ROLL CALL OF TEXAS HEROES – SIDNEY SHERMAN- HIS FLAG AND BATTLE CRY

ROLL CALL OF TEXAS HEROES – SIDNEY SHERMAN- HIS FLAG AND  BATTLE CRYScreen Shot 2013-12-24 at 12.18.13 PM

It would be interesting to know just what percentage of the residents of the present day city of Sherman, Texas or Sherman county  would be able to give an account of the life and times of Sidney Sherman , for whom both were named.     More interesting yet would be a sampling of faculty and students at Austin College or the public school system for that matter.  Forgetting the town of Sherman for that moment, we could with interest broaden the search to the asking of two simple questions about the Texas Revolution and  the battle of San Jacinto in particular.  Most Texans today are familiar with the famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo” but few are apt to know just who it was that first said it and where he was at the time and under what battle flag he was  fighting.  These seemingly insignificant details play an important role in weaving into the  history of the battle  a  vivid picture of the events of the day, as well as some of the more colorful aspects. .

THE SAN JACINTO BATTLE FLAG

There were many flags used by units of the Texian Army at many different engagements.  Since there had not even been a formal Texas government in existence prior to the Washington on the Brazos convention, if follows that there was no official flag.  The  Liberty flag shown above is generally associated with the Battle of San Jacinto. It is believed that the artist who drew it was James Henry Baird.  It was presented to Sidney Sherman’s 51 man company of Newport, Kentucky volunteers as they departed for Texas with Sherman’s new bride Katherine Isabel Cox making the presentation.  Cincinnati was evidently very much in sympathy with the cause of Texas Liberty as thousands saw the party off as they departed by steamboat.  The flag was not all they carried that was of special note.

In November 1835, at a public meeting, a  number of Cincinnatians and Northern Kentuckians pledged funding for ammunition and weapons (including the two artillery pieces later famous as the “Twin Sisters” of the Battle of San Jacinto). They left via riverboat to start their journey for Texas on January 6, 1836.  Sidney Sherman was captain of the company, which called itself the “Kentucky Rifles.” Local citizens helped fund uniforms as well as donating  the Liberty Flag.

Flying the flag, Sherman’s regiment joined up with Houston at Gonzales, just after the fall of the Alamo.  They were together throughout the “runaway scrape” to San Jacinto.

On March 12, many of the new volunteers for the army joined with Sam Houston and were organized into one regiment, with Edward Burleson elected colonel and Sherman his lieutenant. With volunteers still streaming into Texas, enough men were recruited to fill out a second regiment. On April 8, the army was reorganized and the Second Regiment formed with Sherman as its colonel, though his old company remained in the First Regiment. Sherman was in command of the far left flank of Houston’s army during the charge at San Jacinto. He led his troops at the Battle of San Jacinto, and they are generally credited as first uttering the famous war cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” 

The flag itself was returned to Mrs. Sherman in Frankfort, Kentucky in August of 1836.  It was accompanied by the following letter;

Velasco, 

August 5, 1836, 

War Department

This stand of colors which was presented by the ladies of Newport, Kentucky, to Captain Sidney Sherman, is the same which triumphantly waved on the memorable field of San Jacinto, and is by the government presented to the lady of Colonel Sidney Sherman as a testimonial of his gallant conduct on that occasion. 

A.Somerville (signed), Secretary of War.    David G. Burnet (approved)”

This letter gives strong historical evidence that the subject flag was, indeed, the one used at San Jacinto.  The flag was kept for years by the family and returned to Texas in a ceremony held in the House of Representatives in 1933.  The last living daughter of Sidney Sherman witnessed the ceremony.  It was placed in the custody of the Daughters of the Texas Revolution and later placed in a glass case behind the speaker’s podium in the House of Representatives in Austin. Attempts at restoration over the years are feared to have altered the features of this faded old banner. Representative Anderson secured funds for restoration in 1932-3.  Another restoration was done in 1989, but in both cases it was a difficult job of recreating fragments to place over fragile fragments.  The result that exists today may well be reminiscent of some of the legendary  paradoxes of history such as the  Paradox of Theseus Ship*, Trigger’s Broom or George Washington’s axe.  All of these speak of the unintended consequences of ongoing  restorations.    It is now displayed from the backside where features are more discernable.

