Sam Houston was as legend reports a big man about six foot and six inches tall. He was an exciting historical figure and war hero who was involved with much of the early development of our country and Texas. He was a soldier, lawyer, politician, businessman, and family man, whose name will be synonymous with nation heroes who played a vital part in the shaping of a young and prosperous country. He admired and supported the Native Americans who took him in and adopted him into their culture to help bridge the gap between the government and a noble forgotten race. Sam Houston succeeded in many roles he donned as a man, but the one most remembered is the one of a true American hero.
On March 2, 1793, Samuel Houston was born to Major Sam Houston and Elizabeth Paxton Houston. He was the fifth of nine children. Born at Timber Ridge, Rockbridge County, in the Shenandoah Valley. At the age of thirteen, his father, Major Sam Houston, died suddenly at Dennis Callighan’s Tavern near present-day Callaghan, Virginia in Alleghany County, 40 miles west of Timber Ridge while on militia inspections. Mrs. Elizabeth Houston took her nine children to a farm on Baker Creek in Tennessee. Samuel was unhappy with farming and storekeeping, so he ran away from home to live with the Cherokees on Hiwasee Island in the Tennessee River near present-day Dayton, Tennessee. At the age of seventeen, Sam returned to his family for a short period of time and then returned back to the Cherokees where, he was adopted by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka and given the Indian name, “The Raven.” Two years later, Sam returned to Maryville, Tennessee, where he opened a successful private school.
On his twentieth birthday Sam Houston enlisted in the regular army as a private. Within the year, he was promoted to Third Lieutenant to the 39th Infantry Regiment where Houston was badly wounded twice at The Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the War of 1812. The battle took place on the Tallapoosa River near present-day Alexander City, Alabama. His courage in combat caught the attention of General Andrew Jackson who promoted him to Second Lieutenant. In 1816 Houston was named an Indian sub-agent in Tennessee and soon after was promoted to First Lieutenant. Houston led a delegation of Cherokees to Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and President James Monroe. While there, he was reprimanded by Secretary Calhoun for wearing Indian dress. Houston was a strong advocate for Native American rights. Surprisingly, Houston resigned his commission in the army over false accusations concerning his involvement in slave trading.
Houston studied law in Judge James Trimble’s law office in Nashville, Tennessee. Six months later he passed the bar and started a law practice in Lebanon, Tennessee where he was appointed Adjutant General of the state of Tennessee, with the military rank of Colonel. Next, he was nominated and won the office of Attorney General of the Nashville District in Tennessee. Sam later resigned to return to private law practice, but was soon elected by his fellow officers to the position of Major General in the Tennessee state militia. He had a history of bouncing back and forth between politics and the military. Nominated by Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party for the U.S. House of Representatives, Houston won the election by getting 100% of the votes. Not uncommon for politicians in the time period, Sam Houston badly wounded General William A. White in a duel fought 6 miles south of Franklin, Kentucky. Soon after, in 1827 Sam was elected Governor of Tennessee, replacing two-term Governor William Carrol. Two years later he married his first wife, Eliza Allen, an 18-year-old daughter of a plantation owner. Within two weeks of his marriage, Houston was announced as a candidate for re-election as Governor of Tennessee. Sam separated from his wife Eliza after less than four months of marriage. One week later he resigned as Governor of Tennessee and departed from Nashville on the steamboat Red River on the Cumberland River.
Known for his passion for Native Americans, Houston was reunited with his adopted Indian father, Chief Oolooteka (John Jolly) on the Arkansas River across from Illinois. Shortly after, he attended a green corn dance and talk at Maynard Bayou, in the Cherokee nation, as John Jolly’s representative. Houston became a Cherokee citizen by admission letter issued at Tahlontuskee, Indian Territory and left for Washington to represent the Cherokee Nation where he was enthusiastically received by Andrew Jackson at a reception for the Diplomatic Corps. Houston also was somewhat of a writer. His first newspaper column was written to defend the position of Indians and was published in The Arkansas Gazette under the name Tah-lohn-tusky. It was at this time he married a Native American named Tiana Rogers (second wife) in a Cherokee Indian ceremony.
Sam Houston was an ambitious businessman also. He and several of his associates purchased the Grand Saline and the land surrounding it from the Osage children of A.P. Chouteau. Houston sold a “third interest” in his purchase of the Grand Saline for $6,500. Houston returns to Baker County, Tennessee and was at his mother’s side when she dies. Sam Houston went to Washington, D.C. and wrote to William Stanbery, asking for an explanation of fraudulent remarks made by the Congressman. Houston met Stanbery in Washington, D.C. and He beat Stanbery with a cane. The case of Sam Houston went before the House of Representatives. Francis Scott Key was hired as attorney. Houston addressed the House of Representatives on his own behalf. He was subsequently reprimanded by the House for the Stanbery caneing. Sam returned to south and went The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee to meet with Andrew Jackson who was said to have given or loaned money to Houston to go to Texas (Tiana and Sam Houston “divided the blanket” in 1832 when he left the Wigwam Neosho, their trading post home, to journey to Texas.) This is where Sam Houston’s application for head rights in the Texas colony “with the object of acquiring lands for establishing myself” was approved by Stephen F. Austin. Houston was in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where he wrote a report to Andrew Jackson about prospects for Texas. Sam was a delegate from Nacogdoches to the Second Convention who called for the state of Texas to be separated from Coahuila. Stephen F. Austin took the request to Mexico City, where he was imprisoned.
