Samuel Houston, like many of the other celebrated figures of the Alamo battle, was a relative newcomer to Texas.
Background in Politics
Under the mentorship of Andrew Jackson, Houston had risen to political heights in his native Tennessee. He served in the militia, as congressman, and even as governor prior to 1832. Houston resigned this last position after a failed marriage to nineteen-year-old Eliza Allen, and embarked on a self-imposed exile among the Cherokee Indians in 1829. For several years he remained with them, participating in their affairs and even marrying Diana Rogers Gentry, a Cherokee woman of mixed blood. He would leave her, however, when he chose to enter the Mexican territory of Texas in 1832.
Land of Plenty
After Stephen F. Austin granted him land in his San Felipe colony, Houston settled in Nacogdoches, where he set up a law practice and became a Mexican citizen. With a large, imposing figure and notoriously heavy drinking habits, Houston quickly made his presence known. Like many Anglo colonists, Houston perceived Texas as a land of plenty where the future held great promise. There, Houston believed, he would find the opportunity to distinguish himself. His chance for glory came in the Texas Revolution, just a few years after his arrival.
Houston quickly joined a radical faction of Anglo colonists including William B. Travis and William H. Wharton. As tensions flared between Texas and Mexico City, members of the so-called "war party" argued for independence. Yet Houston broke with them and voted, with Stephen Austin, not to declare independence at an 1835 political assembly known as the Consultation. Both men thought it was too early to risk alienating Mexican liberals. Houston's moderate position notwithstanding, delegates to the Consultation unanimously elected Houston to command the army of Texas.
Hero at San Jacinto
In March 1836, as Santa Anna's army marched through Texas, Houston's army retreated to the east. The two forces met at San Jacinto, where the rebel army crept up on Santa Anna's forces on the afternoon of April 21. The element of surprise proved decisive: the Texans won the battle and captured Santa Anna the following day. The Texas Revolution ended with this rebel victory, and Houston, as commander of the victorious forces, was a hero.
Political Service to Texas
After the Texas Revolution, the citizens of the new Republic of Texas elected Houston as their first president. His popularity was so widespread that he beat Stephen F. Austin for the position by nearly 5,000 votes. While most of his presidential term was successful, he failed to secure annexation by the United States due to sectional disputes in Washington, D.C. He left the executive office in 1838 only to return three years later. Drawing on his past relationships with Indian tribes, he was instrumental in negotiating peace treaties between them and the people of Texas. Houston was again elected governor of Texas in 1859 after serving in the U.S. Senate, but was removed from the governor's office in 1861 after he refused to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.
When Texas finally become a state, Houston served as one of its first U.S. senators, from 1846 to 1859. A staunch supporter of the Union, he naturally opposed secession during the Civil War, and voted for compromises between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces in a shifting political landscape. Despite Houston's efforts to prevent it, Texas seceded from the Union and set up a Confederate government. He died of pneumonia on July 26, 1863, in Huntsville, Texas, not surviving to see the end of the Civil War.