BORDER CRISIS

As this country wrestles with the devastating turmoil that has been created by our confused and cruel immigration policies, I have looked at Texas history in search of past leaders who have made hard choices in the face of serious challenges. This post recounts three leaders who had the courage to step forward when our country needed people with strength and character. As you will see, not all of them got what they worked to achieve. But they tried.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston, the hero of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto became the first president of the Republic of Texas. He worked tirelessly to get Texas into the Union, and when it happened in 1846, Houston was appointed to the U.S. Senate. (Those were the days before senators were elected. They were appointed by legislators.) Despite being a slave-owner, Houston voted in the U.S. Senate against the expansion of slavery. As secession talk reached fever pitch, his political views brought defeat in his 1857 bid for governor. Two years later, he won the governorship despite traveling the state to warn that a war of secession would bring devastation to the South. Houston was a not an Abolitionist who wanted to end slavery. He was a Unionist, one who was opposed to secession.

After Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, Houston refused to swear allegiance to the new government. The legislature removed him from the governorship.  He returned to his home in Huntsville and died there in 1863 before the end of the Civil War proved his warnings to be correct.

Another politician who stood up to power––Daniel James Moody, Jr.––was a twenty-nine-year-old district attorney in Williamson County when the Ku Klux Klan made its resurgence across the country. Preaching white supremacy and hatred

Dan Moody

of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law, the Klan at its peak reached a membership in Texas in the tens of thousands. Klansmen became very powerful by winning the election of a U.S. Senator from Texas, legislators, sheriffs, and judges. It also gained control of city governments in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls.

Lulu Belle Madison White

In 1923, the Klan sent a letter to a traveling salesman warning him to stop staying at the home of a young widow when he came through Williamson County. When he ignored their demand, Klansmen waylaid his car, wrapped a trace chain around his neck, tied him naked to a tree and flogged him fifty lashes with a leather strap. After dark, they hooked his chain to a tree on the Taylor City Hall lawn, poured tar or creosote over his head and body and left him. Since the Klan had been getting away with floggings all over the country, it was assumed that they would continue to exert their power. At the trial, the constable testified that it was the worst beating he had ever seen––“raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places, the skin had been split and the flesh was gaping open.”

Klans across the state collected funds to retain the best legal team, including a Texas state senator and his brother. Reporters and spectators filled the Williamson County Courthouse. When the trial ended, five men had been sentenced to prison and District Attorney Dan Moody became the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan.

Lulu Belle Madison White was not a politician, but she influenced them. She graduated in 1928 from Prairie View College (present Prairie View A &M University) with a degree in English. As a member of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), she taught school for nine years and then quit to devote her life to bringing justice to the black community. She organized chapters of NAACP all over Texas and even before 1944 when the Supreme Court found that the white primary was unconstitutional, White had started organizing a “Pay your poll tax and get out to vote” campaign. She was a strong advocate for using the black vote to force social change. She argued, “We cannot sit idly by and expect things to come to us. We must go out and get them.”

She led voter registration seminars, urged black churches to speak up about public issues without endorsing specific candidates. She pressed white businesses to hire blacks, using boycotts, protest demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to influence change.

In 1946, the University of Texas was segregated. Prairie View A&M was the only state-support black college in Texas, and it did not offer training for professional degrees. White not only persuaded Herman Marion Sweatt, a black mail carrier, to act as the plaintiff against the University of Texas to demand integration, she raised money to pay his legal expenses. Years later Sweatt claimed that it was White’s encouragement that helped him maintain his resolve.

The victory of Sweatt v. Painter before the Supreme Court in June 1951 opened the door for Brown v. Board of Education and the march toward dissolving the color line in education.

Texas and the United States have had bold leaders. It is time once again to remember that we are a decent people who care for our young––all our young. And we are going to stand up to power when it tries to change who we are.

Even though he was not a Texan, John Denver’s song says it well:

“There’s a man who is my brother,
I just don’t know his name,
But I know his home and family,
Because I know we feel the same,
And it hurts me when he’s hungry,
Or when his children cry,
I too am a father,
That little one is mine

It’s about time we begin it,
To turn the world around,
It’s about time we start to make it,
The dream we’ve always known,
It’s about time we start to live it,
The family of man,
It’s about time,
It’s about changes,
And it’s about time,

It’s about you and me together,
And it’s about time”

Yes, it’s about time. Let’s stand tall and demand that our elected officials do the same.

