BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Marshall DeBruhl, author of "Sword of San Jacinto: A Life of Sam Houston." What's the sword of San Jacinto?
MARSHALL DeBRUHL, AUTHOR, "SWORD OF SAN JACINTO: A LIFE OF SAM HOUSTON" Well, the sword is a recurring theme in the book. Of course, he carried this sword into the battle, held it up as he led the men across the plain down there outside what is now Houston, Texas. And then later he presented it to the people of Texas when he became president of Texas and turned himself into a man from war to peace in front of the Texas Congress. It was a separate republic then. And then later he left it to his son and it's still in the family actually, and he left it to his son but to be drawn only in the defense of liberty, as he said in the will.
LAMB: Who was Sam Houston?
DeBRUHL: Sam -- you mean not the son, but the older man.
LAMB: The older man.
DeBRUHL: I think the main thing, he was this great national figure. That's what one has to keep in mind, that he was this extraordinary Virginian who was born in the 18th century -- he's one of those great 18th century Virginians -- but who, of course, did his great work and achieved his great fame much farther afield than those who went to Philadelphia or Washington. And he had two great political careers, one in Tennessee, where he was an attorney general, major general of the militia, a two-term congressman and then governor of Tennessee, all before he was 34 years old; and then had another career, of course, as we all know, in Texas and in the United States Senate.
LAMB: Let me ask you about this cover. Is this a painting?
DeBRUHL: A painting by an artist -- it was painted here in Washington when Houston was in the United States Senate in 1846. He was 53 years old. As you can see from the picture, he was given to these rather colorful costumes and flamboyant attire and this was a man named Head, the painter, who was a sort of court painter here in Washington.
LAMB: Who made the decision to put it on the cover?
DeBRUHL: The art director at Random House. We went back and forth with this because there were so many choices. And finally this young man, who's the art director at the publishing house, decided that he would just take on this and do it himself. And as you can imagine, when these things are done, a lot of committee thing goes on. As always, there's no democracy in the arts, and so I think this young man decided, “I will do this,” and then he produced what I think is a very beautiful book, actually.
LAMB: Let's go right to the heart in the middle of the book to the Texas Revolution. What was it?
DeBRUHL: Well, it started, of course -- the beginning of the Texas Revolution was when Texas -- the province of Tejas y Coahuila, which was a province of Mexico. And when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the trouble began really right there. But this area called Texas or Tejas was not inhabited. There weren't very many people there, so the Mexican government had a policy of encouraging immigration from the United States. So Stephen Austin or his father, Moses Austin, began this -- they got this enormous land grant in Texas of hundreds of thousands of acres, millions of acres, really, and then recruited colonists to come down there. And the seeds were sown then really for revolution because you ran head-on into an autocratic government of Mexico and these people who were basically libertarians from the North.
And so the trouble began in the 1820s when the first colonists arrived. And then, when Mexico became more and more despotic under a succession of people, but chiefly Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, when he became president and dictator of Mexico, then he decided that this colonization should stop from the north. And he was going to tighten up the screws on these colonists who were causing him some trouble. But, of course, these people were from America and weren't going to put up with it, and so one thing led to another and the whole situation rapidly unraveled. And Houston arrived there in 1832 and the very first ..
LAMB: Arrived where?
DeBRUHL: In a place called Nacogdoches, Texas, and from the Arkansas territory where he was living. And so he had gone down there. In December of 1832, he crossed the Red River into Texas, and then went on to Nacogdoches and then joined up with Stephen Austin's colony in a place called San Phillipe de Austin where Austin's headquarters were and was given his land grant and set up a law practice in Texas. And then later, when the revolution was heating up, Austin had gone to Mexico to negotiate with Santa Anna over more civil rights and liberties for the Anglo settlers of Texas. And Austin was thrown into prison.
He spent over two years in the Mexican jail. So when he came back and the revolution was really -- the course had started then to have a full-scale war against Mexico, and so Sam was there. And since he'd had all this military experience, he was made commander in chief of the Texas army and began to organize an army and tried to put it together. This was in late 1835. The revolution was actually very short. It was only a few months. And, of course, you know the battle of San Jacinto was only 18 minutes, so they compressed everything pretty much for their independence.
LAMB: How many people lived in Texas in 1835?
DeBRUHL: Probably around 35,000 or so, 30,000 to 35,000 people. It was very small and, including the slaves, about a quarter of those were black slaves that the colonists had brought in, the Mexican nationals who lived there and then the Anglo settlers, so it couldn't have been more than 35,000 people. Just a small group.
LAMB: Why had Sam Houston gone to Texas in the first place?
DeBRUHL: Well, there are several theories. Americans, of course, as you know, love conspiracy theories. And so, of course, one theory is that he was dispatched by Andrew Jackson to separate Texas from Mexico. Because see, Jackson always assumed that Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase and it belonged to the United States in any event. And the border did not -- he thought it extended all the way to the Rio Grande or the Nueces, really, and it was really American territory.
But as one historian pointed out, Llerena Friend, who had written another biography of Houston years ago, and her answer to all this was: Why is Houston in Texas? It was to make a living. And I think there's like -- so many people went to Texas, you know, for fame and fortune and he had his whole political career collapsed in America with the dissolution of the first marriage and the great scandal. So he had no future really left in Tennessee or even in Arkansas, for that matter, where he had moved. So his future lay somewhere else, and Texas was the place to go and many people think still is, of course. And so he moved there and set up a law practice and was given this great grant of land by Austin to be in the Austin colony, you see. So basically it was for land and to make a living. That's why he was there originally. And...
LAMB: Houston, Texas; Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Lubbock, Texas ...
DeBRUHL: Waco, Texas.
LAMB: Are they all named after people?