 

 

 

 

SIDNEY SHERMAN – THE LATER YEARSScreen Shot 2013-12-24 at 12.20.07 PM

 

In August of 1836, Sherman became colonel of the cavalry of the new Republic of Texas and returned home to Kentucky to recruit more men for the Texas army.  For his services in the revolution  he was  granted large tracts of land by a grateful legislature.  When he returned to Texas in December, he brought his wife and her 11 year old brother back with him and settled near San Jacinto Bay.  Other family members soon settled nearby.  Sherman served in the role of cavalry commander until mid-December of 1837.

Sherman was a member of the Texas House of Representatives, from Harris county from  November 4, 1842 to January 17, 1843.  He introduced a bill providing for the election of a Major General of Militia for the  frontier, which passed over the veto of Sam Houston.  Thomas Rusk assumed the position with Sherman his  successor in mid-1843.

After  annexation, Sherman moved to Harrisburg and with the financial support of investors bought the town and the local railroad company. The town was laid out anew, and he organized the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company, which constructed the first rail line in the state. In 1852 Sherman was among the passengers when the steamer Farmer burst its boilers; he was saved by clinging to a piece of wreckage. In 1853 the Harrisburg sawmill, owned by Sherman and DeWitt Clinton Harris, was burned. After his residence also burned, Sherman sent his family to Kentucky, and he moved into the railroad office at Harrisburg. Then that office burned. Sherman was keeping the Island City Hotel in Galveston when the Civil War came. Appointed commandant of Galveston by the Secession Convention, he performed his duties ably until he became ill and retired to his home on San Jacinto Bay. A son, Lt. Sidney Sherman, was killed in the battle of Galveston. David Burnet Sherman, the remaining son, died after the family moved to Richmond, and Mrs Sherman died in 1865. Sherman spent his last years in Galveston. He died there at the home of his daughter, Mrs. J. M. O. Menard, on August 1, 1873. Sherman County and the city of Sherman in Grayson County are named in  honor of Sidney Sherman, the man who brought the flag and raised the battle cry, Remember the Alamo at San Jacinto.

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

 

Walter Nathaniel Bate, General Sidney Sherman, Texas Soldier, Statesman, and Builder (Waco: Texian Press, 1974).

Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932).

William Fairfax Gray, From Virginia to Texas, 1835 (Houston: Fletcher Young, 1909, 1965). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941).

Frank X. Tolbert, The Day of San Jacinto (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton press.

 

*A perennial problem of restoration is well explained by the paradox of Theseus’ ship.  In Greek mythology, the Hero , Theseus, sails to Crete and kills the Minotaur.  To honor this noble achievement, the Greeks had a practice for years of sailing Theseus ship for port calls throughout the Aegean sea.  Eventually a rotten plank had to be replaced, then another, then a sail, then a beam until finally there was not a single original piece left – but it was still Theseus’ ship.  The same for George Washington’s axe.  First the handle and then the head had to be replaced but it was still George Washington’s axe.   I expect these stories were told and retold by those involved in the multiple attempts at restoring Sherman’s flag.

 

THE “TWIN SISTERS” AND THE MAN WHO FIRED THEM

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 12.26.29 PMPerhaps there are those of you who can remember the little “comic books” entitled “Texas History Movies” put out by the Magnolia Petroleum Company.  These cleverly written and illustrated little books were a prime source of Texas history for school kids all over Texas. They had a unique way of making history entertaining which was tantamount to heresy in academic circles.  I can still vividly recall a lot of those cartoon like panels.  One in particular dealt with the charge of the Texans at San Jacinto.  It depicted two cannons firing at the enemy over the heads of the charging Texas infantry and had one soldier yelling “Ain’t them sisters sweet?!”  Albeit interesting, that was my first and only introduction to this unusual battery of artillery that played a prominent role in the battle.   Needless to say, we had no idea of the men who were actually firing them and how they came to be there.