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SANTA ANNA: A PARADOX

Daguerreotype of Santa Anna.
Wikipedia

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico. He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation. His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution in 1836 and finally to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle-class criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Veracruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Veracruz infantry regiment. For five years he helped police Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain. Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence.

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain. However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence. All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whoever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico. Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero. Without hesitation, he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833. Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy. He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas. The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.

When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours. Then he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded the surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves. The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates. On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched in several groups away from the Goliad fort and shot. Those who had been injured in the battle were killed inside the compound. When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain. His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring. He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.

Oil on Canvass, Santa Anna displayed in Mexico City Museum.
Wikipedia

Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad. In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannons that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner. The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh. When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn-around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates. Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his

“Surrender of Santa Anna” William Henry Huddle
Wikipedia

loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished. After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Veracruz. In December 1838 the French landed in Veracruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary. In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage. He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the motherland. He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years. During his reign, he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful protection. However, his autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the United States annexation of Texas, which resulted in the Mexican-American War. He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States. At the same time, he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders. Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president. Again, his military prowess failed, and when the United States won victory with the capture of Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica. Mexico’s loss gained the United States more than 500,000 square miles––westward from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Coast.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, would invite Santa Anna back. But, that is what happened in April 1853. This time his administration was no more successful than before. He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends. A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle––the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree––as an additive to natural rubber. He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City. To fulfill his scheme, he worked with Thomas Adams a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, who may have served as Santa Anna’s secretary.

Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to use it to make carriage tires. Adams had observed Santa Anna chewing the chicle and began to experiment with the substance, eventually creating what became “Chiclets” chewing gum––a windfall from which Santa Anna failed to benefit.

Meantime, in 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts. He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years of his life virtually ignored by the Mexican government. “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.

TEXAS HAD A NAVY

Brig Invincible
Wikipedia

The Republic of Texas existed from March 2, 1836, until February 19, 1846, and during most of that time, it boasted its own navy with a history as colorful as its government. As Texas prepared to go to war for independence from Mexico, officials of the interim government realized it needed ships to bring supplies from New Orleans and to keep Mexico from blockading the Texas coast. Historians estimate that three-fourths of the troops, supplies, and money needed for the rebellion came via shipboard from the port at New Orleans.

The provisional government in November 1835 passed a bill providing for the purchase of four schooners, and they issued letters of marque to privateers authorizing them to defend the Texas coast until the navy ships could be put into service. On January 5, 1836, the Texas Navy became a reality with the purchase of a former privateer rechristened the Liberty. The Invincible, a schooner built originally for the slave trade, received its commission a few days later. The Independence, a former United States revenue cutter, which had been used to enforce customs regulations and catch smugglers, became the third purchase. Finally, the Brutus completed the Texas naval fleet.

Immediately, the little band of ships sailing the Gulf of Mexico kept General Santa Anna’s army from receiving supplies along the coast, forcing it to forage for food as it marched across Texas. The ships also captured Mexican fishing vessels, sending their supplies to the volunteer Texas army.

After Texas won independence from Mexico in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21,1836, the Liberty escorted the ship carrying the injured General Sam Houston for medical treatment in New Orleans. That’s when the navy experienced its first setback—the Liberty remained in New Orleans for repairs and when the new Republic of Texas could not pay its bill, the Liberty was sold. Similarly, the following September the Brutus and the Invincible were in New York for repairs and when the city’s customs collector realized the Republic of Texas could not pay the bill, the gentleman paid the tab himself.

Meantime, Mexico refused to ratify the treaty that General Santa Anna signed after his army’s defeat at San Jacinto and despite not having the military strength to launch a full attack on Texas, Mexico continued to make threatening forays along the coast. The schooner Independence captured several small ships off the Mexican coast and after undergoing repairs in New Orleans in April 1837, started back to Galveston when it was forced to surrender after a four-hour gun battle with two Mexican ships.

