Sam Houston was born on March 6, 1793 in Lexington, VA. His
father was a farmer and a member of the Militia, which kept
him away for long periods of time. He learned how to read and
write at an early age and was a voracious reader. His love of
it in fact led to many family fights between him and his eight
other siblings. In 1806, his father purchased 420 acres of land
in Blount County, Tenn. Before moving, however, Houstons
father died suddenly and, with nowhere else to go, the family
moved to the Tennessee farm.
Sam was of an independent mind and didnt care much for
farming. He often wandered away from the fields, but his older
brothers would generally find him and force him back to work.
At one point, they packed him off to work in a mercantile store
as a clerk. Sam quickly grew tired of weighing out potatoes,
ladling flour, and measuring out yards of fabric for customers.
At age 16, He packed up his books and ran away from home.
Houston found an island in the middle of the Tennessee River
and settled there with a band of Cherokee. Oolooteka, (John
Jolly), was Chief of the tribe and took a liking to Houston
and adopted him. Sam learned to hunt, fish, and speak their
language. He was given the name Ka lanu, Raven,
and even took the Eagle as his "medicine animal".
After three years, Houston returned home to Blount County and
opened a school. He couldnt let go of the last three years
with Chief Oolooteka, however, and kept his hair long in the
then current Cherokee fashion. While many thought it was crazy
for a 19-year-old to open a school and charge $8 per term, Houston
managed to get enough students enrolled in one term to pay back
It was during this time that an army recruiting party came to
town trying to raise men for a militia. The sergeant gave an
inspiration speech and threw a handful of silver dollars on
a drumhead saying that whoever decided to pick one up was a
member of the United States Army. Sam Houston saw an opportunity
for himselfso he stepped forward and picked one up.
His family was furious at him for enlisting when he could have
probably obtained an officers commission with his education.
Houstons mother eventually decided to go along with her
sons decision and helped him prepare to leave. She gave
her son a ring with the word "Honor" inscribed on
the inside and told him:
"While the door of my cabin is open to brave men, "
she said, "it is eternally shut to cowards."
With those words still ringing in his ears, Sam Houston enlisted
as a private and joined General Andrew Jacksons Army.
Sam marched with the Army, but never saw combat or had a chance
to prove himself until a year later. He did, however, impress
Jackson with his knowledge and was soon promoted to ensign.
During what would become known as The Battle Of Horseshoe Bend,
Houston got an opportunity to prove he could fight. He led a
platoon against the earthwork rampart. The first man to go against
the Red Stick Creeks was Major Montgomery, who was killed on
sight. The second man to scale the works and gain access to
the compound was Sam Houston. His platoon crossed over behind
himmany of his men were killed, but they had gained real
estate and now fought furiously to protect it. One battle suddenly
became many and Houston was in the thick of it. He was fighting
one warrior, being fought by another, and holding his own. Suddenly
a warrior let loose an arrow that hit him in the upper thigh
piercing his groin. Houston, asked the lieutenant next to him
to pull it out. The man tried, but couldnt and told Houston
to report to the army doctor. Remembering his mothers
wordsHouston pointed his sword at him.
"Try again." Houston demanded.
The lieutenant pulled hard and ripped the arrow out of his thigh
leaving a gaping wound that wouldnt stop bleeding. Houston
was then forced to report to the doctor, who took him out of
the battle. The wound would never completely heal and plagued
Houston throughout his life.
Following the war, Houston remained in the service for a time
as a subagent for the Cherokee. While in Washington, D.C., he
learned that Secretary of War Calhoun had made complaints against
him for strictly enforcing the illegal importation of African
slaves through Florida, then a Spanish province, to the southern
United States. Houston felt slighted and soon left the army
and studied law in Nashville, where he was admitted to the bar
and set up a practice in Lebanon.
Within five years in Tennessee, Houston had served as district
attorney, adjutant-general, and major-general of Tennessees
militia. He was soon regarded as a premier frontier statesman.