DeBRUHL: Well, Austin, of course, named after Stephen Austin, who is rightly called the Father of Texas. Houston -- you know, people say he was the Father of Texas -- he was actually the father of Texas independence. Austin is the man who got the colonists there and is considered really the Father of Texas. So the city of Austin is named after him; Houston named after Sam. It was a place called Harrisburg, but it was burned during the revolution, and then when they rebuilt this new town and laid it out, they named it after the victorious general, Sam Houston.
LAMB: What about Dallas?
DeBRUHL: Dallas is...
LAMB: I didn't find the name Dallas in the book, but ...
DeBRUHL: Well, it didn't really exist at the time. I mean, Dallas is a 20th century invention with apologies to my friends in Dallas, but it's basically a 20th century invention. And there was a small settlement there. Houston actually went there when he was campaigning for governor of Texas. And at the time, in the 1840s, it was there, of course. It was across the headwaters of the river, so there was a little fort there in those days.
LAMB: Go back to the revolution: The sword of San Jacinto, the battle of San Jacinto. Why is that such a big deal?
DeBRUHL: Well, when Houston -- he had retreated before the Mexican army across Texas, and that's another subject of great dispute. I mean, was he really running or was it a strategic retreat? My feeling is, of course, it was a strategic retreat. He was drawing Santa Anna farther and farther into what was Anglo Texas. That's where all the people were, was in east Texas. He ended up on this place called Buffalo Bayou, just outside of present-day Houston. And there, with his back to the water, he decided to attack the Mexican army, which outnumbered him 2:1. And so on the afternoon of April 21st of 1836, they stormed across that field there and in just 18 minutes conquered the Mexican army. And it's important, as Jackson said -- it was a much greater victory than Jackson's own victory at New Orleans, which, of course, it was. What it did was to give Texas eventually to the United States. Annexation was later, of course. And it led directly to expansion all the way to the West Coast. I mean, all or a part of six states were the results of this great battle, you see. So it was one of the great battles in history.
LAMB: Tell us who Santa Anna was and what he was like.
DeBRUHL: Well, he was a self-sty -- he called himself the Napoleon of the West. And he had, indeed, had great successes as a soldier in Mexico against the Spanish forces for the revolution against Spain, and then his march across Texas was one victory after another. And, granted, he won the battles and then, of course, he shot everybody afterward. There was no quarter, really, when the great calamity at the Alamo, after they had surrendered and he, you know, assassinated -- or executed people -- the few survivors, including Davy Crockett. And then a few weeks later, at this place called Goliad, Texas, when they overran James Fannin and his men at Goliad, they marched 342 men out and executed them there and just shot them down in cold blood.
LAMB: Go ...
DeBRUHL: So he was a bloodthirsty man, actually.
LAMB: Can we go back to the Alamo?
DeBRUHL: Yeah. Sure.
LAMB: What was the story and when did it happen?
DeBRUHL: It happened in March of 1836, and Houston had sent James Bowie and Bonham -- James Bonham there to tell them to blow up the place and abandon the Alamo.
LAMB: What is it first? Where is it and what is it?
DeBRUHL: In San Antonio, Texas, there are five missions, and the Alamo was one of those missions. The Mexican church had established five missions for pacification of the Indians and to assimilate the Indian tribes. And this was just one of those missions. It actually had been closed down. It was in ruins, really, and there was a small fort built around it. And so the Texans had decided to fortify this place and to hold it against the advancing Mexican troops.
But Houston had told them to get out of there, then blow it up and bring the available ammunition and horses and whatever and join his army in the East. He was trying to to organize a full-scale army, you see. Well, they got to the Alamo and Travis, and they decided that they would hold it, you see, that they would defend it against the Mexicans, which was folly, of course, and it led to this terrible disaster, you see. And Houston is always-- there's always been great controversy about that, too. Did he really tell them to go there and blow it up? I'm convinced that, indeed, he did. I mean, I have read the letters and things, of course, that he did do this. And then he also told Fannin to get out of the mission in Goliad. That was another mission about 80 miles away -- to get out of there and join him. And that way they would have had the 180 men who were killed at the Alamo and the 340 men killed at Goliad. That's quite a number of able-bodied men shot down, you see. So Houston would have had that force and plus their ammunition and their armaments for his army. But, of course, it was lost to him because of this folly of these two men.
LAMB: Would you go back to San Jacinto, which Houston won against Santa Anna. What did he do with Santa Anna after the -- he's a Mexican president.
DeBRUHL: Mexican president and dictator. And theSanta Anna --there's always other stories -- there are wonderful legends about all of this, of course, and some of them, thank God they're true. It makes a more interesting book. When they charged across the field that afternoon of April 21st, 1836, Santa Anna was in this silken tent that he carried with him, lived in some luxury, actually. And he was in the tent and the story is that he was whiling away the afternoon with his mistress, the famous Yellow Rose of Texas. And whether or not this is a true story or not, it's a wonderful story, certainly, that he was in the tent. There are other stories that the Texans had sent her there to seduce -- you know, like Delilah and Samson. Whether or not that's true, I'm not certain, but anyway, it's a good tale.
And anyway, Santa Anna ran out of his tent and jumped on a horse and escaped in the middle of all of this, abandoned his men and headed across the prairies there outside on the plain of San Jacinto and then found some clothing in a farmhouse and changed and his put civilian clothes on over his uniform. And then the next day, there's this scouting party -- a Texas scouting party discovered this sort of short Mexican soldier hobbling across the plains and picked him up and were trying to make him walk back to the camp.
And Santa Anna, in his autobiography he said he couldn't do it. He was just too worn out from all of this and so they threatened to shoot him. And then a young enlisted man said he could ride on the back of his horse, so they put him up behind this enlisted man. And they went back into the camp still not knowing that they had found the Mexican president -- that this was Santa Anna -- until the Mexican troops all started shouting, “El Presidente, el Presidente,” and then they realized that they had Santa Anna. So they took him to Houston who, of course, had been wounded in the battle and was lying on his blanket under a tree. And Santa Anna, always arrogant, said he is born to no common destiny, the conqueror of the Napoleon of the West. And that was the first thing he said to Houston as he was lying there wounded on his blanket.
