Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sam Houston & the Alamo Avengers - Brian Kilmeade


Sam Houston is one of the most fascinating figures in American history primarily because so few men have had as many highs and lows in one lifetime as Houston managed to squeeze into his. So unhappy with his home life that he ran away at age sixteen to live with one of the chiefs of the Cherokee nation, Houston by age twenty-two had become a protégé of Old Hickory himself, General Andrew Jackson. With Jackson’s support, Houston went on to represent Tennessee in Congress and followed up that success by becoming governor of the state. He was so popular, in fact, that some considered him destined to become president of the United States.

And then things went bad again.

In what became somewhat of a still unexplained scandal, Houston’s wife of just three months left him and returned to her father’s home. (There is still disagreement among historians about the reason for her abrupt departure from the marriage.) Turning to the bottle, Houston (The Raven, as he was known to the Indians) returned to his Cherokee family and tried to drown his sorrows even while representing the Cherokee nation in negotiations with the American government. But the man could not stay out of trouble for long. After an incident during which Houston severely beat a Congressman over the head with his hickory cane because of what he considered to be slanderous comments about him made by the Congressman, Houston became one of those “second-chancers” who went to Texas to start all over again (in Houston’s case it was more like a third or fourth chance, but who’s counting).

 Houston did not go to Texas without connections, however. Officially or not, he became President Andrew Jackson’s “eyes and ears on the ground” when he got there. Texas, of course, was still part of Mexico at the time but, with the blessing of the Mexican government, American settlers were being welcomed into the region and the word was out in the East. Families wanting a fresh start would get exactly that in Texas. There was a mini-land-grab going on and all were welcome. Other famous second-chancers who came to Texas about the same time as Houston were Jim Bowie, David Crockett, William Barrett Travis, and James Fannin.

Brian Kilmeade
By the time that General Santa Anna and his army decided to crush the brewing settler revolution, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, Fannin, and Houston (among others) were positioned to play key roles in what would happen next. The only way that the Texians and Tejanos had any real chance of winning their fight for freedom from Mexico was  General Santa Anna blowing the whole thing by becoming overconfident and lackadaisical in his approach to quelling the revolution. And many say that’s exactly what he did because the war ended at San Jacinto when the Texans caught the Mexican army so much by surprise that many of them were literally caught with their pants down. That surprise attack made possible one of the most one-sided battles/slaughters imaginable, leading to what author Brian Kilmeade describes this way:
           
            “Sam Houston’s greatest day not only secured independence for what would be the Republic of Texas, but it also made possible the fulfillment of his and Jackson’s dream. Thanks to Houston, Texas could now one day become part of the great American story. And thanks to Texas, America could one day spread from sea to shining sea.”

Bottom Line: Brian Kilmeade’s Sam Houston & the Alamo Avengers: The Texas Victory That Changed American History, is an excellent overview of Texas history. But excluding notes, acknowledgements, and an index, the text is only 232 pages long, and readers would do well to use the “For Further Reading” section of the book as a guide to the best of the books that Kilmeade used in his own research. That said, do not underestimate the importance of a book like Sam Houston & the Alamo Avengers because books like this one and others help to ensure that future generations do not forget their history. Having lived most of my life in a city named after Sam Houston (a city in which most of the downtown streets are named after men who fought in the Texas revolution), I thought I knew their story pretty well. Turns out, there’s always more to learn – even in 232 pages.

6 comments:

  1. This sounds like a good introduction to Sam Houston and what happened at the Alamo. I like to start with books like this, and then move on to more in-depth books if I'm still wanting to know more.

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    1. Exactly, Lark. Kilmeade and a bunch of other of the "popular" writers write "starter" history books. Then it's up to readers to decide if they want to dig deeper.

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  2. Embarrassingly, I had not heard of Sam Houston and had no idea the city was named after this man. An interesting, informative post and I'll think about the book for my 50 states reading.

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    1. Don't feel bad about not having heard of Sam Houston, Cath. I'm willing to bet that most Americans couldn't tell you who he was. When the Alamo is mentioned, people generally think of Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Travis - and that's mostly from the movies made about that battle, not because they actually bothered to read any history. Sad, that.

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  3. I remember the first time I saw the Alamo, sometime in the late 50's I think, and couldn't believe how small it was. I'll check the library for this one, Sam. Movies I saw as a child have had an amazing impact on my love of history. Our classroom library had biographies of Sam Houston, Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, and others that furthered my interest.

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    1. The Alamo today is only a small portion of the grounds as they existed during the battle. Sadly, the property was allowed to deteriorate and to be carved up in later years rather than being protected. Part of the problem with defending the Alamo, in fact, is that the grounds were so large that 186 men could not possibly defend every spot where the walls were likely to be breeched.

      Those old children's biographies were really great. Sometimes I think I learned as much core history from them as from any of my later reading - I know a higher percentage sunk in. :-)

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