Back in those halcyon days of high school in West Texas in the late 40’s,  we of the mighty Olton Mustangs played those devil Levelland Lobos in Friday night football.   I doubt if there was a player on either side who would have known anything at all about George Washington Hockley.   He was the chap whose role in the stream of Texas History as the commander of artillery at the Battle of San Jacinto  resulted in Hockley County, for which Levelland is the seat, being named after him.   Heck, we didn’t even know anything about George Lamb, for whom our own county was named.   Perhaps not relevant, but certainly worth noting was the tendency in those days to always entrust the teaching of history to the football coach.   It was felt that, since the rules required him to teach one academic subject, that he could do the least harm there but that is a matter for another time.  It is one of the  purposes of the current series of articles on the Texas Revolution to put a face on several of these heroes, many of whose names survive only in the names of County Seats whose residents, for the most part, have little awareness of who they really were and what they did to get a county named for them.  One tends to think of these Texans as crude, brawling, heavy drinkers.   One of the more pleasant surprises is the awareness that many were well educated men of property and accomplishments. Perhaps this is not too surprising since town drunks and brawlers are not noted for leadership in  winning wars and founding Republics.  I ask the readers pardon for departing briefly from the story line by introducing you to the man for whom my own home county was named.

George Lamb(1814–1836)  was a participant in the battle of San Jacinto  He  was born in Laurens District, South Carolina, on October 3, 1814. Orphaned as a child, he made his home with a family named Bankhead and accompanied one of the sons, Richard, to Texas in 1834. There they established a farm in the western part of what is now Walker County. When Bankhead died on January 17, 1835, Lamb remained to care for his family. Lamb married Bankhead’s widow, Sarah, on June 27, 1835, and adopted his two young children. He joined Capt. William Ware‘s Company D of Col. Sidney Sherman‘s Second Regiment, Texas Volunteers, on March 12, 1836, and was elected second lieutenant. He was killed in action on April 21, 1836, at San Jacinto. Lamb County was named in his honor in 1876.

 

 

                              THE STORY OF THE “TWIN SISTERS”.

 

On November 17, 1835, after Francis Smith convinced the people of Cincinnati, Ohio, to aid the cause of the Texas, the Ohioans began raising funds to procure two cannons and their attendant equipment for Texas. Since the United States was taking an official stance of neutrality toward the rebellion in Texas, the citizens of Cincinnati referred to their cannon as “hollow ware.” Two guns, probably six pounders, were manufactured at the foundry of Greenwood and Webb in Cincinnati and then shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans. William Bryan, an agent of the Republic of Texas in New Orleans, took official possession of the guns on March 16, 1836. From New Orleans the guns were placed on the schooner Pennsylvania and taken to Galveston Island.

 

For some reason they were not accompanied by their limbers and ammunition, perhaps because the dangerous military situation in the republic did not allow for any delays. The cannons arrived in Galveston at the beginning of April 1836. On board the Pennsylvania was the family of Dr. Charles Rice, who was moving to Texas. Upon arrival in Galveston the guns were presented to representatives of Texas under the sponsorship of Dr. Rice’s twin daughters, Elizabeth and Eleanor. Someone in the crowd made notice of the fact that there were two sets of twins in the presentation, the girls and the guns, and thus the cannons became the Twin Sisters.

 

After several unsuccessful attempts to get the Twin Sisters to the Texas army under Sam Houston, which was retreating  before the forces of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna in the runaway scrape, the Twins finally reached the army on April 11, 1836.  A thirty-man artillery “corps” was immediately formed to service the guns, the only artillery with the Texas army, and placed under the command of Lt. Col. James Clinton Neill.  Only nine days later the Twin Sisters saw their first action during a skirmish between the armies of Houston and Santa Anna on April 20. In this fight Neill was wounded, and command of the guns passed to George W. Hockley.

 

The next day, April 21, 1836, saw the battle of San Jacinto and the securing of fame for the Twin Sisters. That afternoon near the banks of Buffalo Bayou, the Texas army struck at Santa Anna’s unsuspecting troops. The Twins were probably near the center of the Texans’ line of battle and ten yards in advance of the infantry. Their first shots were fired at a distance of 200 yards, and their fire was credited with helping to throw the Mexican force into confusion and significantly aiding the infantry attack.

 

During this battle the Twins fired handfuls of musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes, as this was the only ammunition the Texans had for the guns. Among the crews serving the guns were several men who later made prominent names for themselves in Texas history, including Benjamin McCulloch, a future Confederate general who helped bring the Twins back from oblivion in 1860. In 1840 the Twins were reported to have been moved, along with other military stores, to Austin, where on April 21, 1841, they were fired in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto. When Sam Houston was inaugurated as president of the republic that year, the twins were fired as Houston kissed the Bible after taking the oath of office.