LAMB: How badly was Sam Houston wounded?
DeBRUHL: He was shot through the ankle, very seriously, actually. So much so that he had to be taken to New Orleans for medical treatment. But then Santa Anna -- the thing was to keep him alive as a great bargaining chip and then he did agree that there was another Mexican army not far away, you see. And the thing was to get this army to withdraw from Texas. And then Santa Anna dispatched messengers and they did withdraw from Texas or head back toward Mexico.
LAMB: One of the more difficult things to understand was eventually Santa Anna was freed and sent to Washington?
DeBRUHL: Well, the thing was the idea was to use -- as long as he was alive, they could use him as a bargaining chip, really, with the Mexicans to withdraw from Texas. And that worked. Then the other thing was that the plan eventually was they would return him to Mexico and he was so mischievous and it would help destablize the government and so Texas would not be threatened from that quarter again, which basically worked. He did go back, lived to fight another day. He was in and out of Mexican politics until he was a very, very old man and was president, I think, a dozen times or something like that, after this.
But the irony was when they sent him north, this butcher really, who had been so vilified and excoriated in the American press -- he went up north on a steamboat up the Mississippi, then the Ohio, then he had to -- at Louisville the river was blocked by ice, and so they had to take him in a carriage then. They went back down the river to Louisville and got in a carriage and went across country to Washington.
LAMB: In the middle of the winter?
DeBRUHL: In the middle of winter. And Houston had given him a great wool cloak to wear because he knew that he'd be cold in the North, and Santa Anna named the cloak Sam and he thanked him every day while he was here in Washington freezing in the winter of 1837. And so then he stayed here for quite a while and Jackson had a dinner for him with all the Cabinet assembled at the White House.
LAMB: Andrew Jackson.
DeBRUHL: Andrew Jackson had the Mexican butcher dictator to the White House. And finally even they got tired of him even here. I mean, you know, I think the attention span -- visiting celebrities are fine but it's time to send him home. And so they sent him on an American gun, battleship really -- the equivalent of a battleship in those days -- to Mexico. Then he landed at Veracruz and after a not long period began to meddle in the affairs of Mexico again, of course.
LAMB: Is there any way to relate the idea of Santa Anna coming to this town and being, you know, entertained by the president to today? I mean, would it be like Saddam Hussein coming here?
DeBRUHL: Roughly. Yeah. That’s a good analogy, actually. You know, the fact that here suddenly he's being entertained. I remember once when I -- years ago -- standing outside the Waldorf in New York watching Hirohito come out, and I remember when I was a little boy during the war thinking that would this ever have been possible? I remembered this man, of course, and here we were all standing in the middle of Park Avenue to watch the Japanese emperor come out of the Waldorf Astoria. And so perhaps it's the same kind of thing. Today's enemies are tomorrow's friends.
LAMB: You've got some photographs in here and I want to see if I can find some to show the audience. But before I do, if Sam Houston were sitting here, what would we be seeing? What kind of a person would he have been?
DeBRUHL: Well, I think you'd be seeing this -- what is it? -- people throw this expression “larger than life” around quite a bit, you know. And I think you'd be seeing -- this is the painting by Thomas Sully, the famous American painter. And you know the great story. Some woman in Nashville, Tennessee, once said that two types of people were drawn to Houston all his life, women and artists. And so Houston loved to be painted, loved to be photographed.
LAMB: What's this one?
DeBRUHL: This is a miniature of Houston as a young congressman here in Washington. But that's the earliest likeness of him, actually, that was done here when he was in the Congress about 1823.
LAMB: You know, you write a lot about his drinking.
DeBRUHL: Well, he was a heavy drinker. It was a serious problem and I'm not convinced his -- presumably his third wife sobered him up, but I'm not convinced of that as I say in the book. He drank bitters. I looked all this up to see -- you know, we all know -- I mean, bitters, whatever -- and it's 80 proof. It's the equivalent of bourbon, really, the stuff that he drank. And that's Sam as a senator, you know, late in life.
LAMB: Did he drink all his life?
DeBRUHL: I think he did. Well, up until maybe the last 10 years, because he had become sort of the darling of the temperance movement. You know, that was one of those things that swept the country for a while. And he made speeches on behalf of temperance later, but that was when he was -- oh, he was 60 years old by that time. And he had certainly had drunk up until his late 50s certainly, it seems to me.
LAMB: How old was he when he died?
DeBRUHL: He was 70 exactly. 18...
LAMB: Where did he die?
DeBRUHL: He died in Huntsville, Texas, in this rather eccentric house that they had rented. They had no money. They had land, like most Southerners. They were land poor. And they'd gone back there after he was deposed from the governorship of Texas, had moved back to Huntsville -- a place that he had liked and where they had lots of property. But it was a rented house -- this house called the Steamboat House. And this rather strange-looking building that looks like a Mississippi riverboat, really, and this eccentric man had built it in Houston. It appealed to Sam and so he rented it, and he and Margaret and their children were living in the house when he died.
LAMB: I want to ask you about all the jobs he had in government and all of his wives, but first I want to ask you about yourself. You're listed in here as living in North Carolina.
DeBRUHL: Half the time, yeah. Well, somebody said I live a third of the time in North Carolina and a third of the time on the interstate and I think a third of the time in the research libraries. We have our family house just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, so I'm living there most of the time.
LAMB: I want to show the audience who you dedicate this book to. There are three different people.
DeBRUHL: Exactly. Yes.
LAMB: Who's Gloria Jones?
