I feel certain that the great Sam Houston had no idea that he was being prepared for unique diplomacy when he ran away from home and lived with the Cherokees. Claud W. Garner’s biography of the legendary frontiersman explains that Houston had a lot of trouble with his older brother at their Tennessee homestead after their father left. The difficulties became so intense that, in his teens, Sam walked away and more or less became Native American. In “Sam Houston: Texas Giant,” Garner explains that the chief of the Cherokee nation adopted Houston as a son and gave him the name of “The Raven,” a moniker by which he was known among all the Cherokees and many of the other tribes. He became fluent in the Cherokee language and way of life.
When he rejoined Anglo-Saxon life, he became friends with General Andrew Jackson and remained his friend when the latter became president. Old Hickory used his friend in many negotiations with the Native American tribes and, on at least one occasion, The Raven brought chiefs to Washington, D.C., himself in full regalia. In fact, he made a gift of his royal Cherokee clothing to the president.
As I started out to write, Houston didn’t know that his sojourn among the Cherokees would bear fruit. But it certainly did. Even when he was in the great Texas conflicts, he was often called upon to negotiate with tribes north of the Red River, mainly Choctaw, which were raiding settlers in Texas. The Raven proved he was able to think in tribal terms and give them what they wanted while preserving the interests of Texas and the U.S. Thus, the training he received as a teenager prepared him to be independent, sly, perseverant and determined. Without these qualities, his small army would never have defeated Santa Anna’s huge army at San Jacinto and won Texas.
One interesting feature that Garner points out in his book is that Houston learned from his mistakes. At one point in his life, when he was living in Arkansas, he gave himself over to alcohol, so much so that the Native Americans began to call him not The Raven but The Big Drunk. After he actually hit his adoptive father, the Cherokee chief, in a drunken rage, he felt so disgraced that he gave up fire water altogether. Later, Garner reports, he learned to drink like a gentleman. So, what I take away from this is that we are constantly being prepared in some way for destiny. As you think back on your life, you can doubtless see many episodes that seemed inconsequential at the time, but that taught you a great deal and prepared you for later endeavors. We should always learn from our mistakes and roll with the punches.
Author Claud Garner lived next door to the old Methodist church in Washington, Arkansas for a while back in the 1940’s. In fact he inscribed the book on Sam Houston to the late Mary Margaret Haynes, a dedicated scholar and award-winning teacher of Washington, Arkansas, a dear friend of ours. (The book referenced was published in 1969 by The Naylor Company of San Antonio. I found it at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives in Washington.)