Sam Houston and the American Southwest
Sam Houston and the American Southwest
Sam Houston was born from Scottish-Irish decent. His forefathers were immigrants that had settled in Pennsylvania and migrated south towards Virginia. Houston’s grandfather, John Houston, established the successful Timber Ridge plantation and his father, Samuel Houston, was a member of the revolutionary army, attaining the rank of major. Sam Houston was born in 1793 the middle child of eight siblings. Sam’s father military service took its toll on the Houston’s plantation causing it to be neglected, and in 1806 the plantation went bankrupt. Sam’s father sold Timber Ridge and the moved west to Tennessee. Samuel Huston did not survive the trip and passed away during the traveling. The rest of Houston family made the move. Tennessee was frontier country, but had been settled for over a decade.
As a child Sam was rambunctious. He did have any formal education and did not like the monotony of work. He tried farming and book keeping, neither suited his taste. Though Sam had no formal education he loved to read, and throughout his childhood he read and remained restless in his mundane life. Once Houston became bored with pioneer life he ran away and began living with the nearby Native American Cherokee Indians. During his time with the Cherokee Indians Houston learned to speak the Cherokee language and their customs. Houston befriended the Cherokee Chief Oo-loo-te-ka and through his mentoring he gained the approval of the rest of the tribe. Sam learned from the Chief that it was better to seek peace during situations and war second; this knowledge would serve Houston later in his political career. When Houston was living with the Cherokee Indians he was tracked down by his family and asked to come back home. Sam chose to live between the two worlds. He would stay with the Indians, but would return to the white settlements to visit, barter, and trade.
During his time living with the Cherokee people Sam became indebted to the traders and general stores. Being financially challenged Sam opened a school in a nearby small Tennessee town and was successful enough to pay his bills, shortly after the War of 1812 began. Houston decided against joining up and went to a school to study mathematics. While he was studying Sam changed his
mind and in 1813 he joined the Seventh US Infantry. As a soldier Sam quickly gained ranks with his acts of bravery and determination. His greatest achievement came during the Creek War on March, 27 1814 where he charged head first into battle while many of his comrades hesitated. This resulted in Sam getting shot in the thigh and two times in the shoulder with enemy arrows. The war ended General Andrew Jackson becoming a hero and Sam with wounds that took over a year to recover. Sam being injured was going to be discharged, but he petitioned the Army and begged to stay. The army agreed and allowed Houston to stay in service. It was these actions that caused General Jackson to respect Houston and during the War of 1812 the two became friends.
Once Sam joined forces with Jackson, Jackson appointed Houston to the position of a federal agent and asked Houston to help him resolve a situation with the Cherokee Nation. The US Government wanted the Cherokee Indians to leave the Tennessee and the surrounding areas so that the White settlements could expand further west. Sam being familiar with the Cherokee people and their customs dressed as an Indian during the negations in between the Cherokee Chief’s and the US Secretary of War John Calhoun. During the settlement treaty Calhoun scolded Sam Houston for his dress attire, and even though Sam was successful in getting the Cherokee people to agree to the treaty, Sam was displeased with his actions and reprimand; shortly after Houston resigned from the Army at the age of 25 in 1818.
After Houston’s career in the Army he returned home to Tennessee and with the help of a friend Judge James Trimble he studied and passed the bar exam in under 6 months in order to become a lawyer. After becoming a lawyer Houston moved to Lebanon, Tennessee and he created a successful law practice. Houston liked being a lawyer; it allowed him to speak to audiences, which he enjoyed vehemently. His ability to speak well helped him to become a minor celebrity in his town and nearby Nashville. Nashville is where Houston’s friend Andrew Jackson lived, this closeness allowed the two to continue their friendship. Through their friendship Jackson appointed Houston as a Colonel in the Tennessee militia and through this appointment Sam was able to work his way to being elected to Attorney General of the State of Tennessee.
