Temple Houston: “Patron Saint” of Lawyers

Texas history is full of larger-than-life men and women. There was none more compelling in the Old West than Temple Houston, the youngest child of Sam Houston.

Temple carried the distinction of being first child born in the governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas. He never knew his father because Sam Houston died when the boy was only 3 years old. His mother followed four years later when Temple was 7. Upon her death he went to live with one of his sisters.

Of the eight Houston children, Temple was most like his father in temperament and abilities. But he hated being compared to Sam and especially as being Sam’s boy. Temple was rebellious and had a need for adventure. At age 13 he signed on as a cowboy on a cattle drive going all the way to Dakota territory. To get back home, he was hired as a steamboat captain on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

He began studying law and at the age of 19, he was admitted to the Texas Bar. He was well-educated and spoke fluent French and Spanish in addition to seven Indian languages.

None was more flamboyant and unorthodox. The 6’2″, long-haired man was fond of wearing black Prince Albert coats, elegant pinstriped trousers stuffed into high, handsome boots, and white sombreros. Temple was exceedingly handsome, had piercing gray eyes and coal black hair.

He was also a crack marksman. He carried a pair of ivory-gripped, nickel-plated Colts. And he didn’t hesitate to use them. After a courtroom argument with another lawyer, he met the man in a saloon. Houston killed the adversary and promptly entered a plea of self-defense. He was acquitted.

Before his 21st birthday, Temple was appointed first district attorney for the new district court in the Panhandle. He went to the wild, lawless town of Mobeetie where there was no jail. Not long after he arrived he insisted that one be built. While it was being constructed, one convicted cowboy was chained to a rock pillar in one of the town’s saloons. They gave him a blanket and left him in the saloon overnight. The following morning they found the man dead drunk, surrounded by whiskey bottles. He’d torn his blanket into strips and made a lariat. He spent the night roping bottles off the backbar and drinking the contents.

The next year at age 22, Temple married Laura Cross, a planter’s daughter. Seven children were born to them, but only four survived infancy.

Temple Houston was also an excellent defense attorney. At one trial, that of a man accused of murdering a skilled gunfighter, Houston whipped out his pair of Colts, pointed them at the jury, and fired away. Jurors dove out of the box, spectators dove out the window, and the judge ducked down behind the bench. Houston’s attempt to show the lightning speed of the gunfighter in comparison to that of the accused cowboy, even though the cowboy had shot first, was in fact a matter of self-defense. Once courtroom order resumed, Houston apologized for his gunplay, explaining that his own weapons had held blanks. The cowboy was acquitted.

But his most famous case was the one defending accused prostitute Millie Stacey in 1899. His closing summary is still studied by law students today. It’s considered the perfect defense argument and one of the finest masterpieces of oratory in the English language. In his speech which was spellbinding, he proclaimed Millie innocent, saying man was to blame for her shame and that “Where the star of purity once glittered on her girlish brow, burning shame has left its seal forever.” Millie went free, her guilt expunged.

(As a side note, a copy of the speech was framed and hangs today in the Library of Congress.)

A remark for which his is known is “Your honor, the prosecutor is the first man that I’ve ever seen who can strut while sitting down.”

Another time, a judge persuaded Temple to represent a penniless horse thief. Temple promised, “I’ll provide the unfortunate gentleman the best defense I can.” He asked the judge for a private office where he could talk to his client. A little while later, they found Temple sitting alone in the room with the window open. He smiled and remarked, “I gave him the best advice I could.”

Always a restless soul, Houston left Texas for a new frontier and more adventure. He participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush and raced with thousands of other land-hungry pioneers. He brought his family and moved his practice to the new town of Woodward, Oklahoma. His services were in great demand. Before it was over, he became as big a legend in Oklahoma as he was in Texas.

The man who lived life large died of a stroke in 1905 at the age of 45 and was buried in Woodward’s Laurel Land Cemetery. Needless to say, Temple Houston left a huge mark on the legal profession. And though he never reached the historical acclaim of his father Sam, he was a man to be revered.

Doesn’t this sound like a hero right from one of our western romances? I’d like to have known him.


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

41 thoughts on “Temple Houston: “Patron Saint” of Lawyers”

  1. Hi Linda, Thanks for starting my day with a bang! Loved the story about the jury and the gunplay. Sounds like “show vs. tell” to me! This large-than-life man is definitely hero material. I wonder what his wife was like…

  2. My first thought was, “why haven’t they made a movie about this guy?” and the second was, “who would play him?”

    Great post!

    Have a great day everyone.

  3. Hi Vicki, glad I could get your day started. Always a pleasure. I was so thrilled to run across an article about Temple and knew I had to blog about him. He just leapt from the page, bigger than life. What a guy. I didn’t find anything about his wife, but I’m sure she had to equally as strong for them to be married and stay married. There was one line about her saying that she tamed him to some degree, especially his fondness for whiskey.

