Houston: Legendary Giant

Sam HoustonSam Houston was especially good at leading men and winning elections. He was an outstanding orator and an imposing figure.

Houston is one of the most written-about heroes in American history. But no one knows for sure just how tall he was.

Military and passport records listed him at 6-2.

Houston family tradition says he was about 6-2.

An observer at a Galveston speech he made pegged him at 6-3.

A Tennessee judge said, and Texas legend agrees, that he was 6-6.

Evidence toward both the long and short of the argument comes from the respected Marquis James biography, "The Raven."

"Judge Jo C. Guild has left a description of the man himself," wrote James. "'Houston stood six feet six inches in his socks, was of fine contour, a remarkably well proportioned man, and of commanding and gallant bearing.'"

Guild also described "large eagle-looking eyes," and said Houston had "a magnetism approaching that of General Andrew Jackson."

James continued:

"Six feet six--an entire school of southwestern tradition confirms it, but the descriptive list of the War Department, wanting in imagination and by no means incapable of error, undertakes to whittle Sam Houston's stature down to six feet and two inches."

When Houston joined the U. S. Army and ultimately become a hero at Horseshoe Bend, he was barely 20. If the War Department measured him then, is it possible that they measured wrong, or that he had not yet reached his full growth?

And another bit of evidence supporting the shorter figure is the passport Houston carried through Indian Territory on his way to Texas in 1832. It described him as "thirty-eight years of age, six feet, two inches in stature, brown hair and light complexion..."

It is possible, perhaps, that the passport information might have come from original government records, but it would not have been like Sam Houston, who was so concerned with his personal reputation that he passed out copies of his speeches to the press, to let an error like that stand.

In his campaign for governor of Texas in 1859, Houston spoke at Galveston. A. M. Williams wrote: "There he stood...on the balcony ten feet above the heads of the thousands assembled to hear him, where every eye could scan his magnificent form, six feet and three inches high, straight as an arrow..."

Houston's descendants have also given some thought to the subject. Houston Daniel of Liberty, a great-great-grandson of the General, believes the 6-2 figure. "Houston's descendants will defend him," Daniel said, "but we won't exaggerate."

Madge Thornall Roberts of San Antonio, an author and Houston's great-great-granddaughter, wrote a book entitled "Star of Destiny: The Private Lives of Sam and Margaret Houston." She believes he was between 6-2 and 6-3, probably "just under 6-3."

She bases her opinion on conversations she had with Madge Hearne, her grandmother and Sam Houston's granddaughter, and an unscientific test she conducted with Houston crutches now in the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in Huntsville.

"She had heard (the legend) that he was 6-6," Roberts said of her grandmother. "She said he was not that tall. She said he was between 6-2 and 6-3."

Her grandmother never saw Sam Houston, said Roberts, because she was born after he died. Her belief was based on information passed down by members of the family.

Roberts said she examined Houston's crutches, and they were a perfect fit for a Sam Houston Memorial Museum employee who is 6-2 and a half.

Roberts also believes that Houston was rather slim, never weighing more than 200 pounds and at times considerably less. She got that information from family letters.

Not only was Houston an empire builder, he was a pretty fair nutritionist in a time when people had only instinctive ideas on calories, fats, and cholesterol.

"He was hyper and didn't eat much," she said. "Only two meals a day, light on meat, lots of fruits and vegetables"--one reason perhaps that he was able to nurse his battle-scarred body through 70 productive years.

And although no one can be certain how tall Houston was, from 6-2 to 6-6, a modern basketball coach might say that when it came to heroism, vision, and statesmanship, he played like a seven footer.

Text by: Frank Krystyniak