The book “Sam Houston and the American Southwest”, written by Randolph B. Campbell and edited by Mark C. Carnes is a superbly written biography chronicling the life of Samuel Houston and his significant contributions in American history as a warrior, politician, and leader. The overall theme of this biography is one of temperance and unity. Campbell’s impartial and thorough account of Samuel Houston’s life educates the reader as to what kind of man Houston was and details not only his many triumphs but also his personal deficits.
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The beginning of the book tells a short story about Sam Houston’s grandfather, Robert Houston, having settled in Rockbridge County, Virginia and starting a plantation called Timber Ridge, which Sam Houston’s father inherited. Samuel Houston, born March 2, 1793, was the fifth of nine children born Sam and Elizabeth Houston. Sam Houston’s father adored the ways of military life, leading to the neglect of the plantation and eventual financial struggles. To alleviate the family’s financial problems, he decided to sell what was left of his family’s plantation and head west to Tennessee with his wife and nine children. He died before the move West was made, however, and in 1807 the Houston family decided to make the move to Tennessee anyway.
Young Sam Houston was fourteen at the time of the family’s move westward. He did not enjoy school, thought it boring, and he abhorred farm work. When his family secured interest in a store, Houston was instructed to work there as a clerk. He detested clerical work even more than farm work and not long after he disappeared. Houston decided to take up residence with the Cherokee Indians where he told his family that the “wild liberty of the red man suited his nature far better than the restraints of the white settlements.” Indian Chief Oo-loo-te-ka, who also went by the name John Jolly, was so fond of young Houston that he adopted him and gave him an Indian name. During Sam Houston’s stay with the Indians he would bring gifts for his Indian friends and family and in doing so became indebted to local merchants. In order to bring in an income, Houston, at nineteen years of age, opened a school and made enough money to pay off his debts. Soon after, the War of 1812 began and when Sam Houston was twenty years old he enlisted in the United States Army, thus began his career as a soldier.
During his service, Sam Houston exhibited determination, great character and sound judgment. It took him merely a few weeks to be promoted to Sergeant. At the age of twenty-one, during a battle in the Creek War, Houston was wounded in the thigh by an arrow and then in the right shoulder, but continued to battle on, against the advice of Andrew Jackson, who later became one of Houston’s closest friends. Afterwards, he was sent to New Orleans and there he continued to have problems with the wounds from battle but even after surgery and rest Houston did not appear to be getting any better so he was sent to New York for the army doctors to care for him. Once his wounds healed enough for him to return to active duty, he was sent to Nashville and soon promoted to first lieutenant. Houston was also appointed a federal subagent and returned to his adopted Indian father’s island in Indian dress to try and persuade them to move further west. He made certain that every single item that was promised to the Cherokees when they agreed be supplied to them. Houston was scolded for clothing himself in Indian dress by John C. Calhoun, the secretary of war, and less than a month later resigned from the United States Army. It is suggested that he was made to feel scorned by Calhoun and exploited by the United States to help remove the Cherokees.
After his resignation from the Army, in 1818, Sam Houston decided that he would study law and it took him just under six months to learn enough to pass the Tennessee bar exam. Soon after passing the bar, he moved to a city called Lebanon where he opened a private practice law office. In spite of his age, he flourished as a lawyer and less than a year after he opened his law office he was elected Attorney General and went back to Nashville. A few years later, Houston ran for United States House of Representatives with the support of his friend Andrew Jackson, and was elected with absolutely no opposition. This began Sam Houston’s long and mostly successful career in politics.
During his lengthy career in politics, Sam Houston became known as a man of great character and practical thinking. He was compassionate to the American Indians and often spoke against their mistreatment. He was the only individual in the United States to ever serve as governor of two different states. He served as governor of Tennessee from 1827 to 1829, resigning due to personal problems and then went into voluntary exile to live with his Cherokee family for a while. In 1832, Houston got into an altercation with a United States Congressman named William Stanberry in which he caned the Congressman. A lengthy trial followed and Houston was ordered to pay a fine. Not long after that, he relocated to the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas, known as the state of Texas today. There he led the Texas Revolution. Houston ordered his soldiers to attack at San Jacinto, gaining Texas independence from Mexico. Soon thereafter, in 1836, Houston was elected President of the Republic of Texas. He was elected President again in 1841, being unable to hold office two sequential times. The city of Houston was named for him. While serving his second term as president of the Republic of Texas, Houston was able to stabilize the financial problems that Texas was having due to overspending by the previous President, Mirabeau Lamar. Houston was a supporter of the annexation of Texas to the United States and in 1846 Texas entered the Union. At that time, Houston had decided that his political career had come to an end but Texans voted him into the Texas Senate and he served as Senator of Texas from 1846-1859. He was removed from office because he was a Unionist, his stance against the spread of slavery, even though he owned slaves himself, and his refusal to declare loyalty to the Confederacy. Houston would see his career come to an end rather than make any decisions that would lead his precious state to civil war. Sam Houston loved Texas and the south. Just as much as he adored the south, however, he also loved the United States and was a supporter of the Constitution and the Union. He was in favor of peace and unity and spoke against Texas’s withdrawal from the union on many occasions. He was confident that secession would bring destruction and civil war to Texas. He attempted to convince Texans that if they did so choose to separate from the Union that Texas would be better off as an independent republic as opposed to joining the Confederacy. Being loyal to his Texas, however, when secession became a reality and Texas joined the Confederacy, Sam Houston chose to stand by his state and simply wish for the best.