 

Little is known about them after this. In 1845 Texas was annexed by the United States. Under the terms of annexation the state was to cede to the federal government “all fortifications, barracks, ports and harbors, navy and navy yards, docks, magazines, arms, armaments, and all other property and means pertaining to the public defense.” Historians have questioned whether the Twin Sisters, which were by 1845 considered to be historical relics with little military value, were in fact turned over to the United States. But evidence indicates that they were, and certainly the government of Texas and its citizens believed that they had been. All Texas military stores were removed to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge, including the Twins, and there they remained unnoticed and neglected for fifteen years.

 

Then came the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession crisis. Even before Texas called the Secession Convention, men were beginning to think about preparing for war. McCulloch, recalling his service with the Twin Sisters at San Jacinto, thought that these guns should once again be on Texas soil. He wrote to Governor Houston informing him of the current status of the Twins. Houston agreed and wrote to the United States secretary of war asking for the return of the Twins. Before action could be taken on this matter, however, Texas had seceded from the Union. The Texas Secession Convention appointed a commission to ask Louisiana for the return of the Twin Sisters, but inquiries showed that the cannons had been sold to a foundry in Baton Rouge as scrap iron some years before. George Williamson, commissioner for Louisiana to the state of Texas, discovered that one of the guns was still at the foundry, although in poor condition, and that the other had been bought by a private citizen in Iberville Parish. Having found the cannons, Williamson asked the Louisiana legislature to purchase and repair them before presenting them to the state of Texas. The Louisianans passed an appropriation of $700 to “procure the guns, mount the same in a handsome manner,” and forward them to Texas. The guns arrived on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of their original firing.

 

The Twins next appeared during the battle of Galveston, January 1, 1863. Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, son of Texas revolutionary hero Sidney Sherman, was killed while in command of one of the Twin Sisters at that battle. After the recapture of Galveston the Twins once again disappeared until November 30, 1863, when Maj. A. G. Dickinson, commander of the Confederate post at San Antonio, reported that they were in the rebel arsenal at Austin, although in very poor condition. On February 8, 1864, Lt. Walter W. Blow wrote to Col. John S. (Rip) Ford, who was preparing an expedition to recapture the Rio Grand from federal  troops, that he was preparing to send the Twins to San Antonio so that they could accompany Ford’s command. However, there is no certainty that the cannons actually accompanied Ford on his campaign. Blow’s February 1864 report is the last official and certain mention of the Twin Sisters. There are various stories as to their fate at the end of the war. One of the most intriguing and plausible is that a group of Confederates led by Henry North Graves buried the guns to prevent their removal by Union forces in August 1865 somewhere in either Houston or Harrisburg. Graves’s story is backed up by the diary account of a Union soldier, M. A. Sweetman, who reported having seen the Twins near Market Square in Houston on July 30, 1865. He recognized them by the presentation plaques attached to them by the state of Louisiana when they were returned to Texas in 1861. However, this report, like all others regarding the final fate of the Twins, has never been conclusively proved. To this day the Twin Sisters’ final resting place remains a favorite Texas mystery.

 

 

            THE MAN WHO FIRED THE TWIN SISTERS AT SAN JACINTO

 

George Washington Hockley (1802-1854), was the chief of staff of the Texas army during the Texas Revolution. Unlike the high ranking political appointees of today who enjoy plush accommodations, perks and lifestyles, high rank in Texas usually meant a closer proximity to the heat of battle.   A humorous exception to this, as noted in a previous article was the very popular Davis father and son who, after enduring the privations of the “runaway scrape” with a passion to fight Mexicans, were ordered by Sam Houston personally to “Stand under that tree and fiddle for the entire battle”.

 

He was born in Philadelphia in 1802. As a young man he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a clerk in the commissary division of the War Department and met Sam Houston, who later influenced him to move to Tennessee when Houston became governor there in 1828.

