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Read more about Sam Houston.

Sam Houston, the hero of the Texas independence movement, came to Tennessee in 1807 when he was a boy. 

His widowed mother had moved her family to a 400-acre farm near Maryville, Tennessee. The family later opened a mercantile store in Maryville. Sam, a young boy, was expected to work on the farm and later in the store. He didn’t want to do either.

A stint at a school wasn’t very successful, although Houston did develop a love of reading while at school. He would hide himself away and read for hours where his mother or older brothers couldn’t find him.

Houston found another interest. Their farm was located at the boundary of Cherokee lands. At every opportunity, he would sneak away to visit the Cherokees.

Finally, at age 16, Houston ran away from home and lived with the Hiwassee Cherokees. He was adopted by a tribal leader and given a Cherokee name meaning Raven. Houston’s family found him, but apparently didn’t force him to come home. Houston tried several jobs, including operating a school in Maryville.

By 1813, Houston decided he wanted a military career and joined the army at the age of 20. His unit was sent to join Andrew Jackson’s state militia in Alabama in 1814. Jackson was fighting against the Creek Indians, also called the Red Sticks. 

Although painfully wounded by an arrow and a bullet, Houston continued leading his men in the fight. Although he would be bothered with both wounds for the next three years, Houston earned the admiration and respect of Jackson, who would become his mentor.

Houston received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant, and finally had the musket ball removed from his shoulder in 1817. He was assigned to Jackson’s unit in Nashville.

There, Houston received the difficult assignment of working with the Hiwassee Indians to see that they were removed from their land in Tennessee and moved to Arkansas as part of a treaty agreement. These were the very same Indians, including his adoptive father, who had taken him in as a sixteen-year-old. 

Houston, while carrying out his orders, made sure that the tribe received their promised muskets and blankets. The Hiwassee Cherokees, unlike those on the Trail of Tears nearly 20 years later, did not suffer hardships during the removal. However, they were placed in Arkansas on other tribes’ hunting grounds and were later removed to Oklahoma.

Historians are not sure if his experiences with the Indian removal caused Houston to resign from the army, but he did after only six months of service. Instead, he studied for a law career and joined the bar, setting up law offices in Lebanon. After only a year as a lawyer, Houston ran for Nashville’s solicitor general and won.

The U.S. census of 1820 had shown a big increase in Tennessee’s population. The number of the state’s representatives in Congress rose from six to nine seats. In 1823, Houston decided to run for Nashville’s ninth district and he won. He was now a member of Congress.

Houston came back to Tennessee and ran for governor in 1827. He won at the age of 34 years old. At the urging of Andrew Jackson, Houston decided to take a wife, marrying 19-year-old Eliza Allen. The marriage was a disaster. 

Apparently Eliza was in love with another man and had been forced by her parents to marry Houston. She left him after only eleven weeks of marriage. Houston was humiliated. He resigned his office and moved to Arkansas to live with the Hiwassee Cherokees he had helped place there ten years before.

Although he came to Tennessee on visits, Houston never again lived in the state in which he had made and then lost his political fortune. 

But political fortune was not through with him. In 1833 he went to Texas, where he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico and was named commander of the army. 

After Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army killed all the defenders at the Alamo, including Tennessean David Crockett, Santa Anna went after Houston. At San Jacinto, Houston surprised and defeated Santa Anna’s larger forces. Santa Anna was forced by Houston to sign a treaty giving Texas its freedom. 

Sam Houston was the hero of Texas. He served as president of the new Texas Republic and then as U.S. senator after the area was annexed by the United States. He later became governor of Texas, becoming the only man to serve as governor of two different states.

For more information about Sam Houston, click here.



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