Sam’s career as a politician took off and even after Houston resigned the Attorney General position for his more lucrative private practice. Houston helped his friend Jackson seek Presidential office during the years of 1822-24 and in 1823 Sam took an position in the US House of Representatives to help Jackson get in a better position with their fellow politicians for support. Houston spent his entire first term as Representative campaigning for Jackson. Also during this time he started a secret relationship with a fellow congressman’s sister Mariah Campbell. The relationship did not last long though because Houston was more concentrated on his political ambitions. Though the campaign did not end with the result of Jackson winning Presidency it did not stop Houston’s ambitions. Jackson was beat out by John Quincy Adams due to a supposed rigged election. The two competitors Jackson/Adams were in a tie during the election and the decision was made by the Speaker of the House Henry Clay. The Jackson supporters cried foul play because when Adams became president the Speaker of the House Henry Clay, was appointed the title Secretary of State. Houston spent his entire term as Congressman fighting against the presidency of Adams until in 1828 Andrew Jackson claimed victory. The battle to get Jackson in office was a bumpy road for the friends and even resulted in Houston having to pistol duel an Adams partisan.
In 1827 Houston campaigned and won the governorship of Tennessee. During his time a governor he also served as Jackson’s campaign manager. Jackson was victorious but at the cost of his wife. She suffered a cold she was not able to recover from and he became bitter because he blamed the mudslinging of his competitors as for the cause of his wife’s poor health. Houston’s was not without his bumps as well. In 1828 he started to court a rich planter’s daughter named Eliza Allen. Houston was in love but he was never sure that the feelings were mutual. In 1829 he was given permission to marry Eliza, who reluctantly agreed; but, during his reelection to remain governor she created a scandal by leaving Houston for unknown reasons. Houston attempted to reconcile by all means possible, even begging; but, he was unsuccessful and the scandal caused him to concede his governorship.
After Houston’s fall from grace he took up drifting and drinking. Houston ended up in Arkansas where his Cherokee Indian friends moved to and with the help of his friend Chief Oo-loo-te-ka he learned about how the Cherokee people were being cheated by the American government and how they had not lived up to their agreement stipulations that were set in the land treaty. Sam decided to become a diplomat and advisor to the Cherokee people and with the organization and agreement of several tribes and became a fully fledged member of the Cherokee people in 1829. As a diplomat Houston traveled to Washington DC and in 1830 he took the Cherokee people’s grievances to the politicians. Houston was greeted warmly by his friend President Jackson. After the meeting he returned back to Arkansas and built a new home on the Neosho River where took a half Indian wife named Tiana. With his new wife Sam opened a trader’s post to raise money for his family and he also still remained as the advocate for the Cherokee Nation. Is his spare time Houston wrote several newspaper articles and did a lot of drinking, enough drinking that the Cherokee people gave him the unofficial name big drunk and began to question his standing in their community.
Houston’s problems did not end there however; in 1832 he read an article written by Congressman William Stanberry and in the article the author questioned the agreement made in 1830 in between the Secretary of War John Calhoun and Sam Houston as to the regard of the rations the Cherokee people should receive for leaving their land. Stanberry was just trying at this time to cause a scandal for the current President Jackson. Sam was livid about the article and began to carry around a hickory cane calling out the congressman; in April of 1832 Sam Houston came face to face with the congressman and on the street Houston beat Stanberry with the cane. This action caused the House of Representatives to pass a resolution calling for Houston’s arrest. Houston stood trial in front of the assembly with Francis Scott Keys as his lawyer and during the process Sam fired Keys and took it upon himself to represent himself. With his great speaking ability Houston defended himself and was found not guilty for his actions.
It was also around this time that Houston had been talking to a financier name James Prentiss to do some survey work in the current territory of Texas. Sam never really agreed on doing the job for Prentiss but because of his sense of adventure he decided to go. When President Jackson heard Houston was heading south he asked Houston to help calm things down with the Comanche Indians in the area. Houston had never been that far south because the lad was supposed to have been owned by Spain but only a very few Spanish people lived there. In 1824 Mexico became a federal republic and in 1825 the Mexican government encouraged the development of white settlements. The colonization agreements, along with the colonization schemes created by Stephen F. Austin caused a big spike in the population of Texas. The rapid rise in white population and language barriers cause tension in between the native Mexican settlers and the white Americans; this distrust led the Americans to hold racist disdain for the native Mexicans and caused the Mexicans to think the Americans were coming to conquer the governmentally challenged Mercian Nation.
In 1826 two brother Haden and Benjamin Edwards declared their own nation within Texas. The quick little revolution was stopped by the Anglo Americans because they did not want to create any issues for their colonies; but, it was to late, the Mexican government decided to send General Teran to survey the situation and how to keep Texas in Mexico’s territory. When Teran arrived he saw that the white settlers outnumbered the native Mexicans 10 to 1 and that they had established a military and trade presence; he quickly suggested that the Mexican government stop the influx of American immigration and impose custom duties on imports and exports. This resulted in a skirmish in between the Mexican army and Anglo settlers resulting in 15 deaths and showed that the Anglo settlers could push back the Mexican military. In 1832 Stephen F Austin along with colonists submitted demands that were denied because they demands were not submitted through the proper channels.
