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The Silver-Tongued Lawyer With A Gun: Temple Lea Houston

Temple Houston 3rd from left

Temple Houston 3rd from left

Houston's Colt 45 "Old Betsey"

Houston's Colt 45 "Old Betsey"

Early Life of Temple Lea Houston

On August 12, 1860, Temple to Sam and Mary Houston. Temple lost his father when he was three years old and then his mother when he was just seven years old. His older sister took him and his siblings in with her. He left to join a cattle drive at age thirteen, then worked on a Mississippi riverboat to return to Texas.

Temple attended Baylor University, graduating with honors in law and philosophy in 1880. He spoke French, German, and seven Indian languages. In 1881 he was appointed county attorney in Brazoria, Tx. He was determined not to be known simply as the son of Sam Houston; instead, he was determined to make his own way, and he certainly accomplished that.

He became known for his eloquent speeches in the courtroom, and people came from miles around to hear him, even camping out at the courthouse. Moreover, Temple had charisma about him. Standing 6'2" tall, with wavy auburn hair and gray eyes, he was a beholding. He wore a black coat, tailored buckskin from Mexico, and a sombrero with a silver buckle. And, most important, his Colt 45, called "Old Betsy," strapped to his waist.

During this time, Temple married Laura Cross and began their family. In 1882 he was appointed district attorney to the 35th district of Texas. He then served in the 19th Texas senate 1885-1889. Then Temple was working for the Sante Fe Railroad and decided to move his family to Woodward, Oklahoma taking advantage of the Great Land Rush in Oklahoma. He and Laura were instrumental in establishing the first Catholic Church of Woodward.

Temple Houston Not Guilty Verdict

Temple Houston Not Guilty Verdict

Some of Temple Houston's Famous Court Cases

Today students and legal scholars study the speech Houston gave called "The Soiled Dove Case." Houston defended a prostitute, Minnie Stacy, in front of an all-male white jury. The full address can be found at https://en.wikisource/wiki/Soiled_Dove_Plea. The speech was the finest masterpiece of spontaneous in the English language. Now, over a hundred years later, it's a classic.

Another case of Houston's was when he defended a poor horse thief as he told the judge, "I'll do all I can for the defendant. So Houston and the defendant entered a private room to discuss his defense. After a while, authorities entered the room to find Houston alone. Houston smiled and said, "well, boys, I gave him some good advice." It seems the defendant had snuck out a window and was long gone.

Then, there was the case where a young cowboy stole a horse, shot and killed a rancher who was a quick-tempered gunman. Houston explained the rancher gunman was too fast, and the cowboy had no chance unless he fired first in self-defense. Before a hostile jury, Houston pleads self-defense. As he approached the jury box, he whipped out his Colt 45 and fired at the jury. The whole courtroom erupted in chaos, fleeing for the doors. After the court reconvened, Huston explained the bullets were blanks and then requested a mistrial because the jury had been separated during the trial. The judge, following the law, agreed, and a new trial was set.

A new judge and new jury sat for the trial. The cowboy was acquitted.

But, his most famous trial was when he was when Houston was accused of murder. In Woodward, his rivals were the Jenning brothers, Ed, John, Fred, and Al. As Houston was opposing Ed in a property case, tempers flared in the courtroom when Houston said to Ed, "you have a gross ignorance of the law." Ed yelled back at him, "you're a dam liar," and tried to slap Houston. The two were separated, and the court adjourned till the next day.

As Houston and a friend were at the saloon, Ed and his brother John approached him. Both Ed and Houston drew their guns. Houston shot and killed Ed and seriously wounded his brother John. Fortunately, the witnesses all agreed it was self-defense. The Houston family still has the piano complete with bullet holes.

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A few days later, Houston was shot by an assassin, but the book he was carrying stopped the bullet.

Book of Statutes  With Bullet Hole

Book of Statutes With Bullet Hole

Saloon Where Houston Shot Jennings

Saloon Where Houston Shot Jennings

The Plains Indians nd Pioneer Museum

The museum is located at 2009 Williams Ave., Woodward, Oklahoma, 580-256-6136. The book Lawyer With A Gun by Glen Shirley, historian, and novelist, gives a unique and informative account of Temple Houston. In 2015, Governor Mary Fallin declared August 12 as Temple Houston Day.

Flags were flown as half-mast when he died in 1905 in Woodward and all over Indian Territory in Oklahoma and Texas. He died at home of a brain hemorrhage. Heis buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Woodward, Oklahoma.

At his funeral, it is said a wreath was delivered with a card with the words ' oiled Dove." Were these from Minnie Stacey, the prostitute he defended?

There is no question Temple Houston was one of a kind. He believed in fairness and common sense. He often said "I am different, not less."

Temple Houston Grave Marker

Temple Houston Grave Marker

Sources Used


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