THE WIVES OF GENERAL HOUSTON





Sixty or seventy years ago it was considered a great joke to chalk

up on any man's house-door, or on his trunk at a coaching-station,

the conspicuous letters "G. T. T." The laugh went round, and every

one who saw the inscription chuckled and said: "They've got it on

you, old hoss!" The three letters meant "gone to Texas"; and for

any man to go to Texas in those days meant his moral, mental, and

financial dilapidation. Either he had plunged into bankruptcy and

wished to begin life over again in a new world, or the sheriff had

a warrant for his arrest.



The very task of reaching Texas was a fearful one. Rivers that

overran their banks, fever-stricken lowlands where gaunt faces

peered out from moldering cabins, bottomless swamps where the mud

oozed greasily and where the alligator could be seen slowly moving

his repulsive form--all this stretched on for hundreds of miles to

horrify and sicken the emigrants who came toiling on foot or

struggling upon emaciated horses. Other daring pioneers came by

boat, running all manner of risks upon the swollen rivers. Still

others descended from the mountains of Tennessee and passed

through a more open country and with a greater certainty of self-

protection, because they were trained from childhood to wield the

rifle and the long sheath-knife.



It is odd enough to read, in the chronicles of those days, that

amid all this suffering and squalor there was drawn a strict line

between "the quality" and those who had no claim to be patricians.

"The quality" was made up of such emigrants as came from the more

civilized East, or who had slaves, or who dragged with them some

rickety vehicle with carriage-horses--however gaunt the animals

might be. All others--those who had no slaves or horses, and no

traditions of the older states--were classed as "poor whites"; and

they accepted their mediocrity without a murmur.



Because he was born in Lexington, Virginia, and moved thence with

his family to Tennessee, young Sam Houston--a truly eponymous

American hero--was numbered with "the quality" when, after long

wandering, he reached his boyhood home. His further claim to

distinction as a boy came from the fact that he could read and

write, and was even familiar with some of the classics in

translation.



When less than eighteen years of age he had reached a height of

more than six feet. He was skilful with the rifle, a remarkable

rough-and-tumble fighter, and as quick with his long knife as any

Indian. This made him a notable figure--the more so as he never

abused his strength and courage. He was never known as anything

but "Sam." In his own sphere he passed for a gentleman and a

scholar, thanks to his Virginian birth and to the fact that he

could repeat a great part of Pope's translation of the "Iliad."



His learning led him to teach school a few months in the year to

the children of the white settlers. Indeed, Houston was so much

taken with the pursuit of scholarship that he made up his mind to

learn Greek and Latin. Naturally, this seemed mere foolishness to

his mother, his six strapping brothers, and his three stalwart

sisters, who cared little for study. So sharp was the difference

between Sam and the rest of the family that he gave up his

yearning after the classics and went to the other extreme by

leaving home and plunging into the heart of the forest beyond

sight of any white man or woman or any thought of Hellas and

ancient Rome.



Here in the dimly lighted glades he was most happy. The Indians

admired him for his woodcraft and for the skill with which he

chased the wild game amid the forests. From his copy of the

"Iliad" he would read to them the thoughts of the world's greatest

poet.



It is told that nearly forty years after, when Houston had long

led a different life and had made his home in Washington, a

deputation of more than forty untamed Indians from Texas arrived

there under the charge of several army officers. They chanced to

meet Sam Houston.



One and all ran to him, clasped him in their brawny arms, hugged

him like bears to their naked breasts, and called him "father."

Beneath the copper skin and thick paint the blood rushed, and

their faces changed, and the lips of many a warrior trembled,

although the Indian may not weep.



In the gigantic form of Houston, on whose ample brow the

beneficent love of a father was struggling with the sternness of

the patriarch and warrior, we saw civilization awing the savage at

his feet. We needed no interpreter to tell us that this impressive

supremacy was gained in the forest.



His family had been at first alarmed by his stay among the

Indians; but when after a time he returned for a new outfit they

saw that he was entirely safe and left him to wander among the red

men. Later he came forth and resumed the pursuits of civilization.