In 1823, Houston was elected to Congress, reelected in 1825
and, at age 34, was overwhelmingly elected the seventh governor
of Tennessee. In January 1829, Houston married Eliza Allen,
but, before long, the marriage began falling on hard timesdue
in part to a difference in age and Houstons old wound
from the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Two months into his term
as governor and at the peak of what everyone thought was his
career, Houston got up one morning, packed his belongings, and
resigned the Office of Governor. Before leaving for Arkansas,
Houston went to the Presbyterian minister that had married him
and asked to be baptized. His wife would later file for divorce
from him. Houstons odd behavior devastated his supporters,
but the Tennessean shrugged it off and traveled west to Arkansas
to join his adoptive Cherokee family. He tried to get back on
his feet numerous times, but was discouragingly turned back
again and again.
In December 1831, he received word that his mother was dying.
He immediately rushed to her bedside and was with her until
her last moments of life. When Houston emerged from her room,
he seemed to posses a new purpose.
Following her death, the Tennessean went on a trip to Washington,
D.C. as a delegate for the Cherokee. As such, Houston again
rose to prominence when he became involved in a national incident.
Houston got into a war of words with an Ohio Congressman accusing
him of a crooked scheme to get Indian rations. Houston challenged
him, but it was never acknowledged. When he approached the Congressman
on the street, a scuffle broke out and the congressman pulled
a gun and pressed it into Houstons side. When it didnt
fire, Houston took it away from him and caned the congressman
like a schoolboy with a walking stick he always carried. The
City of Washington flew into a rage and a spectacular trial
was held with Francis Scott Key representing Houston. Even though
he wrote the "Star Spangled Banner" and was considered
a prominent figure, Key wasnt a good lawyer by any means.
Houston was let off, however, with a reprimand from the Speaker
of the House and a $500 fine that President Jackson remitted.
During a parting visit with the President, the man Gen. Jackson
had once described as "being made by the Almighty and not
a tailor" decided to leave D.C. for the Texas territory.
Houston made one more stop in Arkansas to visit his Cherokee
family. He gave his wife Tiana the home and everything else
and rode out towards Texas. Houston quickly became useful in
the states fight for independence. Even then, American
interests prompted Jackson to consider the territory for inclusion
into the U.S., but decided against it because of the ongoing
controversy in his administration.
Houston, however, was making his mark in the territory. Within
two years of arriving, he helped form the provisional government
and was appointed commander-in-chief to organize the state militia.
Houston immediately went to work trying to organize an army
and enlist help against the oncoming fight with Mexico. In 1836,
he served as a member of the convention that officially called
for Texas independence. Following the Battle of the Alamo, Houston
engaged General Santa Anna at San Jacinto pitting 750 Texans
against 1,800 Mexican regulars. It was hard fought, but Houston,
in a brilliant tactical maneuver, defeated the army killing
630 soldiers and capturing 730, including General Santa Anna.
The victory and capture of the General gave Texas its freedom
from Mexico. In the fall of the same year, Houston was elected
President of Texas with four fifths of the vote. He served two
years and left the state in great shape with both the Indian
and Mexican governments.
Houston was returned to the Texas Congress and served in that
capacity until he was reelected President of the state in 1842.
During his time in Texas office, he continued his fervent fight
for the rights of the Texas Cherokee.
Following the death of his Cherokee wife in 1840, Houston remarried
for the last time to an Alabama lady who would come to be a
trusted partner. In 1842, trouble began brewing again in Mexico
and Houston vetoed a Texas congressional bill that would have
made him dictator of Texas. The trouble subsided and three years
later Texas was officially admitted to the United States.
Sam Houston was immediately elected to the U.S. Senate where
he served until 1859. Houston was forced to resign his seat
when he was elected the seventh governor of Texas. During his
time in office, Houstons name had been submitted no less
than three times as a candidate for President of the United
States. Houstons first love, however, was the people of
Texas and he looked forward to serving as Governor.
A year later, however, Texas voted to secede from the Union
and Houston was again caught between two worlds. He was an ardent
supporter of the United States, but also understood the sympathies
of his fellow Texans. President Lincoln is said to have written
Houston a letter offering his assistance to keep Texas in the
Union. After reading the contents of the letter, however, Houston
threw the letter into the fireplace in disgust.
With no other option at his disposal, Houston once again resigned
a post as Governor and retired to his home in Cedar Point, Texas.
