ustxtxb_obs_1993_07_30_50_00018-00000_000.pdf

Page 18

by

might never be fully determined, but the fact that he remained a Union man illustrated, in a way, his enduring philosophy of acquisition and expansion. He also believed that by fractionalizing the country, the South was doomed. Such a man drew quite a different crowd to him than his compatriot Austin and the other early empresarios, who directed their appeals to farmers, ranchers and plantation owners to come help populate the state giving incentives to colonizing families by assigning them three times as much land as a single man would receive. Under this deal, Houston himself was given a league 4,428 acres by Austin, as a married man, even though he had left his Anglo wife back in Tennessee and his Cherokee wife in Arkansas. Houston, on the other hand, appealed to the thousands of Americans spoiling for a fight against Mexico and coming to the territory for the three Gs of Gold, God and Glory more than any pastoral dream. Although his San Jacinto veterans were paid with land certificates of 320 acres apiece instead of money, many of them had no desire to break out the plow and used their paper in trade for a bottle of whiskey or a pair of pants. After the Texas War for Independence, Houston continued to solicit volunteer soldiers for war plans with Mexico, which were never completely put into action. Men such as Ben McCullough who heard of trouble brewing on the Texas frontier and declared: “I wish to participate in any war….” When these men couldn’t fight Mexicans, they fought amongst themselves. But then Houston raided the University Fund, believing Rangers and guns were more necessary to good government than were educators and books \(and McCullough became head Ranger. Houston was basically a self-taught man, whose favorite early reader had been the Iliad, that old classic of heroes clashing over how some women, who were seen as the rightful spoils of battle, should be parceled out to the victors. He didn’t believe a son’s education should go much beyond the study of the military arts. He advised his own son, Sam, to avoid the study of mathematics, abstract science, or dead languages, and wished that all his sons “be early taught an utter contempt for novels and light reading.” For his daughter he had no advice at all. A great deal of his own leisure time, until his last marriage sobered him, was spent in drinking with the fellas, a pastime shared by many of the rowdy single males who comprised so much of the early population, particularly of the new capital city, which had been named after the Hero. As one source is quoted: “The Texians being an entirely military people, not only fought but drank in platoons.” At an 1838 party in Houston, one doctor present purportedly “drank whiskey out of a skull that had yet brains in it.” And after a San Jacinto Day ball, a saloonkeeper billed Houston for champagne, liquors, three bottles of whiskey, broken champagne glasses and $15 for a bedstead although Houston protested the broken glasses charge. The Houstonian tone allowed the Legislators to come drunk to sessions and punch each other out one Congressman was shot by another in the back of the head. Murder was so common that gamblers bet on which town would have the most daily or weekly killings “shooting scores” an honor usually claimed by Houston, called by its namesake a “great City of Mud, Sickness and Death.” To read Williams’ reconstruction of the Houston era is to be reminded again of how small a part women played in this fightin’ landscape. Their numbers were few. In the City of Houston’s first year’s statistics, they numbered slightly more than 100 in a population of 1,500. In Austin 550 men were listed and only 61 women \(not counting whatever portion of the 145 listed slaves ticularly miniscule in the making of military decisions. Williams points out that many Southern wives in fact were considered demoralizing factors when war broke out, as they wrote so many letters begging their husbands to come home. \(One of my own Mississippi ancestors apparently fell victim to such “womanizing” leaving the army when his wife wrote, having fallen sick with 10 children to take care of and no one to put in the spring crop. When he came home he plowed in a woman’s dress and bonnet, until soldiers came through looking for recruits, asking children in a field if there were any men around; when they pointed to him, the soldiers took him away and nobody ever saw No, women weren’t invited to state their opinions of these early battles. I think this is one of the reasons why Elizabeth Crook’s recent novel The Raven’s Bride has been so well received, reissued this year as part of SMU Press’ classic Southwest Life and Letters series. In exploring the relationship between Houston and his first wife, Eliza Allen, whom he married in Tennessee and promptly left when he headed west, Crook has addressed the question of how women of the time reacted to their exclusion and since this is one of those contemptible novels Sam warned his son against, the author is not limited to historical speculation and quibbling and has created a young but strong-willed and complex woman character who did not like it one bit. The biographer Williams, after taking a read of his various sources, decided the most probable cause for Sam and Eliza’ s marital discord, which seemed to have mysteriously erupted almost as soon as the marriage was begun, was a repulsion Eliza might have felt for an old suppurating wound Houston had sustained to his inner thigh during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, his first military service either that, or strange ritualistic sexual practices he had picked up in his years with the Cherokees, which were beyond Eliza’ s own honeymoon fantasy. Crook gives this woman more credit than that. In fact, she gives her an intellect and an energy which would be appropriately equal to a man of Houston’s stature and vitality. So in Crook’s version of the story, it is Houston’s secretive and manipulative political nature that Eliza reacts to more than any simple physical revulsion for her spouse. In one of their first encounters, upon observing Houston’s public maneuvering to reduce the danger to himself in one of those ritualized shoot-offs Southern gentlemen called “duels,” Eliza remarks, “So this is a thing of honor? It seems like trickery to me.” And on their wedding night she overhears a secret conversation between her new husband and his close friend William Wharton, involving this covert Texas action. When Houston is asked by Wharton what he’ll do about Eliza, he replies, “Ah William, a woman is one thing, an empire is another. It is a grand scheme, such a grand scheme, isn’t it, Wharton?” Maybe Crook laid it on a little thick here, making Houston out to be so negligent a groom on his wedding night as to plot revolution with his good companion when he should have been dancing. Nevertheless, historical facts do corroborate Crook’s basic supposition that plotting amongst Governor Houston and his Tennessee drinking fraternity was thick at the time of the wedding and Eliza’ s discovery of this upon marriage to the man seems probable, as well as the disillusioning revelation: “She had wanted some sense of belonging and importance. And now she saw she had none. Not only was she unnecessary to his schemes, she had no place in them at all.” When she confronts him, she blasts the fraternal secrecy whose concerns are placed above even marital intimacy: “You trusted my father, but not me. I will never forgive you. There is nothing to say to make it right.” In the Afterword, one of Eliza’ s few friends, Balie Peyton is quoted, recollecting the wife’s complaint that Houston had evinced no confidence in her integrity, “no respect for my intelligence, or trust in my discretion.” But then Eliza herself was a woman of secrets, which might have appalled Houston equally. And so they parted, she to retreat into complete privacy in the home of her parents and he to hit the riverboat with the Irishman Haralson tra-la-laing the foreshadowing tune, “Will you come to my bower….” \(Ironically, the only Allen who followed Houston from Tennessee was the Mason John Allen, who delivered the documents establishing Texas’ first Masonic lodge to one of Houston’s officers just before the Battle of San Jacinto began. The officer carried them in his sad 18 JULY 16, 1993