Sam Houston
“A Man of Honor”

from Riverside Lodge No. 1194, October 1997, by permission

On September 27, 1997, Past Grand Master Joseph W. Regian, and several hundred Masons, their wives and friends, dedicated a memorial at the Sam Houston monument near Huntsville. The monument is a 67 foot high replica of Sam himself that can be seen for 6½ miles down Interstate Highway 45, and is the highest point between Houston and Dallas. The spectacular monument, A Tribute to Courage, is the world’s tallest statue of an American Hero. The memorial dedicated by PGM Regian tells of the Masonic affiliation of this great man. But who was this man who deserves, Such a statute and memorial? Lets learn a little about him.

Sam Houston was a man of towering proportions and an immense personal presence. The man was tall and handsome, with a warm rich voice. In later years an observer described him during one of his speeches: “There he stood, an old man of seventy years, on the balcony ten feet above the heads of the thousands assembled to hear him, where every eye could scan his magnificent form, six feet three inches high, straight as an arrow, with deep-set and penetrating eyes, looking out from heavy and thundering brows, a high forehead, and a voice of the deep basso tone which shook and commanded the soul of the hearer, adding to all this a powerful manner, made up of deliberation, Self-possession, and restrained majesty of action, leaving the hearer impressed with the feeling that more of his power was hidden than revealed, “.

Sam Houston came from a lineage of Scots who had settled in Virginia in the early 1700’s. His father, also named Samuel Houston, was a member of Morgan’s Rifle Brigade during the Revolutionary War, and had a lifelong commitment to military affairs. Sam Houston was born March 2, 1793 near Lexington, Virginia. In the spring of 1807, after the death of his father and around his 14th birthday, Sam moved to eastern Tennessee with his mother and family, but Sam was a free spirit. He was not cut out to be a planter.

One morning, at the age of 15, Sam crossed into Indian country, spent some three years, off and on, with the Cherokees and was adopted as a son by the chief Ooloo-te-ka, which translated means “He-puts-the-Drum-Away.” This new father gave him the name Co-lon-neh, which was the word for “Raven”. His boyhood stay with the Indians shaped his outlook on life, and developed a life-long call to the wilderness. Houston’s planning and cunning were those of an Indian — carefully listening and stalking.

At the age of 19, Sam returned from the Cherokees and taught school until he had enough money to pay his debts. In 1813, Sam joined a militia assembled by Andrew Jackson after receiving permission of his mother . She gave her son two gifts: a gold ring and a musket. Inscribed inside the gold ring was the word “honor,” because she said this one word epitomized the creed that should forever be a part of Sam Houston’s life, Houston wore this ring until his death.

Houston followed Andrew Jackson to Alabama to fight in a war against the Creek Indians, who were allies of the British. Houston led several courageous charges and was wounded from an arrow, as well as from bullets to the arm and shoulder. Houston forced a young lieutenant. at the point of a sword to pull the arrow out of his leg in the midst of the battle, which Andrew Jackson took notice, and became the start of a lifelong friendship between the two men. In 1817 Houston joined Jackson’s Lodge, Cumberland No. 8 at Nashville.

After leaving the Army in 1818, Houston went to Nashville and studied to be a lawyer, and quickly began to rise in Tennessee politics. He became a part of the inner circle of advisors to Andrew Jackson. In 1823, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, and four years later he was elected governor of Tennessee.

Houston resigned as governor after a failed marriage and retreated to his old friends – the Cherokees, who at that time had moved to Arkansas. Sam proclaimed himself a “citizen” of the Cherokee nation, and took a Cherokee wife, named Tiana Rogers, a widow. (Tiana’s nephew, several generations removed, was Will Rogers). Through the force of his personality, Sam Houston became a leader among the Indian tribes of the area, serving for them as an ambassador to Washington. He came to Washington dressed Indian style, which was quite unique. Imagine Sam Houston, tall and forceful, appearing before President Andrew Jackson, arrayed in colorfully woven blankets, a buckskin coat with metal ornaments, his face clean shaven in the Indian style.

In 1832, Sam Houston crossed the Red River into Texas and settled in Nacogdoches, where he again took up a law practice. The Americans in Texas were subjected to Mexican political turmoil, and after a decade of peace between them and Mexico, the actions of Mexico’s new dictator, Santa Anna, set off resentment and dissatisfaction among the Americans. The stage was set for dramatic and moving events, and Houston entered at just the right moment to take a lead in those changes. Sam Houston was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence for Texas at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army, which was nothing more than scattered bands of settlers and adventurers from the United States.

Sam Houston’s Army began a classic withdrawal movement into east Texas, forcing the Mexicans to abandon their supply lines behind rising rivers, until he arrived at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, where it empties into Galveston Bay. On the afternoon of April 21, 1836, just as Santa Anna felt he had the Texans trapped, Sam Houston led the charge in what was to become one of the most significant battles in American history. Some 800 Texans mounted a surprise attack against the Mexican encampment. With the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”, the Texans charged. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Texas Army defeated a force nearly twice its size in only eighteen minutes. The Texans suffered only 6 killed, while the Mexican Army had 630 killed, 208 wounded, and the Texans took 730 prisoners. Santa Anna was captured alive. The self-styled “Napoleon of the West” received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis, Crockett and Bowie at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad. Sam Houston dictated to him the terms of Texas Independence.

Houston was elected the first President of the Republic of Texas and served from 1836 to 1838, and again from 1841 to 1844. On December 20, 1837, Houston presided over the Masons that met in the Texas Senate Chamber and resolved to form the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. By then, three lodges had been chartered in Texas by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana: Holland Lodge No. 36, Milam Lodge No. 40 at Nacogdoches, and McFarland Lodge No. 41 at San Augustine. President Houston presided over a convention with representatives of these three lodges in the city of Houston, and elected Anson Jones the first Grand Master of Masons in Texas. Sam Houston married Margaret Lea in Marion, Alabama, in 1840. (Tiana, his Cherokee wife, had died earlier.) Although in her twenties when introduced, it was apparently love at first sight for Margaret.

After Texas was admitted to the Union, Sam Houston served as U.S. Senator for Texas from 1846 to 1859. In 1859, Houston ran for Governor of Texas on an anti-secession platform, which meant he was opposed to having Texas secede from the Union. However, in 1861, Texas voted to secede anyway. Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new Confederacy, and he was removed as governor. Houston then retired to private life to the town of Huntsville. His son, Sam Houston Jr., fought for the Confederates and was wounded in Tennessee. Sam Houston died in Huntsville in July 1863, while Margaret was at his bedside. His final words were “Texas — Texas ! — Margaret — “.

Sam Houston was truly “a Man of Honor” and is certainly worthy of our emulation. He was
a dedicated Mason. Houston, and great leaders like him, established our State and our fraternity under trying conditions and would be proud to see the way it has grown in the past 160 years. Now it is up to us to see that the tradition is carried on. We must educate our children in the values that were cherished enough by our founders that they risked and sacrificed their lives that we might live in a free country. We must see that Masonry in Texas remains an influence for good that cannot be denied. We must educate our members of the Craft so that our children’s children will be as proud of us as we are of our founders. Brethren, love your lodge, and help it to grow. Love your fraternity and practice its tenants that “the world at large” may be “convinced of its good effects.”

Why Did Sam Houston Spare the Life of Santa Anna at San Jacinto?