Around this uncertain time Sam Houston wandered into Texas to assess the territory so that he could report back to the American government. Houston met with Austin and another local leader Jim Bowie. He also met with the local Comanche Indian tribes and then reported back to President Jackson that Texas was not being governed properly and ripe for revolution. His greatest fear was that Texas could be acquired by the British government and the United States did not want that to happen. While in Texas Houston sat in during the colonists conventions and was made uneasy that most colonists sided with the “war party” rather than the colonists who wanted to remain loyal to the Mexican government. Even though Stephen F Austin who led the peace party lost he was still asked to be the Mexican government representative because he was well respected.
Stephen F Austin traveled down to central Mexico to met the current President Gomez Farias and was told Texas would not be allowed to seek statehood. Austin sent a letter back stating to go ahead and draw up the Statehood paper work. When President Farias found out about the insolence Austin was jailed for 1.5 years. During Austin’s imprisonment the Mexican government suffered a change when General Santa Anna seized the presidency and implemented his dictatorship to centralize all power. This grab for power caused the Anglo citizens to revolt and skirmishes broke out. Stephen F Austin was released from prision and was told to tell the Anglos they did not want a war with Mexico. He reported back to the colonists and at the same time Sam Houston was taking a double agent stance. He was saying out loud for the colonists to submit to the Mexican government while on the backside he was telling more Anglo immigrants to come to Texas and come prepared for battle.
While Austin was gone Sam Houston set up a headquarters in San Felipe where he began to plan defense strategies for the Mexican army. When Austin returned he gathered a militia and battled the Mexican army for control of San Antonio where they won and were certain that the war was over. Houston remain pessimistic and warned that they were not being rational and it resulted in the colonists forced him ti leave a set up a new headquarters at the Washington on the Brazos. Houston was upset at the colonist’s ignorance. Under the control of Austin the militia decided to abandon the Fort Alamo except for 8 soldiers and they decided to make a head on rush to the Mexican center of Matamoros. Houston knew the plan was a mistake and moved his expedition to stop the militia to dissuade them from the foolish mistake. The militia had been split up with some returning but the remainders under the control of Fannin continued south. During the pursuit of the militia the Mexican Army seized the Alamo and killed all the soldiers that were remaining. When Houston attempted to recapture the Alamo he was pushed back and forced to retreat. The Mexican General spit up into 3 divisions one led by the general himself. With some of the divisions perusing Houston and the rest headed to the unofficial Texas government the Houston led militia doubled back and confronted General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto where the general who could not receive reinforcements suffered defeat.
The general, whose life was spared, was forced to declare an armistice and Houston left Texas a hero with a musket shot ankle. Houston travelled to New Orleans to get his ankle wound operated on and shortly after the returned back to Texas which was still in a state of unrest due to the leadership of Texas President David Burnet. Burnet signed a public treaty at Velasco to cease hostility and then a secret second treaty with the understanding that Santa Anna would be returned to Mexico. This caused the colonists to become uneasy because they wanted Santa Anna beheaded for his actions at the Alamo and at Goliad. The army was becoming restless and wanted to try another push to Matamoros but lucky they were persuaded by Houston to not seek blood and help to announce another election. The candidates were Stephen F Austin and former governor Henry Smith, but in a last minutes concession Houston was convinced to run as well and one the Presidency of Texas. Also at this time the vote to annex Texas to the United States was successful and with the help of investors the city of Houston was built and the government of Texas was moved to this new location.
With Sam’s new presidency came a lot of new problems: Indian unrest, the army still wanting to fight the Mexican government, debt, Texas had not received any official recognition as a state, and Mexico seemed on the verge of renewing hostilities. Sam Houston scrambled to solve the problems as they arose. He was able to get the United States to recognize them as a nation but not a state, the army was disbanded and then recreated under more professional leadership, with the new army the Indians were able to be held back, and the office of land management was created to help resolve land and deed issues. The only issue he had a true issue with was the debt, he began to get permission from the Texas congress to print paper money but with no collateral the money quickly lost value. After a two year term Huston was not able to run again for office and lost to his previous political enemies, Mirabeau B Lamar and David C Burnet.