He took up his studies; he learned the rudiments of law and

entered upon its active practice. When barely thirty-six he had

won every office that was open to him, ending with his election to

the Governorship of Tennessee in 1827.



Then came a strange episode which changed the whole course of his

life. Until then the love of woman had never stirred his veins.

His physical activities in the forests, his unique intimacy with

Indian life, had kept him away from the social intercourse of

towns and cities. In Nashville Houston came to know for the first

time the fascination of feminine society. As a lawyer, a

politician, and the holder of important offices he could not keep

aloof from that gentler and more winning influence which had

hitherto been unknown to him.



In 1828 Governor Houston was obliged to visit different portions

of the state, stopping, as was the custom, to visit at the homes

of "the quality," and to be introduced to wives and daughters as

well as to their sportsman sons. On one of his official journeys

he met Miss Eliza Allen, a daughter of one of the "influential

families" of Sumner County, on the northern border of Tennessee.

He found her responsive, charming, and greatly to be admired. She

was a slender type of Southern beauty, well calculated to gain the

affection of a lover, and especially of one whose associations had

been chiefly with the women of frontier communities.



To meet a girl who had refined tastes and wide reading, and who

was at the same time graceful and full of humor, must have come as

a pleasant experience to Houston. He and Miss Allen saw much of

each other, and few of their friends were surprised when the word

went forth that they were engaged to be married.



The marriage occurred in January, 1829. They were surrounded with

friends of all classes and ranks, for Houston was the associate of

Jackson and was immensely popular in his own state. He seemed to

have before him a brilliant career. He had won a lovely bride to

make a home for him; so that no man seemed to have more attractive

prospects. What was there which at this time interposed in some

malignant way to blight his future?



It was a little more than a month after his marriage when he met a

friend, and, taking him out into a strip of quiet woodland, said

to him:



"I have something to tell you, but you must not ask me anything

about it. My wife and I will separate before long. She will return

to her father's, while I must make my way alone."



Houston's friend seized him by the arm and gazed at him with

horror.



"Governor," said he, "you're going to ruin your whole life! What

reason have you for treating this young lady in such a way? What

has she done that you should leave her? Or what have you done that

she should leave you? Every one will fall away from you."



Houston grimly replied:



"I have no explanation to give you. My wife has none to give you.

She will not complain of me, nor shall I complain of her. It is no

one's business in the world except our own. Any interference will

be impertinent, and I shall punish it with my own hand."



"But," said his friend, "think of it. The people at large will not

allow such action. They will believe that you, who have been their

idol, have descended to insult a woman. Your political career is

ended. It will not be safe for you to walk the streets!"



"What difference does it make to me?" said Houston, gloomily.

"What must be, must be. I tell you, as a friend, in advance, so

that you may be prepared; but the parting will take place very

soon."



Little was heard for another month or two, and then came the

announcement that the Governor's wife had left him and had

returned to her parents' home. The news flew like wildfire, and

was the theme of every tongue. Friends of Mrs. Houston begged her

to tell them the meaning of the whole affair. Adherents of

Houston, on the other hand, set afloat stories of his wife's

coldness and of her peevishness. The state was divided into

factions; and what really concerned a very few was, as usual, made

everybody's business.



There were times when, if Houston had appeared near the dwelling

of his former wife, he would have been lynched or riddled with

bullets. Again, there were enemies and slanderers of his who, had

they shown themselves in Nashville, would have been torn to pieces

by men who hailed Houston as a hero and who believed that he could

not possibly have done wrong.



However his friends might rage, and however her people might

wonder and seek to pry into the secret, no satisfaction was given

on either side. The abandoned wife never uttered a word of

explanation. Houston was equally reticent and self-controlled. In

later years he sometimes drank deeply and was loose-tongued; but

never, even in his cups, could he be persuaded to say a single

word about his wife.



The whole thing is a mystery and cannot be solved by any evidence

that we have. Almost every one who has written of it seems to have

indulged in mere guesswork. One popular theory is that Miss Allen

was in love with some one else; that her parents forced her into a

brilliant marriage with Houston, which, however, she could not

afterward endure; and that Houston, learning the facts, left her

because he knew that her heart was not really his.