With the loss of half its fleet, the secretary of the Texas Navy and its commodore decided that the men needed a cruise to inspire confidence. President Houston believed Texas needed the ships to patrol the coast, not to raid Mexican towns. Nevertheless, the cruise took place. When the Invincible returned to Galveston its draft was so deep that it could not cross the bar into the harbor. As it sat at anchor waiting for high tide, two Mexican ships attacked. The Brutus, which had managed to enter the harbor, sailed out to help in the fight and ran aground on a sandbar. After a daylong battle, the Invincible attempted to enter the harbor, went aground and was destroyed. The Brutus, last of the ships of the Texas Navy, was lost the following October in a storm at sea.

Although the Republic of Texas had no active navy from September 1837 until March 1839, Mexico was too preoccupied with problems at home to take advantage of the unprotected coastline, which gave Texas time to purchase six ships at a cost of $280,000. In March 1839, the republic purchased a steam packet and renamed it Zavala, followed by the San Jacinto, the San Antonio, the San Bernard, the brig Wharton, the sloop-of-war Austin, and the Archer to complete the second fleet.

Political differences existed from the beginning of the republic between President Houston and Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar and came dramatically to the surface in December 1838 when Lamar became the second president of the Republic of Texas. Whereas Sam Houston wanted Texas to use its ships to protect the coast and ensure the republic’s increased industry and commerce, Lamar encouraged the navy to pursue an aggressive policy of raids to keep Mexico busy defending its coastline.

During Lamar’s years as president, he initiated a friendly relationship with the Yucatán that had declared itself independent from Mexico. He appointed Edwin Ward Moore, a ten-year veteran of the United States Navy, commodore of the second Texas Navy. Although Moore and Lamar agreed on the importance of defending the Yucatán, Moore had constant problems financing the repair of his ships and because paydays did not come regularly, he had trouble recruiting enough men. In December 1841, just as Sam Houston was returning for a second term as president, Lamar sent the Austin, the San Bernard, and the San Antonio to the Yucatán for its defense against Mexico. Immediately after Houston’s inauguration, he ordered the fleet to return.

The political battles over the navy continued. Texas had attracted volunteers to fight in its War for Independence by passing a bounty act on November 24, 1835, promising 640 acres as payment for two years of military service. Soon after beginning his second term, Houston vetoed a resolution as “an extravagance” that would have allowed veterans of the Texas Navy to also receive the land. He added, “generally, the seaman has no interest (except a transitory one) on shore.” An effort to reintroduce the bill and pass it over Houston’s veto met no success.

The following February, the only mutiny in the Texas Navy occurred in New Orleans. The schooner San Antonio was in port to be refitted. Apparently concerned the sailors and marines would desert, the men were confined to the ship while the officers went ashore. Liquor was smuggled aboard, the sailors got drunk, and Sergeant Seymour Oswalt led a mutiny in which a lieutenant was killed. Eventually, the men were brought to trial; three were flogged; four were hanged from the yardarm of the Austin, and Oswalt escaped from jail.

Meantime, the Zavala had been allowed to rot and was eventually sold for scrap. Houston, determined to reduce spending in his second term, withheld funds allocated by Congress for the navy. Edwin Moore, the commodore appointed by Lamar, raised almost $35,000 to repair his ships and when it became clear he could not raise enough money in New Orleans to refit the ships, Houston ordered him back to Galveston. Hearing of renewed Mexican troubles on the Yucatán, Moore took it upon himself to arrange with Yucatán to supply Texas ships for $8,000 a month. He sent the San Antonio to the Yucatán but it was lost at sea. Just when the Austin and the Wharton were ready to sail from New Orleans, commissioners arrived with orders from Houston instructing Moore to sell the fleet immediately for whatever price he could get. Further, Houston suspended Moore from command and told him to return immediately to Texas. Moore convinced the commissioners to allow him to take the vessels back to Texas, but as he embarked on the trip, he got word that Yucatán was about to surrender to Santa Anna. Commodore Moore headed, instead, for the Yucatán. The resulting battles against the much larger Mexican vessels did not produce a victory, but it broke the blockade of Campeche and allowed Texas ships to get supplies to the forces fighting the Yucatán land battle. After a week, the Mexican force sailed away, Yucatán was not retaken, and Moore believed Texas was spared the invasion that would have followed if Mexico had captured the Yucatán.