 

Hockley followed Houston to Texas in 1835 and was made chief of staff upon Houston’s election as commander-in-chief of the Texas army. At the battle of San Jacinto Hockley was in command of the artillery, which consisted of the  Twin Sisters. Later he was one of those who accompanied Antonio López de Santa Anna and Juan N. Almonte to Washington, D.C.  It is amazing just how many story lines there are to pursue from those early days of Texas Independence and perhaps we shall pick up this one at a later date.  The reader is encouraged to pursue these for some really good looks at the life and times of those who established Texas.

 

The friendship between Hockley and Houston continued after the revolution. Houston appointed him colonel of ordnance on December 22, 1836, and secretary of war on November 13, 1838, and again on December 23, 1841. Houston also sent Hockley with Samuel M. Williams in 1843 to arrange an armistice with Mexico. Hockley made his home in Galveston. He died in Corpus Christi on June 6, 1854, while visiting Henry L. Kinney, and was buried in the Old Bayview Cemetery at Corpus Christi, where in 1936 the state erected a monument at his grave.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Galveston Daily News, November 14, 1909. Frank X. Tolbert, The Day of San Jacinto (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1969). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970). E. W. Winkler, “The Twin Sisters Cannon, 1836–1865,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21 (July 1917). Jesse A. Ziegler, Wave of the Gulf (San Antonio: Naylo

Zachary T. Fulmore, History and Geography of Texas As Told in County Names (Austin: Steck, 1915; facsimile, 1935). Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones Press, 1932).

 

ROLL CALL OF TEXAS HEROES – ERASTUS (DEAF) SMITH (1787-1837)

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 2.55.56 PM
When I was a boy growing up in the Texas Panhandle, Hereford was known nationally as “the town without a toothache” due to the nearly perfect natural fluoridation of the water supply.  The fact that it was the county seat of Deaf Smith county was not of general interest.  All we school kids knew of Deaf Smith was that he was the rough looking chap seated under the oak tree by the wounded Sam Houston at San Jacinto.  The teachers could well have looked to the old timers in the community for the correct pronunciation of his name which was “Deef”, not deaf.  The trite old colloquial phrase was that he was “deef in one ear and couldn’t hear out of the other”.  

His story has all the twists and intrigues typical of the legendary heroes of the day.   Perhaps he could have been billed as “the New Yorker at San Jacinto” since he was born in Duchess County\, New York on April 19,1787.  When he was twelve his parents moved to Natchez in the Mississippi  Territory where a childhood disease caused him to lose his hearing.  After visiting Texas in 1817, he returned to stay in 1821. He settled near San Antonio and married a Mexican widow by the name of Guadalupe Duran with whom he had three daughters.  In 1825 he and five other men settled in the Green DeWitt colony which was located about a mile from Gonzalez and was one of the earliest American settlements west of the Colorado.  Life must have been good in those days of freedom and opportunity under the newly minted Mexican Constitution of 1824.

His loyalty to Mexico was broken  at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution when a Mexican sentry refused to allow him to enter San Antonio to visit his family.  He then joined Stephen F. Austin’s resistance forces  He took part and was a principal in certain key events that were in the mainstream of the War of Texas Independence.   He took part in the Battle of Conception on October 28,1835.  He discoved the Mexican supply train that figured in the “Grass Fight”.  His prominence increased when he guided Col Francis Johnson’s men into San Antonio during the siege of Bexar.  On December 8, his path crossed that of fellow patriot Jim Bowie, in a manner of speaking, when he was wounded while fighting on the top of the Veramendi Palace, the residence of Bowie’s father in law, Governor Juan Martin de Veramendi.  His wound occurred at almost the same time that Ben Milam was killed by a shot fired through the front door of this palace. Governor Henry Smith later said of Smith; “He was well known to the army for his vigilance and meritorious acts and his services as a spy cannot well be dispensed with”.

After regaining his health, he served as a messenger for William B. Travis who referred to him as “the bravest of the brave in the cause of Texas”.     All Texans have heard of Travis’s famous “letter to the world” from the Alamo but there will be few who can tell you that it was Deaf Smith that carried it on that fateful day, February 15th, 1836.  Houston sent Smith and Henry Karnes back to learn the status of the Alamo and he confidently told Thomas Rusk; “Smith will return with the truth about the garrison, if still living, and all important details”.  Smith’s role in history was still far from done as it was he who escorted Susanna Dickenson and her daughter Angelina  back to the safety of Houston’s camp.  

