Today’s blog is about the son of a man who was on our family tree for all of eleven days.
Temple Lea Houston was the son of Sam Houston (who we wrote about previously). But his father died when he was only three so he had no memory of the man. Still, the shadow of the great Texas leader loomed large. Temple vowed to be remembered not as the son of Sam Houston but on his own merits. He succeeded.
He was extremely skilled in two specific areas: He was a gifted orator which led him to a career as a lawyer, and he was deadly quick with a six-shooter which kept him alive when his first skill made him enemies.
He is best remembered for his unusual defenses during what should have been open and shut cases for the prosecution. In one, where a young cowboy had stolen a horse and killed its owner, Temple argued that, since the deceased was a well-known gunslinger, his client had no choice but to draw and fire first. It was a matter of self-preservation. He then demonstrated how quickly a gunfighter can act by whipping his gun from beneath his cloak and firing it into the ceiling. Pandemonium ensued. The judge ducked beneath his bench, spectators dived out the window, and the jurors rushed from the room. He then quickly called for a mistrial as the jury was not sequestered. It was granted.
In his most famous case, that of Minnie Stacey, a known prostitute who was accused of plying her trade, Temple was at the courthouse when the unrepresented Stacey’s case was called. He offered his services on the spot and after conferring with her for ten minutes announced that he was ready to proceed. Instead of presenting evidence of her innocence (there wasn’t any), he instead launched into a 30 minute extemporaneous speech about the sad life of his newly acquired client. One newspaper described it as “the most remarkable, the most spellbinding, heart-rending tearjerker ever to come from the mouth of man.” Everyone was moved to tears including the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant.
Temple ended his argument with “The Master, while on Earth, though he spoke in wrath and rebuke to kings and rulers, never reproached any of such women as Minnie Stacey; one he forgave, the other he acquitted. Do as your Master did. Tell her to go in peace.” Minnie was acquitted in minutes and Temple’s speech, copied word for word by the court stenographer, was framed and is now hanging in the Library of Congress where it is still studied by law students today as one of the finest examples of extemporaneous speaking in the English language.
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