Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Plains Indians and Pioneer Museum

Temple Lea Houston, 1860-1905
Credit: Oklahoma Today
One of our sojourns through Western Oklahoma looking for paddleable streams took us to the Plains Indians & Pioneers Museum in Woodward, OK. The search for 6-inches of water to float a canoe failed, but the museum visit was a wonderful experience.

The town of Woodward was established in 1887 at the junction of the Southern Kansas Railway and the Fort Reno Military Road, on the south bank of the North Canadian River. It was a primary supply point for Fort Supply, which I’ve written about previously, and was also a cattle shipping depot for cattle grazed on Indian land in the Cherokee Strip. In fact, the first government building erected in town was the railroad depot, constructed in 1893. By that time, there were 200 residents in town, and it was known as the wildest and woolliest town the Cherokee Strip. In spite of its miniscule size, as towns go, the town’s flavor was made obvious by a stroll down main street, which was lined by no fewer than 23 saloons and 15 brothels.

A favorite adopted son of Woodward was Temple Houston, and Houston’s law office is recreated in the museum. Temple Houston was the youngest child born to Sam and Margaret Lea Houston, and the only one of their eight children to be born in the Texas Governor’s Residence. (Sam Houston defeated Gen. Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, won Texas independence, served twice as president of the Republic of Texas, and supported statehood.) By the time he was seven, both of Temple’s parents had died, and he lived with an older sister. At the age of 13, he joined a cattle drive, later worked on a Mississippi River boat, and then received an appointment to work as a page on the floor of the U. S. Senate. In 1877, he returned to Texas to attend the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, now just called Texas A&M, and then received his law degree with honors from Baylor University. He became the youngest attorney to open a law practice in Texas, was appointed county attorney, then district attorney, and then won election to the Texas State Senate. In 1894, Sam Houston moved his family to Woodward, then known as the largest cattle town in the Cherokee Strip. There he opened a law office to serve as legal counsel for the Atchison, Topeka, and Sante Fe Railroad.

Houston was known as a theatrical attorney in the courtroom, and his summation from one case is still used in law schools across the country as the example of a perfect defense summation. This has become known as the Soiled Dove Plea, and was given by Houston to gain the acquittal of Minnie Stacey, a prostitute who worked at the Dew Drop Inn in Woodward.

Temple Houston’s life was saved by Oklahoma law, so to speak. He was walking down the street in Woodward one day when he was shot. He carried the 1,384-page 1893-edition of the Oklahoma Territory Statutes under his arm. The bullet struck the book and penetrated to page 654, leaving Houston untouched.

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