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Doubt Surrounds Texas' Beloved 'Houston Bible'

Tome used to swear in governors may not have been Sam Houston's
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 20, 2015 9:07 AM CST
Doubt Surrounds Texas' Beloved 'Houston Bible'
In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo, Texas state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, is sworn in as Speaker of the House using the Sam Houston Bible in Austin, Texas.   (Eric Gay)

(Newser) – George W. Bush called it Sam Houston's Bible. Rick Perry swore on its centuries-old sheepskin four times. And today, Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will lay his hand on the historic tome to take the oath of office. But archivists now say it's possible that Texas governors have been duped for centuries. Texas Supreme Court caretakers of the brittle, brown 199-year-old holy book long known as the Sam Houston Bible—a purported link to the beloved former president of the Republic of Texas—have evidence that suggests the book never belonged to Houston. Here are the undisputed facts: The publishing date inside is 1816. The binding is original, but the book was re-cased and is now more flexible. Souvenir-seekers would tear out pages and pocket them, then sheepishly hand them back after being chased down.

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Houston's connection to the book is fuzzier, and a big clue is long gone: The bible's flyleaf reads "Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas," but the bottom half—which reportedly bore Houston's signature—is torn away. Texas tales told of a thieving janitor who tore Houston's signature from the Bible during a game of dominoes in the 1970s. But the janitor is off the hook—Texas Supreme Court archivist Tiffany Shropshire found a 1941 newspaper article that described the torn flyleaf. And letters found in state archives show the penmanship closely resembles that of John Hemphill, the court's first chief justice, not of Houston. The court would like to put the mystery to rest; in the meantime, it's having everyone who touches the book wear white gloves. "But I'm not going to ask the governor to put on gloves," says Shropshire. (Read more Bible stories.)

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