Temple Lea Houston was born August 12, 1860 to Sam and Margaret Lea Houston. He was the youngest son of the couple and was the first child born in the Governor’s Mansion in what is now downtown Austin. Temple did not have the benefit of living with his parents for many years since Sam died in 1863 and Margaret died in 1867. He was raised by an older sister, Nancy Elizabeth “Nannie” Houston Morrow in Georgetown. Though she was only 13 years older than Temple, Nannie and her husband took in a number of the younger Houston children. Houston left home at the age of 13, working on a cattle drive, clerking on a riverboat and taking other jobs until with the help of a former associate of Sam Houston, he was hired as a page in the United States Senate. After a few years, Temple returned to Texas and enrolled at Texas A&M before transferring to Baylor at Independence, Texas, where his family had formerly lived, graduating in 1880. He apprenticed at law, passed the Texas Bar and within a year or two was practicing law in Brazoria.
Houston was described as physically resembling his famous father, Sam Houston. Some photos of him show him with short hair, but he was often described as having shoulder length auburn colored hair and dressing in a flamboyant style in the courtroom. In 1883, he married Laura Cross of Brazoria and the couple had a total of seven children, four of which lived to adulthood. His career in politics included his appointment in 1882 as district attorney for a number of counties in the Texas Panhandle. In 1884, Houston successfully won a seat in the Texas Senate and served one term. He was asked to give the dedication address for the opening of the State Capitol Building in 1888 upon its completion after a six year construction period following the destruction of the previous structure in a fire in 1881.
His speech was the acceptance speech on behalf of the State of Texas. In it, he summarized the transaction in which the Farwell brothers received 3,000,000 acres of land in West Texas in exchange for constructing the Capitol Building. The text of the speech is transcribed below, as it appeared in the May 17, 1888 issue of the Austin Daily Statesman.
He worked for a number of years as counsel for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and moved to Woodward, Oklahoma (an important depot for the railroad) where he represented the railroad and continued his law practice. He was known as a skillful speaker which served him well in his legal career.
Many biographical sketches contain a reference to the so called “soiled dove plea.” This term refers to an 1899 case in Oklahoma in which one Minnie Stacey was tried for prostitution. She had no funds nor legal representation and Temple agreed to take the case. Houston is said to have delivered an impassioned, extemporaneous speech that included references to her bleak situation, the biblical story of the prodigal son and numerous other biblical references. The accused woman was acquitted. His courtroom dress and tactics were unconventional and references are made to his carrying firearms into court and discharging them with blank bullets.
Some accounts refer to heavy drinking and attribute his early death at the age of 45 to this. Several stories allude to this in his younger years with accounts of fights in saloons. One altercation led to the death of Ed Jennings after a shootout in an Oklahoma bar. Houston was tried and acquitted on the grounds that the identity of the individual shooter could not be ascertained. There was bad blood between the Jennings family and Houston and an older brother of Jennings vowed to avenge his brother’s death, but was incarcerated before he was able to do so. The particulars of the case are unknown, but Houston was later fined $300 for the death of Ed and Al Jennings’ father John Jennings, a local judge, in 1897 after some confrontation.
Houston had agreed to return to politics in 1904 and run for governor of Oklahoma, but he died the following year from complications of a stroke or brain hemorrhage in Woodward, Oklahoma where he was buried.
Temple Houston has been portrayed in feature films, in 26 episodes of a western television series named “Temple Houston” and in other television episodes.
Speech of Temple Houston, [Source: Austin Daily Statesman, Austin, Texas. 17 May 1888.]
