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Everyone knows the story of Sam Houston; he ran away as a boy to live with Indians, he was a general in the military, he was governor of Tennessee, he fought many battles against Mexico, he was President of Texas (twice), and he was governor of Texas. James L. Haley did a great job of capturing the life of Sam Houston in a unique and exciting way. Biographies can often be uninteresting for any number of reasons, but Sam Houston was far from it.
The author of this book wrote it like he watched Houston’s every move; as if Haley was always by Sam Houston’s side. Sam Houston is written to show that Sam Houston was more than just a textbook character, or a statue in Huntsville, Texas, Haley digs much deeper into his life. It is clear that Sam Houston was a real man, who had real feelings, real experiences, was sarcastic and arrogant and goes beyond being the courageous leader of Texas that everyone knows.
Haley begins by telling of where Sam Houston came from physically. Houston was from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of Virginia along with several other Scot-Irish families. His father died when he was 13 years old, and then they packed up and moved down to Maryville, Tennessee. Haley does well in telling about how Sam Houston was smart and loved reading and language but hated the other aspects of school. This helps to make him seem like a person who actually had interests aside from military and politics.
At age sixteen he decided that he had had too much from his family and hated his life, so he ran away to live with the Native American and only kept up with his cousins. He found a Cherokee tribe who took him in and he assimilated well. When Houston went into debt at age 20, he was told by his friend that the military would give him money for signing up, so Houston took the opportunity to make a little money and get out of town. He immediately promoted to sergeant upon enlistment. Later, in a battle against the Creek Indians, Houston was injured by an arrow. General Andrew Jackson called for volunteers to go on a raid, and Houston volunteered out of pride, despite his injury. In the strike, he obtained yet another injury, and the doctors thought he would die, but he miraculously survived out of sheer refusal to die.
James L. Haley writes about Sam Houston, and continues to tell of his life; becoming more prominent in the military, gaining interest in and from young women (even engaged ones), being mentored by Andrew Jackson, being chosen to assist in the removal and relocation of the Indians, resignation from the military, his alcoholism, his return to live with the Cherokee Indians, his family life, his Tennessee governorship, his departure to Texas, his military leadership in Texas, then his twice presidential and then his gubernatorial leadership in Texas. One good example of showing Houston’s humanity was his commitment to taking care of the Indians he was assigned to remove. He had to make his tribe leave and almost considered leaving the military to avoid that, but then realized that someone else would take his place who would not be as kind with those people, so he did what he could and got them to move peacefully. In this section, Houston’s loyalties become challenged, and Haley sympathized with him and was able to write about how Houston solved the problem with dignity.
Sam Houston, written by James L. Haley is a captivating story about the life of Sam Houston, and it is easy to read it as though it was novel. Haley truly captures the essence of Houston and his struggles with everything in his life. Sam Houston was truly broken down and visible to show a man who cared and loved and felt anger and felt loyalty and guilt. Haley managed to write the story the way one would only believe the best friend of a person could. An exciting and adventurous tale, the life of Sam Houston is one that can keep a reader on the edge of their seat never wanting to put the book down the way Haley wrote it. Not all biographies are nearly as interesting as this one about Houston, so this one is a beautiful outlier.
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