Death at The Driskill Hotel: A Ghostly Story of Samantha Houston
The first-born child of the Houston family was active and loved to play as other four-year-old children do. No one at The Driskill could know that the fate of this little girl would come to a tragic end before the family checked out of the hotel.
Samantha, her infant brother Temple Jr., her mother Laura Cross Houston, and her father Senator Temple Lea Houston (the last born son of Margarete Lea Houston and Sam Houston, the first elected president of the Republic of Texas), had checked into The Driskill Hotel, Austin, Texas, and lived there while the 20th legislature meeting was in session at the hotel, from January 11 to April 4, 1887.
A historical plaque at The Driskill
Temple Lea Houston served as a politician from 1885–1889. His middle name was the same name as his mother. He was elected to the Texas state senate in 1885 at the age of 25. Many considered him to be one of the state’s most brilliant trial lawyers for his age. Houston spoke French and Spanish fluently as well as seven Indian languages. Temple Lea Houston married his beautiful wife, Laura, in February of 1882. Laura gave birth to their first of five children, Samantha Houston, in December of that very same year.
As the state capitol building was under construction, the 20th Texas legislature held its 1887 session in the large banquet halls of the new Driskill Hotel at Brazos and 6th street in Austin. Houston was one of the three more wealthy senators who stayed in the expensive and luxurious guest rooms, perhaps in the mezzanine level of The Driskill hotel, where his child Samantha often played.
One night, Samantha quietly slipped out of the room, probably just outside the door on the mezzanine level, while her mother slept, and her father worked late into the night to finalize important legislation. She fell to her death down the grand staircase while quickly chasing a leather ball as it got away from her. She broke her neck and died instantly.
Samantha Houston died April of 1887 at four years of age.
According to written reports from the coroner’s investigation, Temple Houston was immediately taken from his meeting nearby in the Grand Ballroom, only steps away from the place his daughter had fallen and was devastated at the sight of his lifeless child. His friend, Senator Richard Harrison, disarmed Houston, after he pulled a pistol on the crowed.
Before Samantha Houston’s burial, her father contacted an Austin artist named William Henry Huddle, to produce a life-like painting of his deceased daughter, using Samantha’s corpse as the model. Once the rough sketch was finished, Houston returned home and buried Samantha’s remains in Mobeetie, Texas, over 450 miles away. Temple Houston returned to Austin in 1888 and gave the dedication speech for the opening of the new state capitol building, but he never stayed at The Driskill again. In that famous speech, he paid homage to his child who died while playing at the marbled floor hotel at the last legislative session. This was the only documentation of proof, other than the coroner’s report, linking Samantha Houston’s death to The Driskill hotel. The written speech is on file with the Bob Bullock Museum.
It was rumored, Senator Harrison, with the help of Jesse Driskill, together bribed the local news media to keep the tragic accident from the public attention. Weeks went by before any mention of the accident, with no mention of names, only that a young girl fell to her death on the grand staircase. By then Jesse Driskill had already closed the hotel, declaring his hotel staff went to work for another hotel in Galveston.
For unknown reasons, Temple never went to pick up the painting of his beloved daughter Samantha after it was finished. Instead, Col. Driskill purchased the painting for $10 and displayed it at the head of the grand staircase. Temple Houston died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1905 at the age of 45 after a fist fight with a prosecutor during a court case. Some say he died from consuming too much alcohol and that the fight had nothing to do with his death. He is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Woodward, Oklahoma. Some say Samantha’s remains were removed by her mother from Texas to an unmarked site beside her father in 1910. Laura joined them in 1938. It makes sense that the family would want to be together.
The Driskill Hotel at Brazos and 6th street
Some say Driskill sold the hotel, while others say he lost it in a poker game to his brother-in-law Jim Day. The new owner had heard stories that the painting of Samantha was haunted and had it stored away in a housekeeping closet. After the new owner bought The Driskill in 1903, Samantha’s picture was then hung in a hallway on the fifth floor.
Laura Houston donated separate portraits of Temple and herself to the Driskill Hotel in 1906. The paintings were painted in 1888, shortly after the tragic death of their daughter Samantha. They were hung together side by side with a plaque between them as a memorial to Samantha. After the parents’ paintings kept falling off for no apparent reason, the paintings had to be nailed to the walls.
After Laura’s picture was vandalized and slashed, the hotel had all three paintings copied and hung without labeling them in fear of more vandalism. Today, no one knows where the original paintings are.
For nearly 100 years, the staff and guests would leave candy on a table located under Samantha’s picture. Each day the candy disappeared. When guards posted overnight were asked what happened to the candy, they claimed it had vanished in front of their eyes. Much of the candy was found behind the little girl’s portrait during a renovation. It was speculated the rodents of the time must have put it there when Samantha was done with it.
The stories of Samantha’s ghostly hauntings have traveled as far away as London and Paris.
Samantha’s spirit is said to be the first recorded ghost at The Driskill. Sightings of a little girl roaming the area, playing with the ball, have been seen and people believe they can still hear her childish giggles in the hotel in the mezzanine floor late at night.
The Mezzanine floor at The Driskill
Many people today swear this copied painting is haunted. They say if you stare into the eyes of the little girl in the portrait for a few minutes you will eventually see her grinning at you. I am here to tell you, I just got back from Austin, Texas, to visit this darling, little child’s history. I was able to secure a private tour through The Driskill hotel focusing the main tour about Samantha Houston. I have stared into the eyes of this little ghostly girl’s portrait and slept in the room just outside where the picture hangs today on the fifth floor. I didn’t see any paranormal activity with the portrait. I was hoping to see something, but instead I saw nothing. There are no tables to leave candy for this little girl. (Such a shame, because I really would have liked to have done that!) I wondered why would a little girl as beautiful as Samantha haunt a picture painted from her corpse’s image? If she were to haunt any place, wouldn’t she haunt the grand staircase where she fell, where she is heard giggling and playing with her ball? I think it makes more sense than haunting a copy of a painting.
The Grand Staircase at The Driskill
If they renovated the grand staircase since the time of her death, I think perhaps she would have wanted to be near the new grand staircase where she loved to play. So, with that in mind, I set off to buy her a “safe gift” she would want to play with for eternity. A little soft, plush toy. I hid her gift at the end of the stairway, where only she could see it clearly, and waited until morning to see if the gift was still there. I was not surprised that it was gone. Was it a staff member who took the little toy? Or was it in fact Samantha, who played with it in her own ghostly fashion and made it disappear? Only the staff at The Driskill hotel know for sure. But if you believe in ghosts, it is time to head to The Driskill Hotel yourself and listen to the sounds of all the ghosts at night.
Beautiful ceiling at The Driskill
People from all over the world come to Austin Texas for a ghostly experience. With the over 125 years of spirited history, no one has ever been harmed during their stay at The Driskill Hotel.