  4. Morning Julie! I’m glad you enjoyed my post. This man really captured my imagination. There wasn’t a movie made about him that I could see but there was a TV series starring Jeffrey Hunter that ran from 1963-1964. Apparently, it didn’t do too well. But at that time there were zillions of westerns on TV. It probably got lost in the shuffle. I wish they’d make a movie of him but don’t know which actor is strong enough to protray him. Maybe Russell Crowe??

  5. Hi Jennie, so glad you could stop by. Glad you enjoyed reading about this man. Frontier History is littered with men like Temple Houston. It’s a shame that his father Sam overshadowed him and took all the glory.

    Have a great day!

  6. What a great peice of history. Now this is certainly hero material.. Like that he made his own footsteps and did not follow in the path of his father’s.. Became his own man.. I would have liked knowing him. I like to make my own path too..
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story…

  7. Hi Kathleen! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Temple Houston. He was certainly head and shoulders above the rest. He definitely carved his own path. I admire that in people. Temple loved adventure and excitement. I think sometimes we settle for a lot less than we want because it’s easier.

    Have a wonderful day!

  8. Wow, I agree, why has there not been a movie made about this man! He is definately hero material!

  9. Hi Linda, as I was reading this, I told myself what great hero material! Great minds think alike LOL.

    What a terrific guy…so much going on for one guy, one lifetime. It would be fun to hear Laura’s take on him LOL.

    And 6’2″ to boot. Wow.

    Great job, Linda. oxoxox

  10. Hi Tanya, yes I’m sure Temple cut quite a dashing figure. Bet his piercing gray eyes and coal black hair made more than one woman drool. I wish I could’ve found some information on Laura. Wonder what she looked like. She must’ve been very pretty to have caught Temple’s eye. And from all accounts she wasted no time in laying down the law. One of my sources said she tamed a lot of the wildness in him.

  11. My goodness. I even like his name.

    He lived a whole lifetime before he was twenty-five! Look at young people today, who still have no goals or accomplishments at the same age.

    I’m impressed with all he did at such a young age. He had audacity, and that would make a good hero.

    Awesome blog, Linda. FYI I’m reading your story in Give Me a Texas Ranger right now and loving it.

  12. Great post, Linda.
    He even looks like the good bad boy every woman wants to tame. What a shame he died so young. Who knows how much more he would have done if he had lived to a nice, old age. I don’t care for Russell Crowe, but there is certainly a likeness in that second picture. It would be interesting to find out more about his wife and children. Did he have any sons that carried on his personality traits? Looking back over the post, it is amazing he accomplished so much and acquired the education he did at such a young age.

    GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER is packed for my “It was supposed to be RWA” trip to Nashville. We have been several times before, so this will be a relax, catch up on my email inbox, and check out the things I haven’t yet seen trip.

    Hope you all have a great week.

  13. Hi Linda. Great article about a sometimes overlooked Texas hero, who was just about as famous as his father was all over Texas … maybe more so in the Panhandle. One of his infant daughters is buried in Mobeetie where he practiced law for a while. I’ve visited the cemetery and her grave. In part the tombstone reads, “Louise Houston, 1885-1887…Died of Cholera, daughter of Senator Temple Houston and Laura Cross Houston, Granddaughter of General Sam Houston … laid out for burial by Mrs. Johnny Long.” He lived a very colorful light, and is one of the great Texas heros. Thanks for telling us more about Temple Houston. You and I have read a lot of tombstones in our travels, but I wonder who Mrs. Johnny Long was and why she was included on Louise’s stone. Could she possibly have been a lady undertaker like your heroine in “Give Me a Texas Ranger?” Hugs, P

  14. Outstanding young man. A Texan, of course!
    I have to agree that of the current crop of
    actors, Russell Crowe might be the best to
    portray Temple. I’m going to look for that
    closing summary and read it. Just the taste
    you gave us is wonderful!

    Pat Cochran

  15. Cher, I’m thrilled that you found Temple Houston as interesting as I did. Yes, most of the younger generation today would rather sit and play games or something. They really have no ambition or goals. Temple decided early on he wanted adventure and see what the world was about. No sitting around idle for him. He let no grass grow under his feet.

    I’ll be interested in hearing how you like my story in Give Me a Texas Ranger.

  16. Hi Patricia, I’m so glad you enjoyed Temple Houston’s story. Good luck on your trip. Just relax and enjoy every minute of it. I look forward to hearing how you like Give Me a Texas Ranger.