“The greatest of states commissions me to say that she accepts this building, and henceforth it shall be the habitation of her government. When the title to the noblest edifice upon this hemisphere thus passes from the builder to Texas, reason ordains a brief reference to the deeds and times that eventuate in this occasion. Texas has changed the site of her government oftener than any other state in this union, or any nation on this side of the globe. Prior to the transfer to this building the site of government of Texas has been changed eleven times; to wit: San Felipe, Washington, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco, Columbia, Houston, Austin, Washington a second time, Houston a second time, and Austin again, having been the successive seats of government of Texas. The state which to-day en’ers this building stands:
FIRST IN AREA, sixth in population, and seventh in taxable wealth among the sisterhood of states that comprise the American Union. And when the tribes are numbered in 1890, she will still stand third in population and fourth in wealth and sit peerless amid the proudest. She has a history all her own, wild, romantic, heroic. Minstrel’s lay never told of deeds more daring than her sons have wrought, nor ever in castle hall hath harp of bard hymned praise of purer faith than her legends bear. Child of storms, the nursing of revolutions, the twilight of her history made her soil the battlefield of freedom, her children the crusaders of liberty, situated at a remote angle of the gulf midway between the Aztec empire and the valley of the Mississippi, she for a while felt neither that spirit of Spanish conquest which laid in the dust at a blow the throne of Montezuma and the empire of the Incas, nor that gentle spirit of colonization which marked the footsteps of France and Britain upon this continent. But this
REPOSE WAS BRIEF. In 1522, shortly after the conquest of Mexico, the royal standard of Spain was unfurled upon Texas soil. D. Narvez and his glittering cavalry swept from the Rio Grande to Mobile. He paused not in his path. In vain might finest valley smile or noblest landscape woo him but to stay; gold alone was deemed worth the Spaniard’s while, and in this fierce quest he pillaged all the isles of the ocean and the two continents from California to the Patagonia. However, if the occupancy of the Pueblo of Isleta by Coronada in 1540 may be regarded as permanent, Texas was the first state in the American union to be settled, and within her borders began that process of change that has transformed our country from a wilderness into an empire. But Spanish ascendancy remained inactive until excited by jealousy of French encroachments. On January 1, 1685, Le Sieur Robert Cavaleir De La Salle, under commission from Louis XIV, landed upon Matagorda bay. The object of the French was to establish colonies at the mouth of the Mississippi. The piercing mind of La Salle saw that from the great lakes the trend of the watershed indicated the presence of
A GREAT VALLEY in the center of this continent, drained by the mightiest of rivers, and he knew that this valley was the seat of empire. He knew that the measureless current on whose calm grandeur De Soto gazed, was the same which Marquette saw, and De Soto, like Columbus, died in pathetic ignorance of the extent of his discovery. How sad that so knightly an one should sink to sleep in the bosom of that great stream which he had perished to find, and know not whence came nor whither went the dark waters that over him rolled.
Winds and currents swept LaSalle westward and he saw Texas where the gulf in vexed magnificence breaks upon Matagorda peninsula. The Frenchman’s colonial scheme was futile. Dissensions among his followers, want of support from the home government, hostile and intractable Indians and, finally, Spanish intervention extinguished the last vestige of French settlement upon Texas shores. But when disaster had done its worst and
THE GALLANT FRENCHMAN read upon the wall the handwriting of fate he did not quail. Upon the banks of that great and mysterious river he would find the faithful De Tonti, and from him he would get the aid which the ocean failed to bear him, and which he had lighted might not expire. Toward the upper Mississippi and the great lakes he therefore bent his steps. He crossed the Lavaca, the Colorado, the Bernard, Brazos, San Jacinto, Trinity and Neches. In the bottoms of the later stream the cavalier was assassinated by his own followers. With him fell the last hope of French dominion in Texas. He, like the cavalier that he was, gave his life to his king and his god. Never crusader’s cross blazed on a braver breast, and in his knightliest tournay there rode no nobler spirit. In all the chivalry that shone around the throne of Louis, there flashed no fairer soul than him whose murdered form sleeps in the unknown wilds of the Neches forests, but his life and efforts were not without their results.
