dedicated, Temple Houston delivered the “dedication oration,” accepting the new building on behalf of the people of Texas.

The first part of his speech is included in this clip from the May 17 Gazette.

Temple Houston’s life was seldom dull. In 1895, when he was living in Oklahoma, the Gazette reported that he shot and killed John Jennings, the brother of Al Jennings, but was acquitted.

Al Jennings also had an interesting CV: attorney, train robber, evangelist, and silent movie actor. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

One year later, the Brownsville Daily Herald reported, Houston shot and killed another man.

Houston apparently was acquitted again because three months later he was willing to go to Cuba to fight Spain, even though at the time he was ill in a sanitarium in Kansas.

Temple Houston packed a lot of living into a short life. This clip from the August 18, 1905 Telegram announces his death on August 15. He was forty-five years old.

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