  17. What a character. Every time I think I’ve created a great character in a book I read something like this and realize there are far ‘bigger’ characters in real life…especially in TEXAS. 🙂

  18. Hey Phyliss, I’m glad you could take a minute and read about Temple Houston. Yes, the mention of Mrs. Johnny Long on his daughter’s tombstone is very odd. I can’t imagine who she might be and why they thought it important to put mention of her on the stone. If you ever run across that information, let me know. It’d be really something if, like you said, she’s a woman undertaker. We might have to take a trip to Mobeetie one of these days. And yes, we’ve visited many a cemetery and couldn’t count the tombstones we’ve read.

    Good luck on finishing your story!

  19. Hi Pat C! I’m glad my blog caught your fancy. You can find his closing statement at http://www.jcs-group.com/oldwest/law/houston.html

    What’s really interesting is that he only met Millie Stacey ten minutes before he represented her in court and won her acquittal.

    I also forgot to mention that Temple served as a Texas state senator for a short time and he gave the dedication address for the new Capitol building in Austin in 1888. Seems he was much in demand.

  20. Well, Linds, I’m not surprised that I enjoyed your blog post. You always write well, but I did get a kick out of the vision of this tall, handsome man shooting up a courtroom. Even with blanks. I want to check him out and learn more about Temple Houston. He would make a great hero. Love hearing from you in every way I can.

  21. wow!
    that was an amazing story!
    what a cool man…i bet he drove his wife crazy with all of his wild ways, lol
    what a shame they lost four babies…how very sad
    but…from the looks of that first picture…he wasn’t a bad one for making babies with 🙂

    what interesting stories of all the people as well…i must say i’m terribly impressed by the man who drank himself dead (well…before he got to the dead part) anyone who can lasso a bottle of whisky with a blanket (almost) dead drunk and get it to him is pretty stinkin’ skilled…although perhaps in the wrong ways

  22. Hi Mary, this just shows that real life is better than any fiction we can conjure up in our brains. If you’ve heard the old saying that everything in Texas is bigger, it’s absolutely true. We can’t make this stuff up. Glad you enjoyed Temple Houston. Maybe you borrow some of his traits for your heroes. 🙂

  23. Hi Winona! I’m so thrilled you stopped by and left a comment. Thank you for the compliment on my blogs. Glad you enjoy them. That’s why we do what we do I guess. You’ll find quite a bit of information on Temple. He sure left a memorable legacy, not only here in Texas but in Oklahoma as well. Yes, I have no problem picturing him drawing his Colts and blasting away in the courtroom.

    Hope you’re enjoying your summer. I sure missed seeing when I was in Wichita Falls recently. Maybe next time.

  24. Hi Tabitha, glad you stopped by. Had to laugh at your comment about how easy it would be to make babies with him. I agree. His wife was sure one lucky woman. But then again, I’m equally sure she had her hands full at times. Bet she wanted to strangle him once in a while.

  25. Hi Estella, yes he certainly would’ve. And there would’ve none better to represent them if they found themselves in a courtroom. He did indeed have a silver tongue.

    Hope you’re having a good summer.

  26. “He’d torn his blanket into strips and made a lariat. He spent the night roping bottles off the backbar and drinking the contents.”
    Never underestimate a cowboy. lol

    I’ve never heard of Temple Houston. Thanks for introducing us, Linda.

  27. I knew nothing of him before this and found it all very interesting and what a shame he died so young.

  28. LINDA–I’m a 7th generation Texan, read and write about Texas in my romances, and I have never heard about Temple Houston. How did I miss him? Yes, he’d be a perfect hero if he had a soft spot for women. Did he? I knew Sam HOuston had several children, but haven’t paid much attention to them. Thanks for the enlightment–I thoroughly enjoyed reading the post. Celia Yeary

  29. Hi Tracy, I say never underestimate a thristy cowboy. LOL Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Glad you enjoyed my blog. A wonderful thing about this site is that I’m always learning something new.

  30. Hi Catslady! How nice of you to stop by. Glad my blog enticed you. Yes, it’s a shame Temple died so young. No telling what he’d have accomplished if he’d have lived longer. He was sure a man with a mission.

  31. Hi Celia, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yeah, I’d never heard of Temple either until I ran across him while I was researching. School history books sure don’t make any mention of him which is a real shame. And it’s sad that Sam’s other children didn’t live life large like Temple. Yes, I think Temple had a soft spot for women. He must’ve loved Laura very much because she’s the only woman mentioned with him. And he certainly defended that prostitute with everything he had. He was very passionate.

    Come back again every chance you get.

  32. Awesome post Linda! This man was definately the ‘rock star’ of his time. I agree with an earlier poster, and wish a movie would be made about him.
    It is men like this that make me wish there were ‘time machines’ around so I could actually go back and meet them. Temple sounds like he would be worth the trip. 🙂

  33. Just finished Edna
    Ferber’s book, Cimarron. The hero, Yancey Cravat, is based on Temple Houston. It’s a good read.

  34. Just finished Edna Ferber’s Cimarron and Yancey Cravat in her book is based on Temple Houston. Jean

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