MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Even in his own time stories and tales swirled around Sam Houston wherever he went. Many such stories have been disproven, many others exposed as embellishments, and still others verified. In this section are some of the more persistent stories about Sam Houston's life, and what is known and not known about them.
Break-up with Eliza Allen
Few aspects of Houston's life have been the focus of more speculation than the failure of his marriage to Eliza Allen after only ten weeks. There are rumors and stories of every kind but neither Sam nor Eliza ever publicly talked about it. Among the known facts are the following:
- They married on January 22, 1829.
- Houston was the sitting Governor of Tennessee.
- Eliza was nineteen years old, Sam was thirty-five.
- Houston had served in Congress with Eliza's cousin, Robert Allen.
- It was widely thought that Houston was Jackson's heir to the White House.
- The Allen family was one of the most prominent families of Sumner County.
- Two days after the marriage Eliza made a statement to her friend Martha Martin that she wished the children who were having a snowball fight with Sam out in the yard "would kill him." "I was astonished to hear such a statement from a bride of not yet forty-eight hours," Mrs. Martin said. Then Eliza repeated, "I wish with all of my heart that they would kill him." This is the only recorded statement about the marriage made by Eliza Allen during the ten weeks that they were together.
- With no governor's mansion, Sam and Eliza were living in the Nashville Inn, and upon returning from a campaign tour Houston discovered that Eliza was gone.
- After Eliza left, Sam wrote a letter to her father expressing his love for her, his desire to save the relationship, and his belief that Eliza, in truth, was in love with someone else.
- The distraught Houston called for the Rev. Hume who had performed the marriage ceremony and asked for baptism. The request was refused.
- Ruined politically, personally, and spiritually, Houston resigned his governorship and went to live with his Cherokee tribe again.
- The "seeping wound" story is not thought to be authoritative. It is true that Houston was wounded in the upper thigh by an arrow during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, but Dr. Ashbel Smith described the scar many years later in a write up of Houston's medical condition. The wounds which never healed (rifle balls from the same battle) were in his shoulder. Jeff Hamilton said he "had to dress them nearly every day."
Children with his Cherokee Wife
Houston married, by Cherokee custom, a mixed race woman in the Indian Territory named Diana Rogers Gentry (sometimes referred to as Tiana) who, interestingly enough, was an ancestor of the famous Will Rogers. Sam and Diana ran a trading post together called Wigwam Neosho and she remained behind when Sam left for Texas. They were separated according to Cherokee custom, and no empirical evidence has been located suggesting that they had children.
The measurement of Houston's height has been widely circulated as six foot six inches, and a book even came out many years ago titled Six Foot Six. However, both of Houston's passports (U.S. and Republic of Texas), list his height as "six foot, two inches" and his crutches also seem adjusted to best fit someone who is close to six-two.
Meeting with Thomas Jefferson
Part of the Houston legend is a meeting that supposedly took place between Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. What is known is that Houston had Andrew Jackson write him a letter of introduction to Thomas Jefferson. This letter still exists and is on display in Liberty, TX at the Sam Houston Research Center and Library. It is known that Jefferson was at Monticello in the fall of 1823, and the road Houston would have taken from Tennessee to Washington to report to Congress passed through the area. So, it seems probable that this meeting took place, but Jefferson was very meticulous about noting who he met with and when, and about keeping copies of all such correspondence. The introductory letter is not marked and no mention of the meeting has been found in any of Houston's or Jefferson's papers. Such a meeting is a fascinating thought but whether it actually occurred remains anyone's guess.
"Houston" being the first word spoken from the moon
Much has been made about "Houston" being the first word spoken from the surface of the moon. Turns out it is a little more complicated than that. We did some research and here's the real deal: According to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal for Apollo 11, at 102:45:40 Mission Elapsed Time (MET) Aldrin says "Contact Light" indicating that the probe, or rod, hanging down from beneath the lunar module's landing pad had made contact with the surface. At 102:45:43 MET Armstrong says "Shutdown." At 102:45:44 Aldrin says "Okay. Engine stop." The two then went through a short checklist until 102:45:57 when CapCom Charlie Duke says "We copy you down, Eagle." Armstrong replies a second later "Engine arm is off. Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Here's a link to Apollo 11's Lunar Surface Journal: http://history.nasa.gov/alsj/a11
Reported Drug Use by Houston
James Hazard Perry was a twenty-five year old New Yorker with three years at West Point under his belt when he left to join the fight in Texas. He arrived in Houston's camp as a spy for the Houston-hating Provisional President of Texas, David G. Burnet, and is the one who started the rumor of Houston using drugs. Perry actually confirmed that Houston was sober but wrote that he was in a "constant state of unanimity" which was possibly due to a "want of his customary excitement...or, as some say, from the use of opium." Houston tolerated Perry until he rode out ahead of the army toward Harrisburg in disobedience to orders. At that point, Houston had him arrested and created an enemy for life. It is possible that Perry might have seen Houston using smelling salts. Hamp Kuykendall, who also vouched for Houston's sobriety, observed that Houston "carried in his pocket a small bottle of salts of hartshorn which he frequently applied to his nostrils." It was a harmless commercial compound of ammonium carbonate used to ward off colds.
Houston had been given the medicine by Chief Bowles's granddaughter, Mary, who also gave him the moccasins he wore when he was not wearing his boots.
Houston Sparing Santa Anna's Life Because He Was a Mason
It has long been rumored that Sam Houston spared Santa Anna's life out of Masonic respect. There is no evidence of this. It is important to remember that after the Battle of San Jacinto only Santa Anna was defeated. There were thousands of other Mexican troops still in the field under other generals who could have pressed the attack and wiped out Houston's army. Houston was keenly aware of this threat and used Santa Anna as a bargaining chip to convince the other Mexican forces to withdraw.
Houston Signing His Name "I AM" Houston
Some of Houston's signatures begin with an "S" that can appear to be an "I", thus rendering his signature, "I Am Houston" --a rather bold and arrogant statement. One prominent authority who is particularly familiar with Houston's handwriting said, "Houston's 'S's look nothing like his 'I's at all. I don't know who made that one up but it's a stubborn myth. I am 100% certain that the supposed 'I Am Houston' signature is complete nonsense." Another authority said, "Well, it would certainly be consistent with his personality. Whether it was intentional or not, if someone read it that way and tried to make an issue out of it I can easily see Houston silently walking away with a sly grin on his face leaving them to wonder."