THE FRENCH ATTEMPT At colonization roused the activity and jealousy of Spain. Grasping and ruthless as she was, Spain ever set religion’s seal upon her conquests, and as soon as she had quenched the last spark of French settlement within the borders of Texas, she began the establishment of missions, resulting in the erection of about twenty institutions, dotting the valleys of the San Antonio, the Neches and the Guadalupe, also, at Nacogdoches and on the San Saba. The noble order of the church, the Franciscan Fathers, reared there missions. Thou fathers, half priest, half knight, and all courage lend a mingled air of piety and romance to the annals of Castilian conquest. In those missions showed both the censer and the sword, the mitre and the helm, for those pious fathers in the spread of their master’s faith, dared in the wilderness, but whosoever opposed their path felt the thrust of the lance or the stroke of sword.
THEY CAME AS CONQUERORS. Nor did their name or deeds belie the martial name of their lovliest missions – San Juan de Espala. Within the portals of these missions might dwell saintliest abbot and holiest nun, but from their walls frowned Hisponia’s artillery, and at matins and vespers floated the melody of her bugles.
For more than 100 years, from the destruction of LaSalle colony until the stars and stripes rose above the Crescent city, upon the purchase of Louisiana, these missions were the seats of Spanish power and the centers around which settlement clustered. Standing desolate, yet beautiful, grand even in ruins, these old missions appeal to us with an eloquence beyond all words. They are landmarks of a vanishing era, the boundary stones of a receding empire. They are the monuments of the mistaken zeal of a powerful and pious order.
THE INTERVAL BETWEEN THE PURCHASE of Louisiana and the settlement of Texas by Stephen F. Austin is filled with turbulent events, but not sufficiently important in results to admit of extended mention here.
The same year which witnessed the final liberation of Mexico from her 300 years of Spanish rule, beheld the inception of the plan which resulted in the freedom of Texas, the colonization by Stephen F. Austin. The interval of fifteen years between the arrival of Austin and the independence of Texas is filled with events to which such brilliant and exhaustive reference has been made by that scholarly jusrist, orator and statesman who has preceded me, that any allusion from me would mar the delightful memory that must linger of words that fell like pearls from lips so sage. But I will avert to one feature of that period. On March 1, 1836, the convention of the then province of Texas assembled at Washington on the Brazos. On the second day of its existence, that convention formulated a “Declaration of Texas Independence,” which in literary merit challenges comparison with the finest productions of our language. That same body of men in fourteen days prepared the constitution of the Republic of Texas which remained for nine years, without a suggested amendment, the organic law of Texas.
IT SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN that this constitution was framed amid an overwhelming invasion, that participation in the proceedings of that convention was threatened death, and that those who drafted that constitution laid down their pens to grasp the sword; that it was indeed born amid the clash of arms and rocked in the cradle of war. The beneficence and perfection of its provisions, the rapidity with which it was prepared and the reverence with which it was obeyed, make the constitution of 1836 one of the evidences that the Anglo-Saxon race is capable of self-government. The men who devised that constitution were the apostles from Runnymede,, they were the disciples of Jefferson, they were the evangelists of liberty, for, wherever that race breathes, on land or sea, oppression ceases instantly.
The principles which they proclaimed at Washington on the 2nd of March, 1836, they, fifty days later, at San Jacinto sealed with their blood.
IT WAS THE OLD CONFLICT between the Latin and the Teuton. It had been fought between the armies of Arminius and Varus. It had been battled when the Almada was dispersed, and at Trafalgar and Waterloo, and fate had decreed that the Anglo-Saxon should triumph, for wheresoever on the face of the earth this knight errant of liberty plants his foot victory has greeted him and Christianity has been his companion. [Great Applause.] When the last hour pealed, the sounds rang from a spot where the Republic of Texas died, where the state of Texas was born. On yonder hill where that clock chimes each fleeting hour, once stood an historic building – which now only lives in the memory of a venerated few. In a log building on that hill, the pioneer legislators framed the constitution of 1845, under which Texas was admitted into the union. When the seat of government was located here in 1839, this point was beyond the extreme outposts of the frontier. But the sublimity of the scenery, the majestic beauty of the spot, marked it as the place ordained by fate as the capital of Texas, and such shall it ever remain. [Applause.]
