The story of Sam Houston and the women in his life reads at times like a 19th Century soap opera, but as we approach the 21st Century it remains as just another reason for the fascination with this flamboyant American figure.
Liz Carpenter, a history buff and feminist, has called Sam Houston a “womanizer.” But also “the sum of all the heroes of Greece and Rome—and, most certainly, of Texas.”
Sue Flanagan, former director of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum at Sam Houston State University, wrote that “Houston had a weakness for women and they for him.”
Marquis James, Sam Houston’s best-known biographer, quoted a Houston contemporary, a Miss Anne Hanna of Nashville, that “two classes of people pursued Sam Houston all his life—artists and women.”
Sam Houston’s father died when he was 13, leaving nine children and a plan to move them westward. Sam’s mother carried on, leading the family to an area near Maryville, Tennessee, establishing a farm and acquiring interest in a general store.
Sam wrote that she was “a heroine…an extraordinary woman…gifted with intellectual and moral qualities, which elevated her…above most of her sex.”
When Sam ran away to live with the Cherokees, Marquis James recorded, he later wrote of “wandering along the banks of streams, side by side with some Indian maiden, sheltered by the deep woods…making love and reading Homer’s ‘Iliad.’”
Houston was elected governor of Tennessee at 35 and mentioned as presidential material. He married Eliza Allen, but the marriage lasted only three months and the reason for its failure is still the great mystery of Houston’s life.
James wrote that Eliza had wept while donning her bridal gown, that “she felt that she loved another,” that she confessed “that her affections had been pledged to another,” and on the first night “they rested apart.”
Eliza left Sam. He followed, “knelt before her and with tears streaming down his face implored forgiveness…and insisted with all his dramatic force that she return to Nashville with him.” She refused. He went to live with the Cherokees
In Nashville only months later, Houston was told that Eliza had reconsidered. This time HE refused. That summer he married a Cherokee woman, Tiana Rogers.
“Tiana was his wife,” James wrote, “her barbaric beauty a part of the solace he had found, as he said, amid ‘the lights and shadows of forest life.’” After three and one-half years with the Cherokees he left for Texas in late 1832.
The love of Houston’s early Texas years was a young beauty named Anna Raguet. Lying wounded after the battle of San Jacinto, he fashioned a garland of oak leaves which he sent her with the note, “To Miss Anna Raguet, Nacogdoches, Texas: These are laurels I send you from the battle field of San Jacinto. Thine. Houston.”
Anna eventually married the man who carried Houston’s love letters to her, and named their first child Sam Houston Irion.
Houston, on a Southern horse-buying expedition, met the talented Margaret Lea at an Alabama strawberry festival in the summer of 1839. She had seen him arrive by boat in New Orleans after the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, a wounded hero.
Their planned marriage seemed a mis-match. He was 47 and she was 21. Houston’s friends tried to talk him out of it. “In view of your terrific habits,” Col. Barnard Bee wrote him, “I implore you to resort to any expedient rather than marry.”
They were married May 9, 1840, in Alabama. She bore him eight children. Houston’s long journeys within the state and to Washington D. C. during his 13 years as a U. S. senator only seemed to strengthen the relationship.
At her prodding he began attending church services in Washington, joined the Baptist church in Huntsville, and was baptized in a Baptist ceremony at Rocky Creek near Independence in 1854. When he died in 1863 Margaret was at his side, and his last words were “Texas…Texas…Margaret.”
James wrote that in Houston’s years as a U. S. Senator in Washington, he “did not go about a great deal socially, although he was still a favorite of the type that ladies vaguely called ‘interesting.’”
Madge Thornall Roberts, a Houston descendant and author, documented Houston’s social contact with Dolley Madison and Sarah Polk and his close friendship with Rachel Jackson.
In these years he was still the romantic, feeling the urge on one occasion to dash off this verse for a hostess’s memory book:
“Woman is lovely to the sight,
As gentle as the dews of even
As bright as morning’s earliest light
And spotless as the snows of Heaven.”