DeBRUHL: Gloria Jones is the widow of James Jones, the great American novelist who wrote "From Here to Eternity" and "Thin Red Line" and books -- such books as that. And Gloria's my great friend from Easthampton. We actually worked together once at Doubleday. She was an editor also and so Gloria was the one who said to me, “Marshall, when are you going to write your book on Sam Houston?” Actually we were driving down the Long Island Expressway in New York and I was talking about this man and I had, I guess, bored her to death with it and she finally said to me, “Why don't you write this book,” and she actually introduced me to my editor at Random House, Bob Loomis.
LAMB: And who is Deane DeBruhl Blankenship?
DeBRUHL: That's my oldest sister. I'm the youngest of nine children and she's the oldest and she gave me her house in North Carolina on this lake -- Lake Lure in North Carolina, and she said to me -- she thought I was being a bit dilatory about it and one day she just loaded me up and took me down with my computer and word processor and notes and said, “Now here you are,” and almost locked me in the house, and I spent the next two years -- and also she's been a great help to me all my life -- of course, being the oldest child and I being the youngest child.
LAMB: Still alive?
DeBRUHL: Oh, yes, indeed. Indeed.
LAMB: All nine still alive?
DeBRUHL: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
LAMB: What's the age range?
DeBRUHL: From 72 to mid-50s.
LAMB: Where did you all grow up?
DeBRUHL: We grew up in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
LAMB: What'd your mom and dad do?
DeBRUHL: My mother was a housewife. My father was -- I think his greatest achievement was that he was a great labor organizer for the AFL-CIO and but then he went on the other side to management and working for an electrical construction company, but for years and years he was very much involved with the labor movement in America.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
DeBRUHL: I went to Duke -- in public schools in North Carolina, then later to Duke University.
LAMB: Where did you go after Duke?
DeBRUHL: I went to the United States Navy at officer candidate school and our paths didn't cross there but they almost could have.
LAMB: What did you do in the Navy?
DeBRUHL: I was in the naval security group in North Africa and stationed at Port Leodi, Morocco, and at Sidi Ier, Morocco. And then I came back and did the same thing up at Newport for two years.
LAMB: Then what?
DeBRUHL: Then I went to New York to go into book publishing which then it was a sort of an accidental profession. Nowadays people prepare for it a bit more, I think. I think there are actually courses in this, but there certainly weren't in those days, in the early '60s.
LAMB: Where did you work?
DeBRUHL: I worked first for the University of Pennsylvania Press as an editor, briefly. And then I went from there to Charles Scribner's Sons, and so I was at Scribner's for a very long time doing the history and biography and science and things like that for them for years and years. And then after that it was taken over by Macmillan and I left and I a little bit of time off and then went to work to be the editorial director of Anchor books at Doubleday and then decided to write, myself, so...
LAMB: When I saw your background and then I looked and it's Random House...
DeBRUHL: Random House. Right.
LAMB: Now how does that fit? I mean, did you ever work for Random House?
DeBRUHL: No, I didn't. Well, I think it's the premier publishing house in America. And then as I said, my friend Gloria Jones introduced me to Bob Loomis, this brilliant editor at Random House who has been so helpful to many, many authors. I mean, I'm in good company with him. He had Bill Styron and Dan Bornstein and any number of famous people, certainly, and so I felt like I was in very good company, indeed. But that's how I got to Random House was through Bob Loomis. But you left out the third one in my dedication. Are you coming to that?
LAMB: I had not forgotten. Oh, no. No. Liz Carpenter, yeah.
DeBRUHL: Liz Carpenter.
LAMB: You also dedicated this book to Liz Carpenter.
DeBRUHL: Right. These three graces I suppose you might -- my three muses and graces and Liz, of course, has been absolutely -- I met her through Shana Alexander, really, in Easthampton and she was up there renting a house for the summer. And so I was introduced to Liz and she invited me to come and stay in her guest house for two weeks and I wound up staying for months and months and...
LAMB: In Texas.
DeBRUHL: In Texas. In Austin -- the hill overlooking Austin, Texas. And so Liz and I became great pals, of course. Everybody's pals with Liz. I mean, you know, unless -- well, not Republicans but, I mean, all Democrats are pals with Liz.
LAMB: In the Random House material they sent out which is addressed to “Dear Interviewer,” I guess that's me.
LAMB: They've got all kinds of little goodies in here. It says, “Marshall DeBruhl, an intriguing speaker and teller of tall tales in the Texas tradition” and then it -- paren -- “Texas Governor Ann Richards and Lady Bird Johnson are both hosting dinners in his honor” -- paren -- “will bring to light the lessons today's politicians and, indeed, anyone can learn from Houston's life.” Did those parties happen?
DeBRUHL: They did, indeed. When I first went there, I met Mrs. Johnson. I was staying in Liz's little guest house and one morning -- I like to work late at night and work all night, really, and then sleep in the morning, and then get up and start again -- so one morning there was a knock on this door of this guest house where I was staying and so I just sort of groggily said, “Who is it?”
And I heard this wonderful voice -- soft Texas voice say, “Mr. DeBruhl, are you in there?” And I thought, “I've heard that voice before,” but I wasn't sure who it was and so I just went over to the door and I was really in my underwear and I opened the door and there stood Mrs. Johnson, who had come to invite me to dinner. She'd heard I was there and so she'd come to invite me to dinner. She'd driven over there. She lives not far from Liz. And so, of course, I ran back in and slammed the door and put on some clothes and came out much embarrassed. And she had brought this -- she had hand-delivered this invitation and it was amusing because, you know, I said, “Yes, I'd like to come.” And I went back in and I read on the invitation that she'd written, “Please come to dinner and you can come but only if you're going to make Sam a hero.” So she's a great fan of Sam Houston, as was her husband, of course. In fact, his brother was named after Sam Houston.
LAMB: What about Governor Richards?
