ALTHOUGH he's known as the "father of Texas," Sam Houston was born in Virginia and served as the governor of Tennessee before his legendary days in Texas.
In honor of the 200th anniversary of Houston's birth, historian Marshall De Bruhl has written a compelling biography of this Texas hero. "Sword of San Jacinto: A Life of Sam Houston" draws from 5,000 letters and archival documents collected by Andrew Jackson Houston, Sam Houston's youngest son.
De Bruhl devoted five years to this project, and the result is a well-researched account of a remarkable life.
Veteran statesman Houston lived through the administrations of the first 14 presidents of the United States; he knew 12 of them personally. Houston spent his entire life in public service. As De Bruhl writes: "The man was synonymous with the province of Tejas in revolt, the independent Republic of Texas, and, finally, the state of Texas. For most Americans, he was the embodiment of everything Texan."
Houston "lived through the most tumultuous time in the nation's history," according to his biographer. And the era comes alive through De Bruhl's pen.
The biography begins with the Houston family and young Sam leaving Virginia to settle in Tennessee in the early 1800s and ends with Houston's peaceful death in 1863. Vivid details fill each page, yet De Bruhl never loses sight of the larger picture, and his practical, accessible approach debunks the many myths of embellished Texas history.
As a teenager growing up in Tennessee, Houston ran away to live with the Cherokee Indians. He had very little formal education and referred to his three years living with the Cherokee as his "university of the woods." He was adopted by Chief Ooleteka and later became a full citizen of the Cherokee nation.
Throughout his life, Houston passionately defended the rights of Indians. As a Tennessee congressman and later a Texas senator, he often appeared at the White House and Capitol in full Indian costume.
Houston spent many years as a soldier and suffered from war wounds his entire life. He was first wounded in the War of 1812 where his bravery caught the attention of the commanding general and future president, Andrew Jackson, who became his mentor.
It was the Battle of San Jacinto - fought near what is now the city that bears his name - that earned Houston reverence from Texans past and present. In 1836, Houston led an outnumbered army to victory against Santa Anna's Mexican troops.
"The Battle of San Jacinto lasted perhaps twenty minutes," De Bruhl writes. "Houston lost only a handful of men and victory was total. There was no grand battle plan, he brought no great armaments to bear on the enemy, and his army had been outmanned. But Sam Houston had used the oldest and most effective of military weapons - daring and surprise."
This victory made Texas a republic, and Sam Houston, who helped write the territory's new constitution, became president. Ten years later, Texas became part of the United States.
Throughout the pages of "Sword of San Jacinto," De Bruhl weaves the story of Sam Houston's life and the birth of Texas into an engaging narrative well worth reading.