Temple Lea Houston

Temple Lea Houston (August 12, 1860 – August 15, 1905) was an American attorney and politician who served from 1885 to 1889 in the Texas State Senate. He was the last-born child of Margaret Lea Houston and Sam Houston, the first elected president of the Republic of Texas.[a]

Temple Lea Houston
Temple Lea Houston.jpg
Temple Lea Houston as a young man in Texas
Texas State Senator from District 19 (based in Mobeetie in Wheeler County)
In office
Preceded byAvery Matlock
Succeeded byJohn Hall Stephens
Personal details
Born(1860-08-12)August 12, 1860
Austin, Travis County
Texas, USA
DiedAugust 15, 1905(1905-08-15) (aged 45)
Woodward, Oklahoma
Resting placeElmwood Cemetery in Woodward, Oklahoma
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Laura Cross Houston
Alma materBaylor University


Coat of Arms of Temple Lea Houston

Temple Lea Houston was the only one of the Houstons' eight children to be born in the Texas governor's residence in Austin. By the time he was seven, both his parents had died. He lived with an older sister and her family in nearby Georgetown, Texas. At the age of 13, Houston left home to join a cattle drive and later worked on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. Aided by a friend of his father's, he gained an appointment as a page in the U.S. Senate and worked in Washington, D.C. for three years.

Houston returned to Texas in 1877 at the age of seventeen to attend the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University). He transferred to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he graduated in 1880 with honors in law and philosophy. He "read the law" with an established firm and was admitted to the bar. He was the youngest attorney in Texas when he opened his practice.[3] That year he was appointed as the attorney for Brazoria County near Houston, Texas.[3]

In 1882, Houston was appointed as the district attorney of the 35th Judicial District of Texas, which then covered a large part of the Texas Panhandle, based in Mobeetie, Wheeler County.

Houston carried a Colt revolver, which he named "Old Betsy", always strapped to his waist. Some called him "the best shot in the West." He wore buckskin attire from Mexico and a sombrero with a wide brim and a silver eagle. Like, his father he was more than six feet tall. He had gray eyes; his auburn hair was usually shoulder-length. His knowledge of the Bible and classical literature was all-encompassing. He easily commanded the attention of any audience.[4]

Marriage and familyEdit

Established in his career, on February 14, 1883, 23-year-old Houston married Laura Cross, the daughter of a planter. They lived near Fort Elliott, which protected the border against American Indians, as well as the important cattle drives. The couple had seven children, only four of whom lived past infancy.[3]

Political careerEdit

Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1896

Houston was elected in 1884 to a single term in the Texas State Senate from District 19.

He concentrated his law practice on the Santa Fe railroad (the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway).[3] He spoke French and Spanish, as well as seven Indian languages. In 1888, he gave the dedication address for the opening of the Texas State Capitol, which is still in use after several renovations.[5]

Houston participated in the Oklahoma Territory's Land Run of 1893. In 1894, Houston moved his family to the cattle town of Woodward in Oklahoma Territory. He was legal counsel of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway; its Woodward depot became one of the most important points in the territory for cattle shipping to the East. Houston became widely known and popular for his courtroom dramatics. He was charged with murder in the shooting of a brother of the outlaw Al Jennings, after an argument in the Cabinet Saloon, and was acquitted.

Houston won a reputation as a brilliant trial lawyer. In 1899, he delivered his "Soiled Dove Plea" in a makeshift courtroom in Woodward's opera house. The argument on behalf of Minnie Stacey, a prostitute who worked at the Dew Drop Inn, became famous for winning her acquittal after ten minutes' consideration by the jury.[3]

The historian William T. Hagan described Houston as "a flamboyant figure in his black frock coat and shoulder-length auburn hair topped off with a white Stetson. He liked to lace his arguments with literary allusions and could enthrall a courtroom or legislative chamber."[6][7]

Houston had agreed to be a candidate in Oklahoma's first gubernatorial election but died two years before statehood.[8]


Temple Lea Houston Grave, Elmwood Cemetery, Woodward, Oklahoma

Houston died of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 15, 1905 in Woodward, then still Oklahoma Territory. His wife Laura lived until April 17, 1938. They are buried together at Elmwood Cemetery in Woodward.

Representation in other mediaEdit

Houston family treeEdit


  1. ^ David G. Burnet was the first president of the Republic of Texas, serving on an interim basis March 18 – October 22, 1836, while Sam Houston led the army against the Mexican forces.[1] After Houston's capture of Santa Anna, elections were held in the Republic and he became the first elected president of the Republic and later the third president. After Texas was annexed by the United States, Sam Houston became a United States senator from Texas, and was later elected as the state's seventh governor.[2]


  1. ^ "A Guide to the David Gouverneur Burnet Papers, 1798–1965". Briscoe Center for American History. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  2. ^ Kreneck, Thomas H. "Sam Houston". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e Anderson, H. Allen. "Temple Lea Houston". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  4. ^ Chuck Lanehart (January 5, 2019). "Caprock Chronicles: Temple Houston, Prairie dog lawyer of Texas". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  5. ^ Texas Capitol Building Dedication Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine, Texas Bob website
  6. ^ William T. Hagan, Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), pp. 89–90
  7. ^ a b Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 106–109.
  8. ^ Doughty, Beth Anne. "Houston, Temple Lea". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. www.okhistory.org. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  9. ^ ""The Reluctant Gun", Death Valley Days, December 26, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
  10. ^ "Temple Houston: The Story Behind a Forgotten Television Western", Wildest Westerns website

Further readingEdit

  • Grace Hunter Adams, Jack Love: Eighty Niner, Traditional, 1988.
  • James D. Hamlin, The Flamboyant Judge: As Told to J. Evetts Haley and William Curry Holden' (Canyon, Texas: Palo Duro, 1972).
  • Sallie B. Harris, Cowmen and Ladies: A History of Hemphill County (Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1977).
  • Louise B. James, Below Devil's Gap: The Story of Woodward County, Perkins, Okla.: Evans Publications, 1984
  • Seale, William (1992) [1970]. Sam Houston's Wife: A Biography of Margaret Lea Houston. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2436-0.
  • Glenn Shirley, Temple Houston: Lawyer with a Gun (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).
  • Bernice Tune, Golden Heritage and Silver Tongue of Temple Lea Houston (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1981).

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Avery Matlock
Texas State Senator from District 19 (then 26 unorganized counties in the Panhandle based in Mobeetie)

Temple Lea Houston

Succeeded by
John Hall Stephens