DeBRUHL: Governor Richards has been wonderful to me in my trips to Texas. And she had a dinner for me two weeks ago at the governor's mansion and she's a wonderful person really. I think she's in the great tradition of Sam Houston. As a matter of fact, the night of the dinner at the governor's mansion in Austin, it was the exact night that Houston -- March 15th -- it was the exact night that he had spent all night struggling wrestling with his conscience about what to do about secession, and it was that very night that we were there for dinner. So Ann Richards asked me to read that page or two about that so we went into the library and read this piece, so it was very moving for me to be able to that in the very house where Houston had done this.
LAMB: What do you mean by secession?
DeBRUHL: Well, he had, of course, opposed secession, and anything that threatened to break up the Union Houston was absolutely opposed to, whether it was ..
LAMB: What year?
DeBRUHL: This was in 1863 -- no, I'm sorry, 1861. And he earlier had gone through the great battles with the nullifiers with Jackson in Washington in the 1830s, but then later, of course, this issue was not going to go away. I mean, the whole idea of, you know, the extension of slavery into the territories, so Houston, remember, had voted against the Kansas-Nebraska bill and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which made him anathema in Texas to the slaveholders certainly.
LAMB: Was he a slaveholder?
DeBRUHL: Yes, he was. He was. But he was opposed to extension of slavery and reopening of the slave trade and then, indeed, was convinced that it was a dying institution and was going to die out and felt it should be allowed to die out gradually. Because there were almost four million slaves in the South, but it was an issue that certainly was not going to go away. He went back to Texas and then was elected governor because the common people adored this man, of course, and they elected him governor of the state. But he still would not go along with the rest of the South in the secession movement and even refusing to call a secessionist convention till he was forced to do so. And then in March of 1861, just after the Lincoln inaugural, when everybody was seceding, of course, and he wrote this famous letter to the people of Texas that he could not and would not go along with this. And so the next day -- this was March 15th -- and the next day he was called in front of the Texas Legislature to swear an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, but he refused to leave his office and go up to swear the oath. And, of course, he was deposed from the governorship then, and went home to Huntsville.
LAMB: By the way, on the back of your book is this photograph.
LAMB: And you can't see it, but down here in little tiny letters is “Photo by Lamont DeBruhl.”
DeBRUHL: That's my cousin in North Carolina, a photographer in Asheville, North Carolina, and he is really a photographer, I think. I think he even managed to make me look fairly respectable in that picture. So, you see, this was a team effort. My sister locked me up in the house to write the book and my cousin came down to -- that picture is at the house in North Carolina and to take my picture. So we try to keep things in the family as much as possible.
LAMB: Did you make Sam Houston a hero when you went to Mrs. Johnson's?
DeBRUHL: Yes. Indeed. Indeed.
DeBRUHL: He is a great hero. He's one of these great American figures who deserves to be known more than he is, actually. I mean, people know who he is, I think. But I think what Americans don't realize, what a great national figure he was. For example, he was here in Washington for 13 years in the United States Senate. And the two great issues of the time or certainly the greatest issue of the time, of course, was secession and the slavery issue and, well, that's the great picture of by Mathew Brady of Sam. Brady photographed him several times and that's one of the pictures of him here as a senator here in Washington.
But he absolutely was adamant in his defense of the union, that we could not allow this great calamity to happen, and he warned the people of Texas what would happen to their young men and to their farms and plantations and the whole South, for that matter, if they pursued with this folly of secession. And Lincoln, of course, offered to send 50,000 troops into Texas to keep it in the Union and Houston refused to do that because there would be even more bloodshed if he had done that. He just wouldn't do it. But I think that puts him right up there with American heroes, in my estimation. And then the other one, of course, was his defense of the American Indians, his friends, the Native Americans, which he -- every chance he got he stood up on the floor of the Congress or the Texas Legislature or on speeches around the country to defend his friends, the Indians, and the fact that the whites should honor these treaties we'd made with them. And of course, we did not and we all know what happened there.
LAMB: Who was his first wife?
DeBRUHL: His first wife was a woman -- a young woman from Gallatin, Tennessee, named Eliza Allen, and she was the daughter of a prominent Tennessee family, and Houston was 36 years old; she was 20. And it was an arranged marriage. The family was very ambitious for their daughter. Remember, he was pretty much on the road, perhaps, to being president of the United States at that point. He was a young governor of Tennessee, had already served in the Congress of the United States. He was Andrew Jackson's protege and I think there was a very good chance, if this marriage hadn't derailed his political career in Tennessee, that he could have gone on and instead of James K. Polk, it might very well have been Sam Houston as president of the United States. Then there were other great Tennesseans like John Bell, for example, who was speaker of the House of Representatives. Jackson had surrounded himself with these brilliant, brilliant men, all from this from Tennessee, some of them born other places but all living in Tennessee, of course. And, in my opinion, what Jackson was trying to do was to replicate what had happened in Virginia except on what was considered the frontier of Tennessee, to have something -- what I refer to as the Tennessee dynasty, the way the Virginia dynasty came about with all those presidents.
LAMB: How long was he married to her?
DeBRUHL: He was married to her 11 weeks and he married her on January 22nd, 1829. Jackson had just been inaugurated president -- was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated and Houston stayed behind to marry in Nashville -- or in Gallatin, but the marriage collapsed almost immediately and then she left him in April of that year.
LAMB: What impact did that have on him?
DeBRUHL: Well, he resigned the governorship. He spent a week or so drinking in the Nashville inn where he was living in Nashville, Tennessee, and then wrote an eloquent and brilliant letter to the people of Tennessee resigning the office and then moving to the West to rejoin his Indian friends in the Arkansas territory, which is now Oklahoma. And he spent the next three years alternately in and out of Arkansas and here in Washington and drinking; married the daughter, the niece of the Cherokee chief Ulatika, as a matter of fact. That was his second wife, Tiana Rogers.
LAMB: How did he meet her?