During the San Jacinto campaign, he captured  a Mexican courier bearing dispatches to Santa Anna and on April 21st, armed with axes, he demolished Vince’s Bridge over Buffalo Bayou assuring that only one army would leave the field of battle intact.  After his capture, Santa Anna, to save his life, wrote a letter to Gen Vincente Filisola to evacuate Texas.  Houston entrusted the delivery of Santa Anna’s letter to Filisola to Deaf Smith for delivery.  

After the war was won, Smith’s service to Texas was still not done.   He resigned his commission in the army and raised and commanded a company of Texas Rangers.  On February 17, 1837 his company defeated a band of Mexicans at Laredo.  After he resigned from the Rangers, he moved to Richmond where he died at the home of one Randal Jones on November 30, 1837.  When he heard of his death, Sam Houston wrote to Anna Raquet; “My friend Deaf Smith , and my stay in my darkest hour, is no more!!  A man more brave and honest never lived.  His soul is with God but his fame and his family must command the care of His Country”.

A monument commissioned by the 41st legislature was unveiled to his memory on January 25, 1931 at his grave in Richmond.  Deaf Smith County is named in his honor. 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973).Texas State Gazette, June 12, 1852. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker,

 

 

THE ALMOST FORGOTTEN PASS IN REVIEW – THOMAS RUSK

THE ALMOST FORGOTTEN PASS IN REVIEW – THOMAS RUSK

For the many years I lived in Dallas, I  would often pass by Rusk Middle School on Inwood Road.  I could vaguely recall that this fellow Rusk was somehow involved in the struggle for  Texas Independence but I could not remember just how.   Worse, I could not find  any one of my associates  who knew any more than I did.   Once, on a very pleasant ride through the Fall scenery on the Texas State Railroad ,  we pulled into the East Texas town  of  Rusk and even there found out little more as to the man himself.   Now I  suppose that I must plead guilty to laziness of the mind for  not going to the library, where they stock proven  remedies for ignorance.  The question currently before us is how we can get the  “sick child” to take the pill in this respect?  Perhaps putting a little enjoyment into  it can help.

I  was impressed recently by a movie I saw  on cable TV by the name of “Gone To Texas”.  What I thought was unusual about  this movie was the fact that the writers went considerably beyond the trite old practice of “rounding up the usual suspects” in presenting a story about Sam Houston and his times.   By this I refer to the meny characters given speaking roles commensurate with their roles in the events that actually occurred.   One really needs to see this movie twice for, unless  you are a professor of history, you are apt to miss  something on the first viewing.   Most folks in these modern times seem to associate Texas History with only Austin, Houston, Travis, Bowie and Crockett and yet these, as deserving as they were, were just the tip of an historical iceberg made up of one of the most diverse and interesting group of adventurers that ever rallied to a common cause.   One should not assume from my writing of this, that I consider myself an authority in this field for  I most  assuredly do not.  No , perhaps I  am better than that – I am proud to be an “amateur” historian.   That  much maligned term, amateur, has an aristocratic pedigree from it’s derivation from the Latin words  meaning “for the love of it”.  It is my purpose in these writings to draw out other  amateurs who share this love.  Please correct my mistakes as we go along for, in so doing, you will give  this work an ongoing heartbeat that will benefit us all.  If I can manage to raise salience on Texas History, even by honest mistake that gets corrected as we go, then I will view this effort as successful.

The following article  on Thomas Rusk is taken from the Google page of the Tarlton Law Library of the  University of Texas as it appears  on Google.  One incident that is  not  mentioned  is  one that I thought of timely interest.   It seems that there  was considerable disagreement over Houston’s handling of the “Runaway Scrape” and his battle plans , if any , for  what was to  become the Battle of San Jacinto.   Houston kept his plans completely to himself, fearing the Mexicans would find out through leaks, until the last moments  before the battle.  Just minutes before he ordered the  charge, he took Rusk aside  in his capacity of then Secretary of State, revealed the plan to him and secured his approval, thus handing the politics for the benefit of critics had the plan not succeed.  Not unlike how US presidents have sought to handle  modern conflicts.   Clever man ,  that  Sam Houston  and also clever was Thomas Rusk who  has been in  virtual anonymity for far  too long.