A very angry President Sam Houston claimed Moore’s trip to the Yucatán was illegal and charged him as a pirate, a murderer, a mutineer and an embezzler. When Moore reached Galveston on July 14, 1843, he was welcomed by a harbor full of boats loaded with cheering people. Houston discharged Moore dishonorably from the Texas Navy for disobedience of orders, fraud, piracy, desertion, and murder. Moore insisted on a court martial and won acquittal of all the charges except disobedience. The following year he was cleared of disobedience.

By this time, the Republic of Texas was negotiating with the United States to join the Union. As part of annexation, the Austin, Wharton, Archer, and San Bernard joined the United States fleet. Their officers hoped to be included in the transfer, but US naval officers were against the plan, and the Texas ships were declared unfit for service.

The Texas Navy was forgotten until 1958 when Governor Price Daniel established a Third Texas Navy. In October 1970 Governor Preston Smith reestablished the headquarters for the Third Texas Navy at its original base in Galveston. The new organization serves as a commemorative nonprofit, chartered by the State of Texas to assure the survival of Texas naval history.

Legends of A Lady Pioneer

Two official Texas historical markers sit on the shore of Lake Texoma, the enormous reservoir separating North Texas and Oklahoma. One marker commemorates Holland Coffee’s Trading Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma. The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee

Sophia Coffee Porter, Grayson County TX GenWeb

Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere. The colorful lives of Sophia and Holland Coffee came together in 1837 probably while Coffee served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

Sophia was born a Suttonfield in 1815 on the remote military post at Fort Wayne (present Indiana). As a beautiful dark-haired girl of seventeen, she ran away with Jesse Aughinbaugh, the headmaster at her school. The twosome split up in Texas—Sophia said he deserted her—in 1836 and Sophia, who told many stories about herself, claimed to be the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto. She arrived on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico. Although no record exists of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia maintained that she nursed the wounded general back to health. Some historians believe she may have been a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Coffee’s Trading Post
Grayson Co TX GenWeb

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved to the Texas border in 1837. The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives. Coffee ransomed a Mrs. Crawford and her two children by paying the Indians 400 yards of calico, a large number of blankets, many beads, and other items. In later years, Mrs. John Horn wrote that when Comanches refused to trade for the release of her and her children, Holland wept and then gave her and the children clothing and flour. Despite being accused by settlers of trading whiskey and guns to the Indians for cattle and horses they stole from the whites, his neighbors must have forgiven him because they elected him as their congressman.

When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts in Houston, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf. After several attempts to get a bill through Congress, Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, used his influence and the petition passed both houses with Holland Coffee as a member of the House of Representatives voting aye.

Coffee and Sophia took a 600-mile honeymoon on horseback through Washington County, to Nacogdoches, and along the Red River, stopping at several locales to attend balls in celebration of their marriage. Coffee settled with his bride at his trading post, a popular place for Indians and for cowboys heading north with their cattle. Coffee gave Sophia a wedding gift of one-third league of land––about 1,476 acres—only the first of her many acquisitions. In her later accounts of life on the Red River, Sophia said her nearest neighbor lived twenty-five miles away.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Texas Rangers guarded their trading post. While their slaves plowed the fields, the horses had to be watched. At preaching services, they stacked firearms nearby for easy access. The Republic of Texas built a protective line of forts along the western edge of the frontier and connected them with a Military Road from Austin to Fort Johnson on the Red River near Coffee’s Trading Post. The military base bought supplies, clothing, tobacco, gunpowder, and tools from Coffee, which injected new life into his business. He opened a ferry at a crossing on the Red River and he and Sophia continued to buy land and slaves. New settlers arrived, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots for the town of Preston.

Glen Eden
Grayson County TX GenWeb

In 1845-46 Holland Coffee hired Mormons traveling from Illinois to Central Texas to build Glen Eden, a home that expanded over the years into the most impressive house in North Texas. Sophia entertained lavishly. By her own account, her guests included such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists of either man being there), and Sam Houston. Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory came often to Glen Eden.

Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846. Some say it began when Sam Houston arrived to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffees at Glen Eden. Coffee’s niece had married Charles A. Galloway who offended Sophia by commenting about her former relationship with Sam Houston. She demanded that Coffee horsewhip his new nephew. When Coffee refused to publically air the family problems, Sophia said she would rather be the widow of a brave man than the wife of a coward. Coffee started an “Indian duel,” a fight to the death, with Galloway who killed Coffee with a Bowie knife.