But the evidence is all against this. Had it been so she would

surely have secured a divorce and would then have married the man

whom she truly loved. As a matter of fact, although she did

divorce Houston, it was only after several years, and the man whom

she subsequently married was not acquainted with her at the time

of the separation.



Another theory suggests that Houston was harsh in his treatment of

his wife, and offended her by his untaught manners and extreme

self-conceit. But it is not likely that she objected to his

manners, since she had become familiar with them before she gave

him her hand; and as to his conceit, there is no evidence that it

was as yet unduly developed. After his Texan campaign he sometimes

showed a rather lofty idea of his own achievements; but he does

not seem to have done so in these early days.



Some have ascribed the separation to his passion for drink; but

here again we must discriminate. Later in life he became very fond

of spirits and drank whisky with the Indians, but during his

earlier years he was most abstemious. It scarcely seems possible

that his wife left him because he was intemperate.



If one wishes to construct a reasonable hypothesis on a subject

where the facts are either wanting or conflicting, it is not

impossible to suggest a solution of this puzzle about Houston.

Although his abandoned wife never spoke of him and shut her lips

tightly when she was questioned about him, Houston, on his part,

was not so taciturn. He never consciously gave any direct clue to

his matrimonial mystery; but he never forgot this girl who was his

bride and whom he seems always to have loved. In what he said he

never ceased to let a vein of self-reproach run through his words.



I should choose this one paragraph as the most significant. It was

written immediately after they had parted:



Eliza stands acquitted by me. I have received her as a virtuous,

chaste wife, and as such I pray God I may ever regard her, and I

trust I ever shall. She was cold to me, and I thought she did not

love me.



And again he said to an old and valued friend at about the same

time:



"I can make no explanation. I exonerate the lady fully and do not

justify myself."



Miss Allen seems to have been a woman of the sensitive American

type which was so common in the early and the middle part of the

last century. Mrs. Trollope has described it for us with very

little exaggeration. Dickens has drawn it with a touch of malice,

and yet not without truth. Miss Martineau described it during her

visit to this country, and her account quite coincides with those

of her two contemporaries.



Indeed, American women of that time unconsciously described

themselves in a thousand different ways. They were, after all,

only a less striking type of the sentimental Englishwomen who read

L. E. L. and the earlier novels of Bulwer-Lytton. On both sides of

the Atlantic there was a reign of sentiment and a prevalence of

what was then called "delicacy." It was a die-away, unwholesome

attitude toward life and was morbid to the last degree.



In circles where these ideas prevailed, to eat a hearty dinner was

considered unwomanly. To talk of anything except some gilded

"annual," or "book of beauty," or the gossip of the neighborhood

was wholly to be condemned. The typical girl of such a community

was thin and slender and given to a mild starvation, though she

might eat quantities of jam and pickles and saleratus biscuit. She

had the strangest views of life and an almost unnatural shrinking

from any usual converse with men.



Houston, on his side, was a thoroughly natural and healthful man,

having lived an outdoor life, hunting and camping in the forest

and displaying the unaffected manner of the pioneer. Having lived

the solitary life of the woods, it was a strange thing for him to

meet a girl who had been bred in an entirely different way, who

had learned a thousand little reservations and dainty graces, and

whose very breath was coyness and reserve. Their mating was the

mating of the man of the forest with the woman of the sheltered

life.



Houston assumed everything; his bride shrank from everything.

There was a mutual shock amounting almost to repulsion. She, on

her side, probably thought she had found in him only the brute

which lurks in man. He, on the other, repelled and checked, at

once grasped the belief that his wife cared nothing for him

because she would not meet his ardors with like ardors of her own.

It is the mistake that has been made by thousands of men and women

at the beginning of their married lives--the mistake on one side

of too great sensitiveness, and on the other side of too great

warmth of passion.



This episode may seem trivial, and yet it is one that explains

many things in human life. So far as concerns Houston it has a

direct bearing on the history of our country. A proud man, he

could not endure the slights and gossip of his associates. He

resigned the governorship of Tennessee, and left by night, in such

a way as to surround his departure with mystery.