After Houston’s presidency he started up another law practice and began a land development company called Sabine City. During Houston’s travel for investors in Mobile, AL he met a woman he admired and she reciprocated but at this time they were not meant to be. Houston returned to Texas and was elected into the office of Texas Congress and he immediately began to debate the wrongs created by the Presidency of Lamar. He voiced his opinions on the relocation of the State Capital to Austin, TX, to the treatment of his Indian friends. Houston soon became unpopular because views in the Indian treatment conflicted with the Anglo settlers. In 1840 Houston left Texas and returned to Mobile, AL where he wed Margaret Lea and in May 25th 1843 the couple had a son Sam, Jr.
Once Houston returned to his congressional office he then began to take up the offensive. He wanted the texas president to not seek war with Mexico and to not mistreat the Native Indian population. He also debated any and all fiscal policies because Texas at the time just did not have the resources. Then after the two year term of Lamar came to end Houston though unpopular puched his way though and became president of Texas again. During his second presidency Houston ran into issues with the populace and against his wishes the Texans started another spat with Mexico. Under the leadership of General Santa Anna again the Mexican army seized San Antonio and captured prisoners. In 1842 Texas declared war on Mexico. Even though Houston kept up his delay tactics of wait and see, rouge factions of militia and army marched into Mexico and were all captured and some were even executed. Houston became a laughing stock during these times because he kept trying to push the capital back to Houston due to his wife’s ailments and because he could not control his rouge military leaders.
During these times Houston still worked on the annexation with the United States and he kept using the threat of Great Brittan against the United States to urge their responses. Houston was so successful in his political games that he even received a letter from his friend President Andrew Jackson about him being a supporter of Great Brittan. Houston confronted many other hurdles during the remainder of his presidency but could not get the United States to acknowledge them as a state. Houston was again confronted by John Calhoun who was Pro-Slavery and because the annexation talks had to be directed through Calhoun the slavery issue became a new topic of annexation. During the next presidents term the annexation was finally approved but Houston could not celebrate because in mid 1845 Jackson died. In the end of 1845 Texas signed the Texas Admission Act and became part of the United States. Houston then became a new Texas Senator representing Texas in Washington. During his term as Senator Houston faced many issues, Battling Mexico over the borders and Great Brittan over the Oregon territory. As the US battled the Mexican military the US government began to implement a no slavery in the new territories. This issue was not received lightly by the Texans, and talks of secession came about.
The Compromise of 1850 stopped a lot of the slavery arguments but they still lurked in the background. Houston was asked to run for US president in 1852 but he declined. Houston served another Senate term starting in 1853. In 1853 the Kansas Nebraska Act stirred up the slavery issue again and the victory was perceived to be a win for the south. Houston was fearful of this act because he believed the Indians would suffer from the racisms. Houston’s negative outlook on Indian treatment and slavery cause him to become unpopular again. These actions in between the north and the south resulted in the Civil War. In 1857 Houston ran for governor of Texas again but because of his unpopular views he was defeated. He also lost his seat in the US Senate and in 1859 he returned home to Texas.
In 1859 Houston appeared to be retiring from public life and the media but public sentiment began to appear to turn back in his favor. Houston invited the public to vote for him but he would not be affiliated with any political parties, and on this platform he won. Houston promised a lot of newer ideas but on slavery he remained moderate. Houston continued his Indian policy and after 1860 the Indian posed no threat. In 1860 Sam Houston was asked to run for president again but he refused. This resulted in Abraham Lincoln getting elected as president. The new presidency created the platform for cessation talks again and Houston was caught in the middle. He requested that if the Congress requested secession then it be put to a public vote and in a landslide the public agreed, Texas became part of the Confederacy. Huston was going to be made to take an oath to the Confederacy but he would not do it. When President Lincoln offered Houston military help Houston refused because he did not want Texans to have in fight. Houston had no chice but to back Texas in its plans and even as he stepped down from office and moved to Galveston he was displeased. Houston’s own son joind the Confederate Army and perceived dead at the Battle of Shiloh only to emerge alive 6 months later.
In October 1862, the Union forces took Galveston, and Houston had to move to Huntsville. There, in the winter of 1863, Houston’s health failed and he died after a prolonged illness on July 26, 1863.