A rich and charming widow of a brave man, Sophia, at age thirty-one managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties. On one of her regular trips to New Orleans to sell her cotton crop, she met Major George N. Butts, who returned with her to Glen Eden to manage the plantation. There is no record of a marriage in either Texas or Louisiana, but the relationship became Sophia’s happiest—Butts enjoyed the niceties of gracious living—and they paid for their lifestyle with the sale of their cotton and land. They enlarged Glen Eden, filled it with fine furnishings and china from New Orleans. She became known for her rose garden, an orchard of more than a hundred fruit trees, and grape and berry vines for jams and wines. She grew a magnolia tree in the front yard from a seedling given to her by Sam Houston. Albert Sidney Johnston brought catalpa seeds from California, which she planted, in a line down the driveway.

In 1863, William Clark Quantrill with his group of Confederate guerrillas from Kansas and Missouri moved into Sherman and began robbing and killing anyone who did not agree with Quantrill’s brand of Confederate support. Although Sophia and Butts were southern sympathizers, Butts got into an argument with one of Quantrill’s men and was ambushed one night as he returned from a cotton-selling trip to Sherman. Sophia garnered the sympathy of Sherman residents against Quantrill and got him arrested; he later escaped.

Some historians say the historical marker calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate. Several tales surround this claim, most of them of Sophia’s own telling. One story says that when James Bourland, commander of a Texas frontier regiment, stopped at Glen Eden on his way back to Fort Washita, he warned her that federal troops were following him. When the Yankees arrived, Sophia fed them dinner and took them to her wine cellar where they proceeded to get drunk. She locked them in the cellar and then, riding a mule, forded the treacherous Red River to warn Bourland of the Union’s plans, thus preventing the invasion of North Texas. Another version of the story says she stripped to her underwear and swam the river and then whistled to get the Confederates’ attention.

At age fifty, toward the end of the Civil War, Sophia found the Red River country too dangerous. She packed her gold in tar buckets and took her slaves with her to the safer environment of Waco in Central Texas. There, she met Judge James Porter, a Confederate cavalry officer from Missouri. Rufus Burleson, president of Baylor College performed their marriage on August 2, 1865, and the Porters returned to Glen Eden. With her slaves freed, Sophia’s net worth dropped, but she and James Porter began buying land at sheriff’s auctions and reselling it quickly to increase their holdings.

James Porter apparently influenced Sophia’s desire to “get religion.” She attended a camp meeting and rushed forward throwing herself at the feet of the preacher. Before the entire congregation, the minister said Sophia must wait for twelve years because “the sun, moon, and stars were against her being a Christian.” The Methodist preacher in Sherman, however, welcomed her into the church. She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a new Methodist institution at Georgetown and land for a Methodist Church at Preston Bend.

“Aunt Sophia,” as she became known in later years, apparently earned the respect of her neighbors. At the first meeting of the Old Settlers Park in Sherman in 1879, Sophia Porter entertained the crowd with the stories of her life as a pioneer woman along the Red River.

Glen Eden continued to be a social center, but Sophia no longer allowed dancing. She and James Porter continued giving money or land to churches in the area until his death in 1886. For the next eleven years, Sophia and her long-time friend and companion Belle Evans searched

Sophia Coffee Poter
Grayson County TX GenWeb

the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogs new fashions that would restore Sophia’s youth. Mrs. Evans also applied Ayer’s Hair Dye each week to maintain Sophia’s black locks that had attracted so many suitors over the years. On August 27, 1897, when Sophia died quietly at the age of eighty-one in her fine home of fifty-four years, the man at her side was Reverend J. M. Binkley, the Methodist preacher from Sherman who had accepted her into his congregation.

Sam Houston and the Ladies

Before he became the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto and the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston was the darling of all the ladies, except for one, Anna Raguet. The well-educated Miss Raguet was fourteen in 1833 when she moved with her father from

Anna Raguet

Cincinnati to Nacogdoches, which was still part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. Marquis James, Houston’s biographer says in The Raven that Anna’s father Henry Raguet was a merchant and landowner. He provided the best house in Nacogdoches for his family where they entertained extensively. Anna, the apple of her father’s eye, played the French harp in the parlor and translated Spanish, especially for the young men in the area who wanted to improve their correspondence with the Texas Mexican government. And like the forty-year-old Sam Houston enjoyed the company of the charming Miss Anna.