His family moved from the home to another one in Huntsville
where age and wear started catching up with the old warrior
and Houston came down with pneumonia.
On July 26, 1863 at 6:15 in the evening, Sam Houston died of
complications due to pneumonia. The entire state of Texas, although
caught up in the War Between the States, came together and took
time to mourn the passing of a man many regarded as the Founding
Father of Texas.
No man in the history of the United States would ever again
accomplish what Houston had in his lifetime. From age 13 until
his death at age 70, he had worked as a farmer, store clerk,
school teacher, soldier, district attorney, congressman, major-general,
commander-in-chief, president of a republic, Indian agent, senator,
and was both the seventh governor of Tennessee and Texas. In
addition, he had done so without ever changing who he was or
what he believed in the face of strong opposition. When they
laid him to rest, he still had the ring his mother had given
him all those years before. It was worn from wear but still
inscribed with the single word "Honor" on the inside
of the band.
Margaret Houston left Huntsville after Sam Houstons death
and moved her family to Independence where she remained until
dying in 1867 of Yellow Fever.
While Sam Houston is a man often overlooked by Tennessee historians,
there are several good books about his colorful life and career.
The Sam Houston Schoolhouse where he taught after returning
from his time with the Cherokee is a state historical site in
Blount County that has been recognized numerous times for keeping
Houstons name in Tennessee history. The facility maintains
the school building and the grounds as well as an interpretative
center on his life in Tennessee. It is open Monday through Saturday
and features various activities throughout the year.
As this story often mentions, there were many characteristics
about Houston deemed "legendary". The one that cant
be emphasized enough about him was his love of reading. In a
day where a mans ability with a gun and sword often took
precedent, Houston was a man who believed in self-education.
In fact, his favorites from childhood were the romantic Greek
and Roman classics and he was never far from them.
No place better memorializes Houston, as does the state of Texas.
The City of Houston was named in his honor and statues of him
are erected across the state. Numerous museums throughout Texas
display artifacts from his brilliant life and, as a final tribute,
all of the clocks at the Houston Museum in Huntsville and both
of his homes in the city are stopped at 6:15 p.m. marking his
time of death on July 27, 1863.
Following his departure and resignation from the Tennessee Governors
Office, Houston fell into what can only be described as a clinical
depression. He became subject to drinking binges and black moods
that were legendary among his friends. On one occasion, he even
contemplated suicide on a riverboat, but took an eagle swooping
down on him as a Cherokee sign that all was not lost.
He was a man often trapped between two worlds and two ways of
living. Although he could never entirely leave the American
arena, he saw the independent way of life of the Cherokee as
a home that accepted him as he was without question. In fact,
it is evident that Houston always emerged from his refuge with
the Cherokee with self-confidence and renewed energy.
The Cherokee family that adopted him were forever tolerant in
his dark moods and helped him wherever they could. Following
an incident where a drunken Houston and his adoptive father
got into an argument, Houston scared himself and began to retake
control of his life.
During the battle of San Jacinto, Houstons ankle was shattered
in the first round of fire and the horse beneath him shot. He
would lose another horse and retake a third in the eighteen
minute battle that won Texas its independence. The wound
from that battle as well as the one from the Battle of Horseshoe
Bend never slowed him down. As a politician in Texas, Houston
was the poster frontier statesman. His ability to adapt to the
outdoors and deliver blistering campaign speeches overwhelmed
his opposition, who would often only travel in more luxurious
and time consuming methods. On the campaign trail, Houston was
a man who expressed belief in individual liberty and patriotism
and he stood his ground in the face of often brutal political
opposition. Although his stances on issues may have gone against
the grain of then current political thought, he never wavered.
Houston knew early in 1863 that he was dying and began settling
his affairs and his estate. He had managed to cover his campaign
debts and still had a little extra for his family. The sword
he carried at San Jacinto and some other personal artifacts
he gave to his son Sam Houston, Jr.
Sam Houston, Jr., like most Texans, joined the Confederate Army.
He was seriously wounded at the Battle Of Shiloh and the young
Confederate was left for dead on the field. He was discovered
alive and rescued by a Union Chaplain, who saw that he received
medical care for his wounds. Houston was later returned home
to Texas to recover from his injuries and help his ailing mother.