DeBRUHL: He had met her earlier when they lived in Tennessee, east Tennessee, before the Indian removal to the West, or that group had moved to the West and he knew her father and her brothers. They were great friends of Houston's, when he had -- remember he had lived with the Indians once before. As a teen-ager, he had run away from home and lived with the Cherokees. And so then he just simply picked up with them again when he moved to the West, and then lived as man and wife, really. They lived together as man and wife near Ft. Gibson in what is now Oklahoma.
LAMB: How long were they married?
DeBRUHL: It would have been almost three years, from 1829 to 1832.
LAMB: Why did it end?
DeBRUHL: He left for Texas. He came here. You know, there was another great scandal when he beat up the congressman, Stanbery, from Ohio, who had libeled him on the floor of the House of Representatives and Houston beat him up on Pennsylvania Avenue and crippled him, really. And then they brought charges against him and Houston was arrested and tried before the House of Representatives, and it was then he left. You know, Jackson's famous comment when he'd heard that Houston had done this -- he said he wished he had more Houstons to cudgel the brains of Congress. And the Washington papers said, well, you know, the the school of Nashville has come to Washington, you know, this sort of way of settling arguments, to beat people up on Pennsylvania Avenue.
LAMB: Was he right in beating this man up?
DeBRUHL: Well, I think he misjudged his adversaries, I think. When Houston asked him to explain himself, when he had said that Houston had been involved in a fraudulent scheme to provide rations for the Indian removal, which was not true -- he was involved in trying to get the bid, yes, but it wasn't fraud. And so Houston asked him to explain himself and this man hid behind the privilege of the House and said he didn't even have to answer questions about this. You know, after all, he was a congressman and he didn't have to respond to this man at all. So Houston then ran into -- and then the congressman knew that Houston was perhaps after him and started carrying two pistols and indeed fired one of them at Houston on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it didn't go off. He put it against his chest and fired, but it didn't go off, while Houston was beating him with a stick.
And then the great trial in the House of Representatives which -- which became almost like the Oliver North hearings, that kind of thing. I mean, it just transfixed the country. Dispatches went out everywhere and all the papers were covering it and Iowa's Register. Finally, when it was all over, he said, somehow Sam Houston's trial is completed, and they were so sick of the whole thing because it had gone on for weeks.
LAMB: What decision did they make?
DeBRUHL: Well, he was guilty. But the night before he had been drinking with the speaker of the House, who was a friend of his, and James K. Polk and Daniel Webster and various other people were all his pals and they were all drinking at the hotel here in Washington. And then the next day Houston was -- it was just a minor reprimand. But then he was taken before a judge here in Washington and fined $500 which later Jackson remitted and pardoned Houston. In all the time -- and also Jackson bought him his suit to wear to the Congress to be tried before the House and put him up at the White House, so it was pretty much -- I mean, he had friends in high places, certainly. But then, as I say, Jackson later remitted the fine and pardoned him so he didn't pay the $500.
LAMB: You say he left his wife. Where he leave her?
DeBRUHL: You mean the Indian wife?
LAMB: The second wife.
DeBRUHL: She stayed behind in the Arkansas territory near Ft. Gibson. And she died not long after that actually and...
LAMB: At what age? What was their difference in age?
DeBRUHL: It's hard to tell. Again, she was much younger. Somebody remarked once -- in fact, I may even remarked it myself that Houston loved to drink and run around with older men but he always married young women. And I think that all of his friends are older; his male friends were much older than he and mentors, really. But he always was attracted to young, very, very young women. And she, interestingly enough, she's buried in the officers' circle at the Ft. Gibson national cemetery in Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma.
LAMB: She was an Indian?
DeBRUHL: She was an Indian, yes -- mixed, of course. Her father was a Scotch trader actually, so she was predominantly white, actually. Most of those Indian leaders were at that time, strangely enough, and slave owners, too. She owned some slaves, actually, but she died about 1840, 1837, somewhere in there. But then later they moved her body to the officers' circle in this cemetery about 1900.
LAMB: Any children by the first or second wife?
DeBRUHL: No children by the first. Again, there are all these stories about Houston's Indian sons and daughters and there may be some truth to that. Certainly I ran across some letters in the research from Indian boys in Indian school in Pennsylvania, for example, that were addressing him “Dear Father.” Now, of course, that was an Indian honorific, too. When they would write letters, they would say, “Dear Father,” you know, especially to the president or the president of Texas or whatever. So it's hard to tell if these were actually Sam's sons. There's every chance that they were, of course, because he had been around quite a bit by that time, you know.
LAMB: Third wife?
DeBRUHL: Third wife, Margaret Moffett Lea, an Alabama belle from Marion, Alabama. And when Houston was wounded at the battle of San Jacinto and was taken to New Orleans for medical treatment, and he arrived in this very dramatic entrance as he arrived in New Orleans on the steamboat, and this young girl -- she was 17 then. She was...
LAMB: How old was he?
DeBRUHL: He was 40. Well, then he was 43. And so she was on the pier in New Orleans. She was visiting family in New Orleans and she saw him and was taken with him. Then three years later, met him and married him in Alabama when he was visiting there. But he was 46 and she was 20.
LAMB: What kind of a marriage was it?
DeBRUHL: Well, it was a very happy one. Of course, I sat down once with a calculator and figured out actually how much time they spent together, and it wasn't a whole hell of a lot in the years they were married because he would be in Washington sometimes as much as 10 months out of the year. Then when you put in the travel time to Texas in those days and back, he didn't see her very often. But it was obviously a great love match. You read their letters -- I mean, there are hundreds of letters and they had these eight children, the youngest of whom was only two when Houston died at age 70 -- Temple Lea Houston. But she was clearly in love with her husband. She was a very beautiful young woman really and a very religious -- extremely religious Baptist and certainly a teetotaler.
There's a great story when Margaret had a breast tumor and she needed to be operated on. Of course, there was no anesthetic or anything in those days so that Asheville Smith, Sam's great friend, who was the doctor in Texas who was going to operate to take remove this tumor and she wouldn't even take any whiskey because it was just so against her religion and so she literally bit down on a bullet while they removed this thing. So she was a woman of some strength, clearly.