Thomas Jefferson Rusk (1803-1857)

Thomas Jefferson Rusk (1803-1857)

Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 1838-1840. Thomas Jefferson Rusk, hero of the Texas Revolution, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and first chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court to perform active service, was born in the Pendleton District of South Carolina on December 5, 1803. Rusk was raised in modest surroundings: his father was an Irish immigrant who worked as a stone mason, and Thomas was the eldest of seven children. The family lived on land owned by John C. Calhoun, whose various political offices included Secretary of War, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and Vice-President of the United States. Although Rusk’s formal education was minimal, he was mentored by Calhoun, who lent him books and secured a position for him in the office of the district clerk. While working there Rusk studied law and prepared himself for the bar.

Following his admission to the bar in 1825, Rusk relocated to Clarkesville, Georgia, where he practiced law and invested in a gold mine. He married in 1827 and began a family that grew to include seven children.

In 1834, after the managers of his gold mine embezzled company funds, Rusk chased them to Nacogdoches, Texas, only to find they had gambled away all the money. He was befriended there by Sam Houston, and seeing great potential in Texas, he decided to stay. With Houston himself as a witness, Rusk took the oath of allegiance to Texas. His family joined him in Texas the following year.

Rusk’s arrival in Texas on the eve of the revolution positioned him to become an important force in the state’s development, and his contributions were many. The six-foot, 200-pound Rusk distinguished himself in the military arena, and rose quickly to the rank of brigadier general. He was named Secretary of War for the Republic in 1836.

Rusk was elected to represent Nacogdoches at the Constitutional Convention of 1836. He often served as a mediator when tensions flared, and on more than one occasion was the first to suggest “a scoop of whiskey” to soothe the tempers of his fellow delegates.

Rusk served as a member in the First and Second Congresses of the Republic from 1837-1838. Military service was paid with land, and Rusk accumulated a sizeable amount of it in East Texas. He also gathered one of the finest libraries in Texas; eventually it included more than 1,000 books, including a fine law library. He was a slaveholder, and at the time of his death he had twenty slaves.

In February 1839, Thomas J. Rusk was elected by Congress to the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas. Although technically he was Texas’ third chief justice, Rusk was the first to perform active service in that role. At ten o’clock in the morning on January 13, 1840, Rusk called the court’s first session to order. The location was the home of Major Asa Brigham, Treasurer of the Republic, at Second Street and Congress Avenue in Austin, at the time no more than a frontier town established the previous year. Despite facing harsh physical conditions, few books, confusing and contradictory laws, and an ever present danger of Indian raids, the court heard eighteen cases during the January 1840 term.

Following his service on the bench, Rusk served as President of the Constitutional Convention of 1845 and as a U.S. Senator from 1846 until his death in 1857.

Rusk’s beloved wife, Mary, died of tuberculosis in 1856, and Rusk never recovered from the loss. Meanwhile, his own health was failing; he had developed a tumor in his neck. He committed suicide by shooting himself with a rifle at his home in Nacogdoches on July 29, 1857. He was remembered by his peers for his integrity, courage, and important leadership role in the formation of Texas. The U.S. Senate resolved to wear crepe on the left arm for thirty days in his memory.

Notable opinions

(only 5 in number; listed in Dallam’s Digest) the very first case was the Republic of Texas v. McCullock, et al, in which jurisdiction was denied in an opinion by Chief Justice Rusk. (The first opinion was written by Justice Jones, affirming the Brazoria County district court’s decision inHunter and Hyde v. Bernard Oelrich, which sought recovery of a horse or its value, alleged to be $350.)

Sources

Benham, Priscilla Myers. Rusk, Thomas Jefferson, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June6, 2001).http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/RR/fru16.html

Clarke, Mary Whatley. Thomas J. Rusk: Soldier, Statesman, Jurist (Austin, Texas: Pemberton Press, 1971).

Ericson, Joe E. Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) 247 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1980).

Hemphill, John. Eulogy on the life and character of the Hon. Thomas J. Rusk, late U.S. Senator from Texas: delivered in the hall of the House of Representatives of the state of Texas, on the seventh of November, 1857. Austin, 1857. The Making of Modern Law. Gale. 2006. Thomson Gale. 01 June 2006.

http://tinyurl.com/395djy (access restricted to University of Texas community).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 65 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).