Houston returned to law and set up his practice in Nacogdoches where he joined the Roman Catholic Church as required by Mexican law. Houston returned east, to Washington, D.C. and then New York City, to meet with his legal client, The Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. Houston was soon named Commander-in-Chief by the Nacogdoches “Committee of Vigilance.” The Texas Provisional Government, on the motion of Merriweather W. Smith, named Sam Houston a Major General in the Texas Army. On January 14, 1836, Houston addresses his troops at Goliad and orders Jim Bowie to return to San Antonio and blow up the Alamo.
Houston was granted a furlough from the army to travel to an Indian parlay. There he met with Chief Bowl to arrange a treaty that would protect both the Cherokee and white residents of northern Texas. He celebrated his 43rd birthday as Texas declared its independence from Mexico and was appointed Major General of the Army of the Republic of Texas– regular, volunteer, and militia. He was to take immediate command and organize the army. Houston reached Gonzales where he learned that the Alamo had fallen and all of the defenders were killed. His retreat from Gonzales, known as the “Runaway Scrape”, moved eastward in a zigzagging pattern. Houston’s army of 800 attacked Santa Anna’s 1400 man army, and in twenty minutes he won the decisive Battle of San Jacinto. For Houston’s men only 6 were dead and 13 wounded, while Santa Anna lost 630 dead and 208 wounded. Houston was wounded by a shot in the lower right leg. Santa Anna was captured and taken to General Houston where he signed an armistice. Houston sailed from Galveston Island for New Orleans in order to receive medical attention for wounds received at the Battle of San Jacinto. When he landed in New Orleans, he was met by a band and cheering crowds. The surgeons removed twenty pieces of bone from the wound while Houston was convalescing at the Christy
Mansion in New Orleans. After hearing reports that the government was in chaos, he went back to Texas where he was elected President of the Republic of Texas, receiving 5,119 votes to 743 for Henry Smith and 587 for Stephen F. Austin. Mirabeau B. Lamar was elected Vice-President. Houston turned over the Presidency to Vice-President Mirabeau Lamar after two years, in which he stabilized the currency, secured the safety of the borders, and gained recognition by the United States.
Houston met Margaret Lea of Marion, Alabama while on a trip to Mobile, Alabama. Margaret Moffette Lea was Sam Houston’s third wife. They were married May 9, 1840 and remained married for the remainder of Sam Houston’s lifetime. They had eight children, four girls and four boys. There were no children born to from the other two marriages.
Houston continued his trip through the United States, visiting Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee. Then, Houston returns to Nacogdoches, Texas, where he made a speech denouncing President Lamar’s campaign against the Indians, in which Houston’s old friend Cherokee Chief Bowl was killed. Houston was elected a member of the Texas Congress from Nacogdoches and then took the oath of office for his second term as President of Texas where he struggled to balance the Texas budget. To repel a Mexican army, which has invaded Texas, Houston mobilized the army. Santa Anna raided San Antonio with a strong force and Houston retaliated by sending 1200 men into Mexico. After victory, Houston ends his second Presidency and lays plans to retire to Raven Hill plantation 13 miles east of Huntsville, Texas.
Samuel Houston returned to Texas where he speaks in favor of the annexation of Texas to the United States and soon Texas was admitted to the United States. Houston left Texas on his way to Washington, D.C. to serve as one of Texas’ first senators where he made speech supporting President Polk on the Oregon question, breaking the unwritten rule that freshmen senators are to remain silent. Houston also spoke for the Oregon Bill, which would prohibit slavery in the Oregon Territory. He spoke 13 times for the Compromise, which Texas ratified the Texas Section of the series of bills making up the Compromise of 1850. Houston was elected to his third and last term as an U.S. Senator and made a major speech in Austin that defended his Senate record, advocating the development of railroads in Texas. Another a major speech he delivered on the floor of the Senate opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. After Houston was baptized into the Baptist Church, he declared himself a candidate for Governor of Texas but was defeated. Texans gave Houston a 10,000 vote victory over Hardin R. Runnels in the governor’s election and was inaugurated as Governor of Texas, which has grown to a population of 600,000. Houston ran a close second to John Bell of Tennessee for the nomination of the Union Party for President of the United States. The state of Texas secedes from the Union on the same day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States. As Governor, Houston refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and was deposed as Governor. April 12, 1861, The Civil War begins at Ft. Sumpter. One year later Sam Houston Jr. was badly wounded at The Battle of Shiloh. The Houston family moved back to Huntsville and rented a Steamboat House.
On July 26, Sam Houston died of pneumonia in the Steamboat House at Huntsville. He was seventy years old at the time of his death. His grave is located in north Huntsville in the Oakwood Cemetery. Houston chose this location across the street from where the Steamboat House once stood.
Sam Houston was important to our nation’s history because he was a true hero. He stood up for his beliefs, served his country, and took charge in actively shaping a nation by starting with its largest state, Texas. He was strong enough to fight for the rights of Native Americans and face the consequences. There were issues he did not agree with and he strove to change those issues, but he still remained loyal to the United States because he knew that it would grow with its freedom and remain a strong force. His speeches on freedom and virtue has helped shape the laws of our nation. He was a war hero, politician, and a true frontier legend.
Sam’s Houston’s MainPage. http://www.norfacad.pvt.k12.va.us/project/houston/houston.htm
Sam Houston Memorial Museum, Huntsville, Texas. http://www.shsu.edu/~smm_www/