Sam Houston was a gallant soldier, a fortuitous lawyer and on his way with a promising career in politics when he decided that he also wanted to be a family man. He desired a young, beautiful, wife and loving family and sought out to find himself a companion. On June 22, 1829, when he was thirty-five years old, Houston wed Eliza Allen, then nineteen. Eliza was coaxed into the marriage by her father and shortly after they were wed, she left him and returned home to her parents. Neither has ever given an explanation regarding the separation, but it was rumored that Eliza was in love with another man. The distress of the split is what led Sam Houston to resign as governor of Tennessee and to exile himself with the Cherokees. While in voluntary exile, he met Tiana Rogers, and under Cherokee law they were married even though under civil law he was still legally married to Eliza. Tiana was a widow with two children. They lived together for many years, and ironically, Houston opened a trader’s post in order to support his new family. At this time, Houston’s drinking was getting the best of him and the Indians gave him a nickname meaning “Big Drunk.” The couple divorced when Sam Houston decided he wanted to travel to Texas in 1832 and Tiana protested the move, deciding she did not wish to go with him. In 1837, Sam Houston and Eliza Allen officially dissolved their marriage. On May 9, 1840, at age forty-seven, Sam Houston married twenty-one year old Margaret Lea. Margaret and Houston adored one another and she persuaded him to stop drinking and also convinced him to convert to Baptist. The couple had eight children together and Sam Houston finally got the adoring family he yearned for. When Sam Houston died July 26, 1863, in Huntsville, Texas, almost two years before the civil war ended, his wife Margaret was at his side reading the bible. He was seventy years old.
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This biography affected me in ways that I never expected. When I began reading, I figured it would be just another boring biography about a historical figure and wasn’t expecting to get much out of it. As I kept reading, however, I found myself becoming emotionally involved in the story of Sam Houston’s life. I began to sympathize with Houston’s plight for unity and his love for the glorious state of Texas. In reading about how Sam Houston tried to make things right for the Indians by making good on things promised to them in treaties, I even felt a little bit of shame for how settlers robbed them of their lands. I can’t say that I agreed with all of the decisions Sam Houston made but I do understand them. I understand why he was against Texas separating from the Union and I also comprehend why he was trying to desperately to avoid Texas joining the Confederacy, however, the Union’s victory in the civil war did play an important role in abolishing slavery in the United States. Overall, this book left me with a sense of pride for the nation that I live in and appreciation for Sam Houston and people like him for caring enough to fight for what they believed in.
Before reading “Sam Houston and the American Southwest,” I really had no idea just how important of a role he played in Texas and American History. Ashamedly, I admit that I also did not know very many facts about Sam Houston himself. In fact, all I did know about him was that he led the Battle at San Jacinto, he was the first president of the Republic of Texas and he was known as one of the “Fathers of Texas.” I was not aware that he had been married three times, had eight children, or that he died in Huntsville, Texas. I did not know that he was such close friends with Andrew Jackson, nor did I know that he spent so much time with the Cherokees and was even adopted by an Indian chief. This biography is full of interesting facts about Sam Houston’s life and career, and the history of the United States and Texas as well. It is a well written book that is quite easy to follow and would make a good learning tool for any person who wishes to learn more about Sam Houston and the history of the American Southwest. I also like how the book is organized in chronological order and how detailed the author was in writing about Sam Houston’s political career.
The way that this book relates to this course is simple. This is a U.S. History class and Sam Houston is a very well-known figure in American History. He was a military hero and made many significant political contributions to the state of Texas and the United States. His life, actions and ideas helped to determine the course of American History. In the text book “American Passages,” we learn about America’s struggles over slavery, conflicts with Mexico and the American Indians. There is also a section on the Mexican-American war and the Civil War. All of these involved Sam Houston and he played an important role in these events as well as other significant events in U.S History.
Sam Houston’s life, as chronicled in this biography, was one of action, adventure and fortitude. The author, Randolph Campbell, documented this admirable man’s life from birth to death, detailing specific events that helped to make America and the state of Texas so grand. Sam Houston was a good man, but he was also just human and therefore susceptible to making mistakes and possessing faults just like any other person. The non-biased way in which Campbell tells Sam Houston’s story is not only educational but also quite entertaining and makes “Sam Houston and the American Southwest” a wonderful book.
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