Sam Houston was a friend to Cherokee people
Sam Houston is the only American to serve as governor of two states – Tennessee and Texas. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – As a young man, Samuel Houston developed a relationship with Cherokee people that would last most of his life. He was given the Cherokee name, Kolana or Raven.
Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on March 2, 1793, Houston and his family migrated to Maryville, Tennessee, when he was 16. After this, Houston became acquainted with the Cherokee and began a life-long relationship with them.
He served under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. With Jackson’s support, Houston won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1823 and then served as the Tennessee governor from October 1827 to April 1829. In 1829, after divorcing, Houston resigned from office and joined his Cherokee friends in Arkansas Territory.
“Sam Houston’s time with the Cherokee changed him for the better. He was an officially adopted Cherokee,” said Joy Montgomery who co-authored the book “Sam Houston’s Quest: The Cherokee and African-American Virtue Agenda” with her father Robin Montgomery. “From growing up with the Cherokee he, like few of his time, could walk between two worlds in full understanding of both. It made him see the world through a different lens – he was both a part of and part ‘foreign’ to both worlds. I would like to think he gained the best of both worlds and could also better see the flaws – most importantly he was an ambassador for the Cherokee.”
Houston may be best known as a Texan and a soldier. He settled in Texas in 1832 and played a pivotal role in the Texas Revolution to gain independence from Mexico. He served as the first and third president of the Republic of Texas, and was one of the first two individuals to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate in 1846. He was elected the seventh governor of Texas in December 1859, becoming the only American to be elected governor of two states.
After the Battle of Gonzales between Mexican and Texas forces in October 1835, he helped organize Texas’s provisional government and was selected as the top-ranking official in the Texan army. He led that army to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836, the decisive battle in Texas’s war for independence against Mexico.
“On the eve of the Texas Revolution, just prior to the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence, he went to be with the Cherokee,” Montgomery said. “Looking at his strategy at the battle of San Jacinto – I would claim that it was due to his time with the Cherokee that he won that battle and that Texas owes a great deal of gratitude to the Cherokee. I do (claim) as well as 13 of my family members who were at that battle.”
She said when Texas was looking to secede from Mexico, Houston was declaring that if Texas must secede it secede back to a Republic and claim Mexico as a protectorate. He was still trying to find lands for the Cherokee, and she said Principal Chief John Ross and Houston tried to work with Mexico for lands for the Cherokee.
“The time that he enjoyed most was being with the Cherokee. It was where he felt most at home and most himself,” she said. “He was constantly fighting for rights of the Cherokee and Native Americans. He fought against corrupt Indian agents and broken treaties.”
Later, Houston played a key role in the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845. He also joined the Democratic Party and supported President James K. Polk’s prosecution of the Mexican–American War.
As the governor of Texas, he opposed secession and unsuccessfully sought to keep Texas out of the Confederate States of America. He was forced out of office in 1861 and afterwards his health declined. He died on July 26, 1863, at age 70. A Cherokee village was located near his home where he died in Huntsville, Texas, Montgomery said.
The fourth most populous city in the United States, Houston, is named in his honor. Other sources: Haley, James L. (2002) “Sam Houston,” University of Oklahoma Press; Williams, John H. (1994) “Sam Houston: Life and Times of Liberator of Texas an Authentic American Hero,” Simon and Schuster