LAMB: The material that tells us about your book, they say that the biggest new thing in here are 5,000 new letters.
DeBRUHL: There was a great collection. Andrew Jackson Houston, one of Houston's sons, became the family historian really and he kept Sam's correspondence and all of the letters. And so these things are in the Texas state archives, this great collection of letters. And it had not been systematically gone through until I actually did it and there was some extraordinary things in there. I mean, for example, I ran across James Bonham's letter offering his services to the Republic of Texas. The original letter was in this file. Houston's -- his own personal correspondence, of course.
But what I found most interesting were letters to him from people, often not friendly at all. He had quite a few enemies, of course. But there was one letter in particular that was so touching; I think it gives you some idea of the humanity of this great man. There was a letter from a woman from Tennessee and she was asking about her son, who was missing, and that she hadn't heard from him in months and months. He had gone to fight for the Texans in the revolution. And in the bottom of the letter, Houston had written -- I learned to recognize his handwriting from 100 paces after I read so much of it -- and at the bottom of the letter, in his unmistakable handwriting, he'd written in, “Answer this kindly,” because he had had his men check on this and her boy, who was about 17, had been killed at Goliad in that terrible massacre. So then Houston wrote her this very gentle letter, almost like the letter Lincoln wrote to the woman who'd lost so many sons.
So there were a lot of things like that and just day after day I would go through this and read these extraordinary documents and often they were also very funny. I mean, he could be -- you know, he was a great wit. He was a great storyteller and used all of these wonderful Southern expressions and things. I loved it when he said to Asheville Smith he was going to run for governor of Texas and he said, you know, “We've got to be up and up and doing till the last minute.” He said, “Remember, it's the long pole that gets the persimmon,” and I must say, when I put that in my manuscript, one of the copy editors had no idea what that meant so I had to explain what persimmons were and you had to use a pole to get them down -- such things as that, but I enjoyed those things -- the thought of that anyway.
LAMB: Again, back to this publicity letter signed by Becky Simpson, the senior publicist at Random House.
DeBRUHL: Oh, yes. My good friend. Indeed, we're good friends now certainly. And ...
LAMB: This paragraph intrigued me. I wanted to ask you about it. “DeBruhl also points to many of America's most influential figures in the media and in politics, from Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Liz Smith to Ross Perot and George Bush, who are all Texans and living proof that the bold spirit for which Sam Houston was famous lives on.” It didn't mention Lyndon Johnson.
DeBRUHL: Well, these were people who were alive, I think. Is that right?
LAMB: Ross Perot, George Bush, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Liz Smith -- I guess so.
DeBRUHL: I'm letting Becky off here.
LAMB: Is there something special about Texas and...
DeBRUHL: I think there is. There is this -- Liz and I have talked about this at great length. I talked to Mrs. Johnson and Ann and all these people. There is something special. I think it's the enormous amount of room that people have -- that's why they're expansive. You look out and you see this great sky and plains and prairies and things and people are often -- I think they're more expansive. But I think also Sam left this heritage. He became the embodiment of Texas and I think people have tried to live up to that, too, because he was here in Washington for so long -- 13 years -- and people, when they thought of Texas, they were saying -- it was Sam Houston -- they were so inextricably bound, I think, the two ideas of Sam Houston and Texas. So that he lived here at Willard Hotel and when he left and...
LAMB: You mean The Willard?
DeBRUHL: It’s the same spot.
LAMB: Same ...
DeBRUHL: It's the same place, yeah. And so he lived there for years and years, and certainly I found it interesting, he kept six canaries in the room and things -- I don't know. And he put cards around the room. “My bedtime is 9:00 and I expect everyone to be out of the room by 9:00,” when he had company, you know, this kind of thing. But he was a little eccentric. But then when he left, it took three days for people to come by and tell him goodbye. I think half of Washington came by to tell him goodbye, and they realized how much they were going to miss this great man. And I think this image of Texas, he is largely responsible for that. And people in Texas, of course, have been busily living up to it ever since -- you know, the flamboyance -- but I think with great integrity, too. And also all these great Texans, they listen to people. They really like to -- they love stories, they love to tell stories, but mainly to listen to stories.
LAMB: You call him a hero and a great man and I just want to relate that to today. Your book is full of stories of his serious drinking problems, maybe drugs -- opium.
DeBRUHL: Yes. Yes, indeed.
LAMB: Married three times, all to very young women, and a couple -- in one case at least, he left her.
LAMB: Slave owner ...
LAMB: Owned slaves of his own.
LAMB: I think you know where I'm going with this.
DeBRUHL: I see, yes. I see...
LAMB: How do you...
DeBRUHL: I don't know how I'm going to get myself out of this corner, but go ahead.
LAMB: Well, but so often when we look back at the past, we see the same connections, the same kind of things: illegitimate children, drinking problems, slave owners. How do we justify calling those folks heroes today?
DeBRUHL: Well, I think -- you know, I'm not going to use this thing about, you know, judging people from the time because there were many people of that time who were certainly abolitionists, and so I think we can judge people by their times indeed. But Houston's greatness lay in two things. One was this defense of the Union, the fact that we must not secede and we must not allow this terrible war to happen. And he warned about this all for years and years and, of course, it happened certainly, as we all know. The other one was the fact that we really must honor our commitments to the Indians, the Native Americans, and do what's right by these people. And those were the two great guiding lights, it seems to me, in his life that really made him a great man.
Now the slavery issue, obviously -- even Charles Sumner, the abolitionist senator from Massachusetts, said that he and Sam were in agreement about this or they had found a lot to agree on. They liked each other, actually. And so I felt if Houston -- if there'd been more Southerners like Sam Houston, maybe we could have headed off the Civil War -- unlikely, but -- because I think it was one of those things that had to play itself out. It was just -- we were just headed toward that cliff or going over that waterfall. There was not much we could do to avert that. The seeds had been sown in the 18th century to have this terrible war. And the slaves simply had to be freed. I mean, there was no way out of that. It had to be done.
