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Sam Houston

Sam Houston was born near Lexington, Virginia, on March 2, 1793, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran. The family moved to Tennessee in 1807, following the death of his father. Houston was adopted by a Cherokee family; he learned their language and customs. During the War of 1812, Houston served with Andrew Jackson in the campaign against the Creeks in 1814. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Following the war, Jackson helped Houston secure a position as the Indian Agent for the Cherokee. He gained the enmity of those who were taking advantage of the Cherokee and a rebuke from John C. Calhoun, then the secretary of war, for appearing in Indian dress before him in Washington. Houston studied law, completing a course in six months that ordinarily required 18, and was admitted to practice in 1818. In 1819, he was elected attorney general of Tennessee. Politics beckoned and he served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Tennessee in 1823, serving two terms. Four years later he was elected governor of Tennessee. In January 1829, Houston married Eliza Allen. Within three months, while Houston was running for reelection, his wife left him; this was a major scandal in that era. Rumors circulated about alcoholism—a charge that would recur throughout his career—and Houston resigned. He moved to the Arkansas Territory (present-day Oklahoma), ran a trading post and married a Cherokee woman, Tiana Rogers. Rumors of alcohol abuse resurfaced. Houston deeply resented the injustices being inflicted on his adopted people, the Cherokee, who were being denied the benefits promised them. In 1832, he traveled to Washington DC, where he cudgeled Representative William Stanberry of Ohio. When the House of Representatives tried him for contempt and eventually voted for a repimand, he receive one from the speaker that sounded more like a commendation than a comdemnation. Late in 1832, Houston left Tiana and relocated to the Texas area where he initially avoided participation in the budding independence movement. However, after conflict erupted, Houston headed the ragtag revolutionary army. He bore much criticism for lack of initiative from both his soldiers and the politicians, but in truth the Texan force was badly outnumbered by the Mexicans and well-advised to avoid a direct confrontation. The issue of alcoholism at this juncture once again plagued Houston. In April 1836, Houston’s force routed the Mexicans in the Battle of Jan Jacinto, the decisive engagement of the Texan Revolution. With a force of less than 800 men, and while suffering losses of 9 men killed, his troops killed some 630 Mexicans and captured another 730. Santa Ana was captured the next day and Houston’s fame was assured. Later that year he was elected the first president of the Lone Star Republic in an election against Stephen F. Austin and again in 1841. After he secured statehood recognition from the United States in 1845, Houston was one of the original two senators sent to represent Texas in Washington. Houston served in the U.S. Senate from 1846 to 1860 where stories of hard liquor, fast women, and frequent fistfights followed him. During the Mexican War, Houston was a supporter of the “All Mexico” position, arguing that the United States should annex the entire country. Houston’s political views are difficult to categorize. He was a slave owner and stridently opposed abolitionist efforts. However, he was cautious about the extension of slavery into new territories and adamantly opposed secession. In 1859, Houston was elected governor of Texas, but in 1861 he opposed the state’s vote to secede and refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. He was promptly removed from office. He died two years later on July 26, 1863, in Hunstville, Texas. As a larger-than-life figure of the first half of the 19th century, Sam Houston's stature was probably exceeded only by Andrew Jackson.