Whether sober or not, Sam Houston’s persona was magnetic, attracting attention with either his booming voice or physical appearance.
After his marriage to Margaret Lea in 1840 and the birth of seven children, the Houston’s eighth child, Temple Lea, was the first child to be born in the Texas governor’s mansion at Austin in August 1860. Nine months later, in March 1861, Houston was deposed as governor over refusing to vote for the secession of Texas to join the Confederate States. The Houston’s departed for Huntsville.
Temple would be a son that was little influenced by his father. Houston died in July 1863, a month before the boy celebrated his third birthday. Yet, he may have been the adventurous son who, in adulthood, most “followed after” his father. Not only did Temple grow up without a father figure, but his mother died in the 1867 yellow fever epidemic, when he was but seven years of age. Temple, consequently, grew up in the Georgetown home of an older sister.
In 1873, at the age of 13, Temple joined a cattle drive into Kansas to then wander off to be employed as a night clerk on a Mississippi River boat. At New Orleans, he somehow met U.S. Senator Flanagan, a “political crony of his father.” Flanagan managed to arrange employment for Temple as a page in Washington D.C.’s U. S. Senate. During Temple’s three years in the nation’s capital, he read law and then returned to Texas to study law.
Temple enrolled as a cadet at the fledgling Agricultural and Mechanical College that became Texas A&M University. He soon transferred to Baylor University to study law and philosophy to graduate with honors.
This led to his return to Georgetown to be, at the age of 20, admitted to the bar, becoming the youngest practicing lawyer in Texas. He opened his practice at Brazoria and in a short time was appointed Brazoria County Attorney in 1881. A year later, he became district attorney of the 35th Judicial District that took him to the Texas Panhandle, covering all its 26 counties.
Like his father, Temple often took to flamboyant and eccentric dress and appearance. His reputation grew as a brilliant trial lawyer and gifted speaker, who laced his oratory with allusions to the Bible and classical literature. He also excelled as a dead shot, carrying a pearl-handled pistol. Later, he practiced law as a private citizen.
Jeff Carroll, in his book “Being Texan,” described Temple’s once behavior as a defense attorney in a murder trial. In a courtroom before a jury, he wore a “long Prince Albert coat which, when he turned quickly, flowed out like a girl’s party dress to reveal two Colts at his waist.” In his summation, “he drew both guns and stampeded the courtroom by firing into the ceiling.” The judge fined him, but the jury granted the defendant a new trial and change of venue.
Temple’s career also included election as a senator from the 56th District of Texas, to serve in the 19th and 20th Texas Legislatures from 1885 to 1887. By 1893, Temple was in Oklahoma for the “great land-run into Oklahoma’s Cherokee Strip as well as legal counselor of the Santa Fe Railroad.”
Temple died of a brain hemorrhage 12 years later in his Woodward, Oklahoma, home a few days shy of his 45th birthday.
Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. For more information on the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation or to become a member, go to www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org .