LAMB: Let me ask you, though, in the history -- where there any of them -- any of these great historical figures that said, “I believe so strongly in the abolition of slavery that I'm going to let my slaves go free.” It seems like almost all of them said, “Well, when I die, I'll let them free.”
DeBRUHL: The only one of the founding fathers who freed his slaves was George Washington. And he did free several of them and then the others were tied in with his wife's estate, but then they were to be freed when she died. But he was the only one who did really. There’s a great story about Thomas Jefferson, he freed his slaves. Of course, that's not true. He had 200 and I think it was 67 or 87 slaves when he died, and he freed five of those men or maybe women but only five out of this enormous number of people that he had at Monticello. And the other problem, of course, about freeing slaves in those days was that they had nowhere to go because in Virginia they had the slave codes, of course, that freed slaves could not live in Virginia. Texas had that except Houston would not enforce it when he was president of Texas and governor of Texas. He wouldn't enforce that law. They passed this terrible law that even freed slaves either had to leave the state or else go back into bondage. And he didn't -- but he didn't enforce that. He put off enforcing that.
LAMB: How has the reaction, in your opinion, been to your book, "Life of Sam Houston"?
DeBRUHL: Very -- oh, it's been very good, indeed, you know.
LAMB: Any surprises along the way?
DeBRUHL: Well, I think I'm always surprised by some of the provincialism, perhaps. People don't realize he was a great national figure. I think that's the thing that surprises me to some degree. But I've been trying to right that one. One amusing thing happened -- well, there are many, many amusing things. I remember once sitting at a dinner party with this for a very long time. You know how you can have a conversation with somebody and you're talking about two entirely different things, but it works? You know, they say something and you say something and you think that you're in total consonance and agreement. And finally, after about 15 minutes, this woman at a dinner party turned to me and said, “Have you ever met his daughter Anjelica? You must talk to her.” And I realized that she, of course, was talking about the great film director. And so those were the surprises like that you see, but I think that no, generally not. I think it's been gratifying the number of fans, I guess, to use this word, that this man has in this country and people realize what an extraordinary man he was.
LAMB: Kind of as a recap -- and I wrote them down at the beginning and you can fill in the blanks here. He ran for Congress first in 1823 in Tennessee.
DeBRUHL: Yes, in Tennessee.
LAMB: How many terms did he spend in Congress?
DeBRUHL: Two terms. And then Jackson asked him to come home and run for governor of the state, which he did.
LAMB: And he won?
DeBRUHL: He won, indeed, yes.
LAMB: Governor of the state of Tennessee.
LAMB: For how long?
DeBRUHL: He served one term and then in the middle -- this marriage fell apart as the election was beginning for the second term.
LAMB: And he fled?
DeBRUHL: He fled to Arkansas, yes. The Arkansas...
LAMB: How long was he in Arkansas?
DeBRUHL: Three years.
LAMB: And then where?
DeBRUHL: Then to Texas in 1832 -- December of 1832.
LAMB: And the battle of San Jacinto that you write about was in 1836.
DeBRUHL: 1836, yes. April 21st. It's coming up in two days, yes.
LAMB: And in 1836 he was elected president of Texas.
DeBRUHL: President of Texas. The first ...
LAMB: Now what did that mean being president of Texas?
DeBRUHL: Well, it was a separate nation, the Republic of Texas, so he was the first elected president of Texas. And then in three years he was elected to the second term.
LAMB: But he lost out in the middle.
DeBRUHL: Well, no, in the middle -- well, no, they couldn't succeed themselves, you see.
LAMB: I see.
DeBRUHL: But he ran for the Texas Congress and served in the Congress in that time, you see, so he didn't go away at all. He was in the Congress, again standing up every chance he got to get them to ratify the treaties with the Indians and give them their land.
LAMB: The United States annexed Texas in 1845.
LAMB: He was elected by the state Legislature in 1847 to the United States Senate for how many ...
LAMB: I'm sorry. Oh, he actually took -- well, no. Well, never mind. My figures are wrong.
LAMB: How long did he -- you say he spent 13 years there.
DeBRUHL: He spent two terms, yeah. He was into the second -- first he was re-elected and then he spent 13 years in the Senate, '46 to '59. And then because of his vote against the Kansas-Nebraska bill -- see, he'd just been re-elected so he was determined to serve out that term, even though they wanted him to come home and he was being vilified by so many people in Texas for this vote against the Kansas-Nebraska bill, that he stayed in Washington.
LAMB: In the beginning of your book you have a little saying of Sam Houston's and I'll show the audience but I'll read it first. "I have sought not to live in vain."
LAMB: Where did that come from and why did you choose that?
DeBRUHL: He had been asked, or people were forever talking about doing biographies of Houston and so he in a letter to a prospective biographer, he said, “Your idea of writing a book about me interests me and I have not sought to live in vain.” And I think, as I say also in the introduction, I think that a biography would be looked upon with interest. And so I think that it's certainly to my way of thinking it was and I just thought that that was a sort of wonderful epigram for him. You know, “I have not sought to live in vain,” and then as I've said in speeches around the country of this thing and he did not. He certainly did not live in vain.
LAMB: You have another book in you?
DeBRUHL: Well, there's a lot of talk about Andrew Jackson and any researcher, historian or biographer, when you work on something like this, the great problem, of course, are digressions. You know, you come across somebody or something and you start reading and reading and reading and Jackson was the man and I've become almost besotted by Jackson. I found him to be this fascinating person, so perhaps that might be the next thing.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's "The Sword of San Jacinto: The Life of Sam Houston" by Marshall DeBruhl. Thank you very much for joining us.
DeBRUHL: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.