Sam Houston Tribute, by Rufus Columbus Burleson 3/2/1893

Sam Houston was the 7th Governor of Texas, serving from December 21, 1859 to March 18, 1861.

Rufus Burleson personally knew General Sam Houston and was asked to address the Texas Legislature on March 2, 1893 at the memorial service commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gen. Houston, the same date memorializing the 57th year of Texas Independence. Burleson’s entire address amounts to some 40 pages of his memoirs, “The Life and Writings of Rufus Columbus Burleson.” Presented below is the conclusion of his address. His admiration for Gen. Houston is clearly evident. At this point in Burleson’s account, Houston had failed in his effort to prevent the succession of Texas from the Union, been ousted as Governor of the state that he so loved and the Civil War had begun.


The last address [Houston] ever made was to a vast audience who had gathered in front of the hotel in Houston to pay their respects to a hero who had done so much for Texas. He said: “I have been buffeted by the waves; I have been borne along Time’s ocean until shattered and worn I approach the narrow isthmus which divides me from the sea of eternity. Ere I step forward to journey through the pilgrimage of death, I would say that all my thoughts and hopes are with my country. If one impulse rises above another it is for the happiness of these people. The welfare and glory of Texas will be the uppermost thought while a spark of life lingers in this breast.”

Under these terrible accumulations of sorrow his health speedily declined, and he died July 26, 1863, aged seventy years.

The Houston Telegraph announced his death, and said: “Let us shed tears to his memory, due one who has filled so much of our affection. Let the whole people bury with him what unkindness they may have. Let his monument be in the hearts of all Texans.”

Thus lived “and thus, died General Sam Houston, one of the few immortal names that were not born to die.” Though thirty years have passed, every year demonstrates more his profound wisdom and patriotism and causes every true Texan to say: “Oh! that America had only had a hundred Houstons, Clays and Jacksons.” It would have saved her two million lives, and, including pensions, two hundred billion dollars.

In conclusion I wish to state clearly and emphasize earnestly the seven great characteristics that made Sam Houston the hero of San Jacinto and the father of Texas:

1. Love of Mother—His love of mother filled his whole soul and permeated his whole being. Her prayers, her faith, her counsels and her examples followed him from the cradle to the grave; followed him in city and in wilderness, in prosperity and adversity. Her influence, in connection with his angel wife, Maggie Lee, brought him back from his wanderings to duty, glory, and to God.

2. Reverence for God and Religion—General Houston is a striking illustration of the declaration of the great Thomas Carlyle: “A strong religious sentiment is a characteristic of all great minds.” He said to me : “In all my dark trials and struggles, I have always gone alone, at night, for special secret prayer. My retreat from Gonzales to San Jacinto was the most remarkable ever known in history. Every day I dreaded my own men more than Santa Anna. The great majority of the men were eager for the battle at once, and hotheaded men, not knowing the great plan of my campaign, were ready to excite mutiny, depose me, rush headlong to battle, and, perchance, make another Alamo or Goliad. Goaded to madness by these men, I sometimes raved and cursed like a madman, yet every night, when all was quiet, I went alone and spent a half an hour on my knees in prayer, though so unworthy.” I never shall forget that half hour spent with him in prayer, just before he was deposed from the governorship, in 1861. It was midnight; we were all alone, and kneeling by a rock under a live oak tree, in Independence, we poured out our tears and prayers before the God of Washington and liberty, to save our country from the bloody vortex of civil war. It was this profound religious feeling, misguided, that caused him to place such confidence in the flight of eagles that were so abundant fifty years ago, in the Southwest.

3. Unfaltering Courage, Moral and Physical—As a boy he charged amid showers of arrows and bullets the strong fortifications of the Indians, at Tohopeka or Horseshoe. There was never a moment that he would not have charged into a cannon’s mouth at the call of duty. He was the peer of Alexander, of Caesar, of Washington. In the path of duty he could smile at the frowns and curses of the whole world.

4. Profound Penetration—He read at a glance the secret motives of men. He penetrated the depths and heights and breadths of every question. He could banish all personal, all local feeling, and look at the facts just as they were, stripped of all colorings and all disguises, I have known men and grappled with them on the great questions of education and religion, from San Antonio, Texas, to Bangor, Maine, but have never known Houston’s equal in profound, far-seeing penetration. Hence, while so many great men blundered, he foresaw and foretold the results.

5. Love of Country—His love of country, like his love of mother, intensified his whole being. He could ever say, as King David: “If I forget thee, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I prefer not thee to my chief joy, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” His great soul (while an intense Southerner) embraced our whole country, from ocean to ocean and from gulf to lakes.

6. Republican Simplicity—He had a supreme contempt for all display and extravagance in dress, equipage and buildings. He regarded all such extravagance as criminal, not only because it wasted money, that should be used for higher and nobler purposes, but tended to bribery, corruption and bankruptcy.

