Samuel Houston was born on March 2, 1793, at Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, seven miles from Lexington.1 His father, a planter, physician and colonel in the Revolutionary War, died when he was thirteen. His mother, with her six sons and three daughters, subsequently settled near Knoxville, Tennessee.2 Samuel attended a country school in Virginia, and took a short course at an academy in Tennessee. For one summer term, he also taught in a country school. 3
Samuel Houston’s Mother’s Advice:
“Take this Rifle, and Never Disgrace it”
At the outset of his military career, his mother took down her husband’s rifle and, with tear-filled eyes, handed it to her son, “Here my boy,” she said courageously, “take this rifle and never disgrace it. Remember that I would rather that all my sons should lie in honorable graves than that one of them should turn his back to save his life. Go, and God be with you, but never forget that, while my door is always open to brave men, it is always shut to cowards.”4
Houston the Congressman,
Major-General of the Tennessee Militia, and Governor
At age thirty, Houston was both member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Major-General of the Tennessee Militia. He served two terms as Congressman, and was inaugurated governor of Tennessee on October 1, 1827 in the Old Baptist Church at Nashville. 5…
Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army –
President of Texas, Senator and Governor
After moving to Texas, Houston was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Texas army in the war for its liberation from Mexico, and was the outstanding hero of the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, which sealed Texas’ independence. He was the first elected president of Texas (1836-38); its third president (1841-44); a Senator representing Texas in Congress (1846-59); and finally, governor of Texas from 1859 to 1861 until he was deposed for opposing the secession of Texas from the Union. 6
Houston has been described as “the greatest single leader in Texan history and one of the greatest in the westward expansion of the United States to the Pacific.” 7
Samuel Houston and the Alamo
Houston’s fame comes chiefly from his association with one of the foremost epics of courage in the history of America – and the world – that of the Alamo. This is vividly related for us in the Pilgrimage Address at the Alamo, given by Lt. General William W. Momyer, USAF, to the House of Representatives, on April 18, 1966:
We are assembled here to give tribute to the men who defended the Alamo. Some hundred and thirty years ago, a group of almost two hundred men gave their lives in one of the most stirring battles of our history. The men of Colonel Travis’ command fought off a superior force of more than two thousand, five hundred troops for thirteen days. The gallant defense of the Alamo stands as a living memorial to all men of courage. Knowing that no help could reach them in time, these men laid down their lives so Sam Houston might have time to gather additional forces for other battles to be fought. We know the valuable time the defense of the Alamo gave Sam Houston, permitted him to defeat Santa Ana at San Jacinto and, thereby, established the Republic of Texas. American history is punctuated with the outstanding courage of its fighting men. When men fight in defense of their freedom, courage and dedication to their fellow men are characteristic.The strength of our country is in our people and the willingness to fight for those ideals that have made us the greatest country on earth. Whenever our ideals have been threatened we have responded with heroic self-sacrifice in defense of those precious things… Our fighting men have faced difficult battles in the past and shall face even more difficult ones in the future. Sam Houston didn’t become discouraged because of the severity of the struggle. His cause and determination to succeed swept all obstacles aside. Our fighting men are led by the same dedicated leadership today… I think we need have no fear of the strength and will of our fighting men. We can all be proud of the example set by that heroic group of volunteers at the Alamo. Their display of self-sacrifice for a more noble cause should be a source of inner strength for all of us as we face the future, and an individual determination that we will courageously defend our freedom no matter how small or great the challenge. Yes, we remember the Alamo, because without the strength of character displayed by men like Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and Bonham there would be no freedom to defend… 8
Surrender of Mexican General Santa Ana
to Samuel Houston
Housed in the Rare Book Collection of the Library of Congress, The Life of General Samuel Houston gives us the true historic record of the surrender of Mexican General Santa Ana to Samuel Houston, in its recorded dialogue between Houston and his prisoner:
…Houston asked the prisoner to be seated on a box nearby and sent for Almonts to interpret, when the following conversation took place between the two generals, Houston resting on his elbow upon the ground:
The conqueror of the Napoleon of the West was born to no common destiny and can afford to be generous to the vanquished.
