by Jesse H. Whitehurst
am Houston grew up on the Tennessee frontier in the 1790s and early 1800s. A restless youth, he spent much of his childhood with the Cherokee Indians. Houston joined the army, and his service with Andrew Jackson in the Red Stick War made him a hero. Following the advice of his new mentor, Houston returned to Tennessee and began a successful political career. After serving in Congress, Houston was elected governor in 1827. A scandal involving his young wife, Eliza, publicly humiliated Houston, who promptly left public life and disappeared into the western wilderness, taking shelter among his recently relocated friends, the Cherokees. He reluctantly returned to Washington as their agent. By 1832, Houston had renewed his ties with Jackson. Later that year, he was once again heading west, this time to Texas.
Houston served as an observer to the political turmoil in that region until the outbreak of the Texan insurgency against Mexico. He accepted command of the newly raised army, leading it to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. Combat again made him a hero, and the citizens of the new nation twice elected Houston as their president. Upon annexation to the U.S., Houston returned to Washington as a senator, where he strongly backed President James K. Polkís bellicose policies toward Mexico. After the U.S.-Mexican War, Houstonís political views began to alienate him from those of his pro-southern constituents, and he lost his Senate seat and, later, the 1857 election for governor. Two years later, at age 66, Houstonís career rallied, and he gained the stateís highest office. When Texas seceded from the United States in 1861, Governor Houston refused to go along, and Texas Confederates declared his office vacant. The old warrior retired to Huntsville, Texas, where he died in 1863.