Sam Houston is more than just the namesake for the fourth-largest city in America — the man is literally called the “George Washington of Texas.” And in the Lone Star State, that’s as close to God as one can get.
Here are a few reasons why the Texas hero Sam Houston owns the title “Governor of Governors.”
1. He was actually governor of two states.
Houston was elected governor of Tennessee in 1827. He resigned as governor in 1829, a result of alcoholism and depression from his failed marriage. Thirty years later, he became the 7th governor of Texas.
2. He’s an American combat veteran.
Of course he is. When the War of 1812 rolled around, he fought so well, Gen. Andrew Jackson took notice. Houston became a Jackson protégé and Jacksonian Democrat in his political years.
3. Sam Houston was adopted by the Cherokee Nation.
He spent much of his youth among Indians in Tennessee. Although he would come to have close ties with President Jackson, they probably differed on the treatment of the Cherokee. Houston took a Cherokee wife and was an honorary member of the tribe. His adopted name was “Black Raven.”
We can take a pretty good guess on how Jackson felt about the Cherokee.
4. His dueling mentor was Old Hickory himself.
Andrew Jackson was notorious for challenging and accepting duels. He participated in anywhere from 13 to 100 duels in his lifetime. Jackson was nearly killed in a duel in 1806 when he battled attorney Charles Dickinson and was shot within inches of his heart. Jackson plugged the wound with a handkerchief before killing Dickinson.
So he had a little bit of experience.
After Houston rigged the appointment of Nashville Postmaster away from John P. Erwin at Jackson’s request, Erwin challenged Houston to a duel. Houston refused, but when Gen. William White — veteran of the Battle of New Orleans — challenged him instead, the gunfight was on.
He practiced shooting at Jackson’s home. Old Hickory advised him to bite a bullet during the duel saying “It will make you aim better.”
Houston won the duel, shooting White in the groin.
5. He clubbed a congressman for accusing him of fraud.
Sam Houston, while a Congressman from Tennessee, felt slandered in a speech on the House floor. William Stanbery of Ohio, an anti-Jacksonian, accused Houston of fraud. Later that day, Houston saw Stanbery walking down the street and delivered a fierce beating. Stanbery even pulled a pistol on Houston, but it misfired.
6. His defense attorney was Francis Scott Key.
When Congress got wind of the epic beat-down Houston put on Stanberry, they charged him with assault and put him on trial. The eloquent Key argued the case with the Supreme Court acting as judges (no pressure) but still lost. Houston was fined $500 and left Washington in disgust, heading back home to Texas.
7. He beat the “Napoleon of the West” in eighteen minutes.
He didn’t fall into the trap of going in headfirst against Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army after the fall of the Alamo. Instead, Houston led a very George Washington-esque series of strategic retreats, giving his army time to regroup and congeal as a unit – and for more Texians to join his army. By the time he surprised Santa Anna on the banks of the San Jacinto, Houston was no longer outnumbered.
It took 18 minutes for the Mexican Army to break and flee. But the Texians killed them for hours. Houston’s official report, numbered 630 Mexicans killed, 208 wounded, and 730 taken prisoner – including Santa Anna. The Texians lost just 11 men, with 30 (including Houston) wounded.
8. He was the first (and only) foreign head of state to be a U.S. governor.
His win at San Jacinto won Texas its independence as a republic. With Houston promptly elected as the first President of Texas with 80 percent of the vote. Once the Republic became a U.S. state, he would become one of its senators.
9. He refused to declare allegiance to the Confederacy.
Houston opposed secession and traveled around Texas explaining why. He did not think it was good for Texas economically, militarily, or ethically. He didn’t think the rebels would win. Despite his opposition, a state convention met and voted to secede by a whopping 160 votes. Houston would not swear allegiance to the Confederate States and was ousted as governor of Texas.
The Union offered him a command, but he turned it down.