THE PEOPLE OF TEXAS are indebted to United States Senator Charles B. Farwell and his brother John V. Farwell, of the firm of John V. Farwell & Co., of Chicago and Colonel Abner Taylor, not only for the best state house in the United States, but more especially for bringing our public lands into worldwide notice, by agreeing to build the house for the 3,000,000 acres set aside for that purpose. It will be recollected that these lands were offered for sale at 50 cents an acre, without attracting purchasers, while the building has cost nearly three times 50 cents an acre, and is really worth more than five times that amount, if we are to measure its value by the cash cost of similar buildings in other states.
The state and the Farwell syndicate are to be congratulated on such a result as demonstrating, beyond the power of successful criticism, the wisdom of a contract which made it possible. The state, because she has realized for these lands much more than she could have done under her land laws for their sale and got them under tax, and at the same time secured the use of this noble building for all time, which probably would never have been built in any other way. The syndicate, because they have obtained 3,000,000 acres of the best land in Texas, and will in due time cover them with prosperous farmers and increase the wealth of the state by hundreds of millions of dollars, instead of leaving them for the free use of foreign cattle companies whose earnings would not have remained in the state.
EVERY TRUE AND HONEST TEXAN must rejoice that the Farwells have found a way to turn our previously useless land into such a state monument as we are this day dedicating, and that they must from self‑interest – if no other motive – cover these lands with farmers, as soon railroads have opened them up. From every point of view, therefore, I say emphatically, as a true friend of Texas, whatever may have been thought by critics, that we have but did better than any of us thought, and the Farwells are justly entitled to our thanks, and this celebration by this vast concourse of our citizens is the best expression of our feeling toward the men who have made it possible. This magnificent building will speak of their skill thousands of years after we have ceased to speak. And when the state, in its citizens, shall realize a value in these lands, improved and settled up, of $10 to $75 per acre, no one will say that the Farwells were not entitled to ever dollar they will make as a just reward for benefits received by the state.
In 1852, by the sale of her title to New Mexico, Texas occupied the capitol which was destroyed by fire in 1881.
LET US NOT PASS LIGHTLY by that old structure. Its halls knew so much of the grief and glory of Texas, so much of her splendor and her sorrow, and so often saw her destinies alternately flit between triumph and ruin. Within the walls of that old capitol, whose buried foundations rest yonder, the government of Texas was administered for twenty‑eight years. Beneath its roof were assembled thirteen legislatures and four constitutional conventions. These were framed the constitutions of 1861, of 1866, of 1869 and of 1886, the organic law under which we now live, and containing the provision for the erection of the capitol in exchange for 3,000,000 acres of the public domain. Within those walls, since wasted by fire, passed much over which the historian of Texas must ponder. It was there that the fair fruits of annexation withered beneath the simoon breath of war. Here too, in frantic haste was consummated the act which shattered the golden links welded by sixteen years of union, and hurled Texas into the vortex of succession. And after
SOUTHERN VALOR had wrecked itself against the might of the union, that same old capital on whose ruins many of this multitude stand, saw reconstruction plait its crown of thorns around the weary brow of Texas and press the sponge of bitterness to her lips. Yet that same old building saw the departed scepter return to Judah when the Fourteenth legislature calmly grasped the reins of power and submitted the constitution under which we live. In the adoption of that constitution, you, the people, decreed the erection of the building which you today accept and dedicate to your use. It decrees the eternal union of Texas. Hereafter let no man seek to put asunder that which the fathers united. Let the fiends who wait upon the lost hiss their hate and shriek their curses in the ear of him who would plot the dismemberment of Texas. Today is an era in our history. The survivors of the early struggles who view this building realize that all which they did was not in vain. Texas stands
PEERLESS AMID THE MIGHTY, and her brow is crowned with bewildering magnificence! This building fires the heart and excites reflection in the minds of all. It stands alone the haughtiest type of modem civilization.