7. Political Honesty—He would sooner have put his arm in the fire than take one cent by fraud from the public treasury. He would as soon have defrauded his widowed mother as his mother country. He gave his blood, his toil, his prayers and his whole life to his mother country, and died poor, as Thomas Benton says, all honest public men should die. But, alas! how fearfully we have apostatized! Oh! whither are our millionaire congressmen driving out nation?

But finally, let us examine still more intently what were the causes that molded and erected those seven grand, golden pillars, on which rests the fame of Houston, and from which it will grow brighter and brighter till the stars grow dim. But I entreat you to beware of that fearful delusion, that all great men like Houston, Napoleon, Newton and Columbus, were born great; that greatness was “thrust upon them,” and that, “if we fail and are underlings, our stars and not ourselves are to be blamed.” The true history is, all great men reach to the Alpine heights of fame and greatness by intense toil. It is a fiat of fate, “there is no excellency without great labor.” I would be glad if some great painter would paint Napoleon when a boy at Brienne, lying down on the ground and drawing a map of Europe on the sand, while other boys were playing marbles or ball. These same maps on the sand guided him in his invasion of Russia. I would be glad, also, to see a painting of Sam Houston lying down by that pine-knot fire in that rude country store, committing to memory Pope’s Iliad of Homer, or poring over Plutarch’s Lives, while other boys were chasing foxes over the mountains. No man has a profounder sense of reliance on Providence than I have; yet Providence only helps those who help themselves. Profoundly penetrated with this great truth, let us trace the four great causes that made our Houston illustrious and will make every boy in Texas great and illustrious, who follows those same rules.

1. First of all his mother, whom he worshiped and obeyed. Poets have asked: “What is home without a mother?” The patriot and philosopher may ask with deeper anxiety: “What is a nation without mothers?” Houston, Washington, Marion and all great men owe their greatness to mother. “A dewdrop on the baby plant may warp the giant oak forever, or nourish that baby plant into the giant oak of the forest.” Oh! that the Lord would send us a Luther, a Calvin, a Wesley and a Spurgeon to arouse the world to the importance of real mothers. One such mother as Mary Washington or Mrs. Houston is worth a whole brigade of preaching or political “female brethren.”

2. The second great formative power that erected these pillars of Houston’s greatness, was his dear old teacher. Dr. Anderson. This grand old man quickened into intense activity and molded all the powers of his soul. He taught him how to think, how to commune with his own soul, with books, and above all, with God, the father of light. And, next to pious mothers, our country needs great teachers, but I do not mean ”lesson hearers, time killers and salary grabbers.” These are already about as numerous and about as profitable as the locusts of Egypt.

At the great National Educational Association at St. Paul I met an army of about ten thousand teachers representatives of every State in the Union; yet I fear if Socrates, Anderson, Wayland, or our own Texas Mclvenzie had been there they would have been compelled to borrow the lamp of Diogones and walk through that mighty army crying: “I seek a teacher; who can show me a teacher; a real God sent teacher?” Elijah, a teacher sent from God, is a grand model. When he would restore the son of the Shunamite mother to life he lovingly put his hands in the child’s hands, his feet on the child’s feet, his mouth on the child’s mouth, his heart on the child’s heart and prayed, “Oh, God, let this child live again.” The boy was quickened into vigorous life and flew into the loving embrace of mother. So the real teacher never stands upon the stilts of normal or abnormal methods, nor clothes himself with the mantle of professional dignity, but with the tender love of a father he takes the student by the hand, places his mind, his heart and his whole being in loving sympathy with the student and thus quickens his whole being into activity. A great teacher not only seeks to make his students scholars, but true citizens and patriots and a blessing to their fellow-men, and to elevate them to usefulness on earth and glory in heaven.

General Houston, in the last trying hours of his life, quoted the sayings of mother and Dr. Anderson more than all others, and he longed to meet that angel mother and his noble teacher in that “land that is fairer than day.”

3. The third cause forming his great character was his devotion to reading good books and the “God of Books” selected by his wise teacher. He had a profound disgust for novels and sensational reading in every form, whether in poetry or prose; books or newspapers. We all know how important to health and strength of the body is nutritious food, but, alas, how few know the importance of healthy and abundant food for the mind and soul.

4. But the crowning glory and power of the formative influences was his firm and ever abiding faith in God as an all-wise and ever present Heavenly Father. This was his anchor of hope on the dark and stormy ocean. This was his Gibraltar when assailed by a thousand adversities. Like Luther before the Diet of Worms, he said: “On this firm rock I stand, and living or dying all will be well.” Oh, that these powerful formative influences might erect seven golden pillars of character on which every young man and young woman in Texas may become a moral temple of beauty and glory.

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