You should have remembered that Sir, at the Alamo!
The Alamo was taken by storm, and the usages of war justified the slaughter of the vanquished.
Such usages do not now prevail among civilized nations.
I was acting under the orders of my government.
You are the government yourself, Sir.
I have such orders in my possession.
A dictator, Sir, has no superior.
My orders were to exterminate every man found in arms in Texas, to treat all such as pirates, because they have no government and are fighting under no recognized flag.
I have no doubt you have found out by this time that Texans have both a government and a flag, but admitting the force of your plea for the San Antonio massacre, you have no excuse for the Fannin slaughter, for he had capitulated on the terms offered by your General, and yet his whole command was murdered without arms in their hands.
I knew nothing of their capitulation, but ordered their execution upon the representation of General Urrea,that he had conquered them in battle.
I know, Sir, that the command had capitulated.
Then I was ignorant of the fact, and if ever I get Urrea into my hands, I will execute him for his duplicity, for he had no authority to receive their capitulation at all.
Here the conversation ended for a while, and Santa Ana asked for opium, which was given him… 9
That Samuel Houston fulfilled his widowed mother’s admonishments about bravery and self-sacrifice are evident from these words taken from a speech that he delivered to the U.S. Senate on August 1, 1854:
…one arm and one leg I have given to be crushe din the defense of my country. I have yet one arm and one leg which I can sacrifice, if necessary, in the defense of my person.10
Texas’ Declaration of Independence
On the second day of March 1836, Texas’ future was sealed, when the Texan Declaration of Independence was made by the delegates of the people of Texas, in General Convention, Washington, D.C. It reads thus, excerpted:
When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted; and so far from being a guarantee for their inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression… It denies us the right to worship the Almighty, according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a National Religion, calculated to promote the temporal interests of its human functionaries rather than the glory of the true and living God. 11
Samuel Houston’s Acceptance of Jesus Christ
as his Personal Savior
Houston’s strength and bravery as a military leader did not deter him from his need for a personal Savior. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Redeemer in early November, 1854, during a revival conducted in his hometown, by Independence Church. It is reported that Houston responded to the minister’s appeal, and, weeping for his sins, professed his faith in Christ.12 …On Sunday, November 19, the father of Texas was baptized by Pastor Rufus Burleson of Independence Church in Little Rocky Creek, two miles south of the town. 13…
It is fitting that the citizens of Texas chose Samuel Houston as their greatest hero in the U.S. Capitol Hall of Fame….
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1 Dictionary of American Biography. Samuel Houston. 1933 edition, p. 262.
2 Samuel Houston – Texas. Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
4 Powell, Alexander E. Some Forgotten Heroes and their Place in American History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913, p.115.
5 Ibid., p. 3
6 Congressional Record – House of Representatives. Sam Houston, Hero of the Great Southwest: An Outstanding Memorialization, May 31, 1966, pp. 11; 274.
8 Congressional Record – House of Representatives. Pilgrimage Address at the Alamo, April 18, 1966. Address by Lt. Gen. William W. Momyer, USAF, p. A 2367.
9The Life of General Sam Houston. Washington, D.C.: J.T. Powers, 1856. Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
10Speech of the Honorable Sam Houston of Texas in the Senate of the United States – on Texan affairs. Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Green, 1854. Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress.
11The Declaration of Independence made by the Delegates of the people of Texas, in General Convention, at Washington on March 2, 1836. p. 48. Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress.
12Musacchio, George. Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Mary Hardin, Hardin-Baylor, Belton. Born 200 Years Ago, Houston Became Faithful Baptist Layman. The (Texas) Baptist Standard, March, 1993: 12; 14.