In other lands the hands of man hath reared walls as stately as these and pierced the sky in prouder heights. The architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity, for here science has done her utmost. The quarry has given its and marble, and the mines have yielded their brass and iron, and an empire has been passed as an equivalent for this house. All that enlightenment and art could do has been done. Were I to repress the reflections that occur to me now, I would be untrue to my convictions and to this occasion. It would seem that here glitters a structure that shall stand as
A SENTINEL TO ETERNITY, to gaze upon passing ages, and, surviving, shall mourn as each separate star expires. Were we to feel thus, precedent would justify us. Those who built the Pyramids thought the Egyptian empire eternal; those who reared the Coliseum boasted that it was a pledge that Rome was everlasting. More solemn lessons are taught at our own doors. Great races have swept o’er this continent like waves o’er the bosom of the deep, and left traces almost as faint. Who reared the Pyramids of Uxmal, the palaces of Palenque, the mausoleums of Mitla? The splendors of towered Tuloom. What is the date, the origin, the fate, of those mysterious civilizations that have vanished forever in the forests of Mexico and Central America, and that flee from the searcher like those illusive lights that flash and fade above the silent tomb? They were our predecessors. Shall oblivion fling her darkening pall over us? Ah! we are but one of the vast procession of races which it was decreed should pass across this hemisphere. We have no right to say that our own is the first or the last of those civilizations whose impress it was ordained this continent should feel.
MORE THAN ONCE THE WORLD has lost and resumed civilization. If our civilization possesses the elements of perpetuity it differs from any of its predecessors. If the lessons of the past have not been taught in vain, they tell us that the future holds in hand an hour when the curious antiquarian shall wander through
THE ROOFLESS CHAMBERS, amid the shattered arches and fallen columns of all their imperial magnificence, and ask when were these walls reared ‑ was this edifice, palace or prison, tomb or temple? Does it seem impossible? Balbec’s marble columns are as proud as these, yet who chiseled them? Who carved the hieroglyphics that plead for interpretation from the sculptured walls of Palenque? The past hath a fearful lesson of the instability of earthly greatness. Men dwelt upon the earth thousands of years ere they ascertained its shape. The shed seas of blood before they learned that a drop of it circulated. They proudly claim an existence of 6,000 years, yet their annals do not include half of it. They cannot explain their diversity in language or the secret of their existence. The destruction of public virtue caused the decline of other civilizations, but does our civilization carry with it the means of its perpetuation? Under certain conditions it may. It possesses characteristics that mark none of its predecessors and particularly can this be said of the state of Texas.
THE CIVILIZATION OF TEXAS, which this proud capitol is one of the voices that shall speak to after ages, is beneficent. The form of our government is a subject of an expressed wish of the people whom it affects. The officers are elected and are the servants not rulers of the people. We have no obligatory form of worship, our rights of free speech have no limitation; before our laws all men are equal; our government is a subject of criticism, not of hideous dread. Our armies and fleets are for the protection, not oppression, of the people. Our institutions enjoin an education of the masses, and assume that the government is not the heritage of one man, but the property of the people. Texas says to whomsoever cast his home within her benignant realms, she tenders his offspring an education without money and without price. This education is given to whatever child that abides within her border.
NO MATTER WHAT RACE may shame its origin, or what reproach cloud its birth. Texas pledges 35,000,000 fair acres and 12 1/2 per cent of her taxable values, amounting to millions, that ever child that asks it at her generous hands shall receive a free education. The first government of the earth to enact the homestead exemption in favor of the family, she stands pre-eminent in beneficence to the helpless. Within sight of this structure are the grand charities which Texas bestows upon the blind, the deaf and dumb and the insane; she has also remembered the orphan, and her statutes provide for the indigent. All these would indicate a perpetuity of public virtue. This noble edifice is a fit seat for such a government. It and the features of our civilization are all we can leave our posterity, and, even if they prove unworthy of our bequest, we can at least pass from life’s stage with the proud reflection that we leave behind us a purer civilization and a nobler edifice than has been bequeathed to us by preceding ages.”
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