March 2, 1793 to July 26, 1863
|Sam Houston, President of Texas
Governor of Texas, US Senator from Texas, Governor of Tennessee, US
Congressman from Tennessee, US Army First Lieutenant, Texas Republic
Army Major General,
Sam Houston: "It is a matter of great satisfaction to me to hope that my children will be in circumstances to receive a good education. Mine was defective and I feel the inconvenience, if not the misfortune, of not receiving a classical education.
Knowledge is the food of genius, and my son, let no opportunity escape you to treasure up knowledge."
The man had a backbone. Sometimes that's all he had, but it was enough to make him one of the most remarkable figures of 19th Century America.
Running away from home in Tennessee at age 16, he grew up among the Cherokee Indians. He later served under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and in the Creek Indian wars, receiving a wound in the right shoulder that never fully healed (and two other wounds that did heal.) He became a lawyer, entered politics, served in Congress, and in 1827 was elected governor of Tennessee.
While governor, Houston married Eliza Allen, a Southern belle half his age, on Jan. 22, 1829. Eleven weeks later, she seems to have run screaming from the house during the night, back to her parents. The scandal was enormous, and he immediately resigned, left everything and went West to rejoin the Cherokees, who were now removed to Oklahoma.
Both went to their graves without revealing what happened. But marriages breakup all the time without ripping the fabric of history, and so the gossip continues. He revealed in a letter after his flight West that she had seemed cool to him, he accused her of having another love, found he was wrong, and she would not accept his apology, and so he split. That said, we have to believe they spent their lives hiding the fact that they had nothing to hide. There must have been factors they both felt eager to put behind them. Such as:
His Indian Upbringing: His hygiene may not have matched her standards. And (as speculated at the time) the nature of his conjugal expectations may have startled her.
That Unhealing Wound: It may have unnerved her. It could not have helped that "unhealing wound" was a euphemism for venereal disease. Meanwhile, he may have been taking pain killers, which were generally derived from opium. Dependence on it can produce bouts of depression.
John Barleycorn: After his flight to the Cherokee Nation, Houston (as a U.S. citizen) had to get a permit to import nine barrels of liquor for the use of Houston (as a C.N. citizen). That level of alcohol tolerance does not develop overnight. Someone later described a scene when, as president of Texas, Houston threw his household into an uproar when he woke in the middle of the night and asked for, of all things, water.
The Mother of All Mid-Life Crises: Being a Jackson man was getting stressful, since his policies toward Indians trended toward good=dead. Houston had recently fought a dual for contrived political reasons, and was about to run for reelection against a former political ally. When he fled, there were those who assumed he was planning to lead the Indians in a filibustering expedition against Texas and inquired about joining.
Prior Entanglements: Eliza is said to have had another love, but he had TB and so was off-limits. She may have felt pressured into marrying Houston to enhance her parents political connections. As for Houston, it is said he was always being pursued by women and artists. A party he held in Texas was described as reminiscent of the Moslem paradise because of the nature of the young ladies present.
Presumably there was a combination of factors -- perhaps all of the above and more.
(Eliza Allen Houston would later seek a reconciliation -- in 1836, after he had pulled his life back together, founded a new nation, etc. Instead, he got a divorce in the Texas courts.)
Out West, Houston remained drunk for the better part of two years, but also managed to take a Cherokee wife (Tiana Rogers, distant relative of Will Rogers) and start serving as a commercial agent for the tribe. While on a trip to Washington he was accused of corruption by a congressman -- and beat the daylights out of his accuser after meeting him on the street. Highly offended, the victim had Houston tried for contempt of congress, by congress. Testimony went on for weeks. It was ridiculous but the public loved it and Houston found himself on the national stage again. It gave him back his will to live, he later indicated. He was convicted and given a one-sentence reprimand by the Speaker of the House. (He was later fined $500 in criminal court. President Jackson remitted it on his last day in office.)
He went to Texas in 1832 to try to get a land grant for the tribe, later moving there himself, becoming a lawyer in Nacogdoches.
After the Battle of San Jacinto he served as president of Texas for two terms. He married a third time, and dried out. After annexation he became a U.S. Senator for Texas. But in 1859 he chose to run for governor as a unionist, running against the tide that was moving toward civil war. He won on name recognition, but was not able to block the secession movement. His speeches against secession had the air of a man confronting a lynch mob.
He was deposed as governor after refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America -- making him the only person to be run out of the governor's office in two different states.
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