There had come over him the old longing for Indian life; and when

he was next visible he was in the land of the Cherokees, who had

long before adopted him as a son. He was clad in buckskin and

armed with knife and rifle, and served under the old chief

Oolooteka. He was a gallant defender of the Indians.



When he found how some of the Indian agents had abused his adopted

brothers he went to Washington to protest, still wearing his

frontier garb. One William Stansberry, a Congressman from Ohio,

insulted Houston, who leaped upon him like a panther, dragged him

about the Hall of Representatives, and beat him within an inch of

his life. He was arrested, imprisoned, and fined; but his old

friend, President Jackson, remitted his imprisonment and gruffly

advised him not to pay the fine.



Returning to his Indians, he made his way to a new field which

promised much adventure. This was Texas, of whose condition in

those early days something has already been said. Houston found a

rough American settlement, composed of scattered villages

extending along the disputed frontier of Mexico. Already, in the

true Anglo-Saxon spirit, the settlers had formed a rudimentary

state, and as they increased and multiplied they framed a simple

code of laws.



Then, quite naturally, there came a clash between them and the

Mexicans. The Texans, headed by Moses Austin, had set up a

republic and asked for admission to the United States. Mexico

regarded them as rebels and despised them because they made no

military display and had no very accurate military drill. They

were dressed in buckskin and ragged clothing; but their knives

were very bright and their rifles carried surely. Furthermore,

they laughed at odds, and if only a dozen of them were gathered

together they would "take on" almost any number of Mexican

regulars.



In February, 1836, the acute and able Mexican, Santa Anna, led

across the Rio Grande a force of several thousand Mexicans showily

uniformed and completely armed. Every one remembers how they fell

upon the little garrison at the Alamo, now within the city limits

of San Antonio, but then an isolated mission building surrounded

by a thick adobe wall. The Americans numbered less than three

hundred men.



A sharp attack was made with these overwhelming odds. The

Americans drove the assailants back with their rifle fire, but

they had nothing to oppose to the Mexican artillery. The contest

continued for several days, and finally the Mexicans breached the

wall and fell upon the garrison, who were now reduced by more than

half. There was an hour of blood, and every one of the Alamo's

defenders, including the wounded, was put to death. The only

survivors of the slaughter were two negro slaves, a woman, and a

baby girl.



When the news of this bloody affair reached Houston he leaped

forth to the combat like a lion. He was made commander-in-chief of

the scanty Texan forces. He managed to rally about seven hundred

men, and set out against Santa Anna with little in the way of

equipment, and with nothing but the flame of frenzy to stimulate

his followers. By march and countermarch the hostile forces came

face to face near the shore of San Jacinto Bay, not far from the

present city of Houston. Slowly they moved upon each other, when

Houston halted, and his sharpshooters raked the Mexican battle-

line with terrible effect. Then Houston uttered the cry:



"Remember the Alamo!"



With deadly swiftness he led his men in a charge upon Santa Anna's

lines. The Mexicans were scattered as by a mighty wind, their

commander was taken prisoner, and Mexico was forced to give its

recognition to Texas as a free republic, of which General Houston

became the first president.



This was the climax of Houston's life, but the end of it leaves us

with something still to say. Long after his marriage with Miss

Allen he took an Indian girl to wife and lived with her quite

happily. She was a very beautiful woman, a half-breed, with the

English name of Tyania Rodgers. Very little, however, is known of

her life with Houston. Later still--in 1840--he married a lady

from Marion, Alabama, named Margaret Moffette Lea. He was then in

his forty-seventh year, while she was only twenty-one; but again,

as with his Indian wife, he knew nothing but domestic

tranquillity. These later experiences go far to prove the truth of

what has already been given as the probable cause of his first

mysterious failure to make a woman happy.



After Texas entered the Union, in 1845, Houston was elected to the

United States Senate, in which he served for thirteen years. In

1852, 1856, and 1860, as a Southerner who opposed any movement

looking toward secession, he was regarded as a possible

presidential candidate; but his career was now almost over, and in

1863, while the Civil War--which he had striven to prevent--was at

its height, he died.





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