When Houston met Anna Raguet he was a Texas newcomer with plenty of baggage. Under circumstances that were never made public, his bride Eliza Allen had left him in 1829, and he had resigned as governor of Tennessee. On top of that mystery, he had returned to his former life with the Cherokees and married a Cherokee woman who had refused to come with him to Texas. In addition to his lady problems, Houston was known, even among his beloved Cherokees, as “the Big Drunk.”

Sam Houston, 1849-1853 by artist Thomas Flintoff

To clear the way for a serious courtship, Houston hired a divorce lawyer who failed to get the decree because divorce was against Mexican the law. Even as Houston began his law practice, hobnobbed with Nacogdoches society, and became deeply involved with the political faction seeking Texas independence from Mexico, he pursued his courtship of Anna through letters and his gentlemanly manners.

Although she did not always encourage his entreaties, she did tie his sword sash and snipped a lock of his hair before he left Nacogdoches for the Texas War for Independence. He continued a one-sided correspondence with Anna during the war. After the Battle of San Jacinto, as his surgeon probed his badly injured ankle for fragments of bone and mangled flesh, Houston propped himself against a tree, weaving a garland of leaves. He addressed a card “To Miss Anna Raguet, Nacogdoches, Texas: These are laurels I send you from the battlefield of San Jacinto. Thine. Houston.”

Houston was the hero of the day after San Jacinto and easily won election as the first president of the Republic of Texas. In the midst of the challenges of organizing a new government, he did not return to Nacogdoches for several months. Instead, he worked out of a shack on the banks of the Brazos River in the temporary capital of Columbia and continued his courtship of Anna Raguet by mail. She had ignored the laurel of leaves and card sent from the battlefield of San Jacinto. To avoid gossip that would surely reach her in Nacogdoches, Houston refrained from socials engagements as much as possible and stayed away from alcohol.

Houston’s biographer claims that Dr. Robert Irion, a gentlemanly young physician who had practiced medicine in Nacogdoches and had been elected to the First Congress of the Republic, accepted Houston’s appointment as his Secretary of State. Dr. Irion worked closely with President Houston and had even listened to Houston’s worries about the scarcity of mail from Miss Anna. When Irion went home to Nacogdoches on a short leave, he carried Houston’s letters to Anna.

In early 1837 Houston wrote Irion: “Salute all my friends and don’t forget the Fairest of the Fair!!!” Again Houston wrote: “Write … .and tell me how matters move on and how the Peerless Miss Anna is and does! I have written her so often that I fear she has found me troublesome, and … .I pray you to make my apology and … .salute her with my … .very sincere respects.” While Houston waited for letters that did not come, he received regular reports that Miss Anna was nearing the steps of the altar, although no one seemed to know who the fortunate fellow might be.

Ignoring the laws of the Republic of Texas that required an Act of Congress to secure a divorce, President Houston empowered a judge to quietly hear the case in his chambers and issue the decree. The version of the divorce story that Anna Raguet received was apparently all it took to settle any doubts she may have harbored. The one-sided romance came to an end.

Dr. Robert Irion, upon hearing the news, promptly persuaded Miss Anna Raguet to marry him. The nuptials took place in March or April of 1840. The couple had five children, and they named their first son Sam Houston Irion.

Houston’s Cherokee wife died in 1838 and two years later Sam Houston married his third wife, twenty-one-year-old Margaret Moffette Lea. They had eight children, the youngest born just two years before Houston’s death in 1863.

Margaret Lea Houston

Ex-Slave Becomes Community Leader

Born into slavery in Arkansas in 1845, Nelson Taylor Denson moved, at age eleven, to Falls County in East Texas with his master. Denson, who had been educated by his master, developed high regard for Sam Houston after hearing Houston speak when he visited Marlin in his campaign for governor. During the Civil War, Denson accompanied his master in the Confederate Army, serving as a saddle boy looking after the horses.

An account titled Slaves Narratives—Rural NW Louisiana African American Genealogy includes Denson’s account of the Civil War in which he praises Sam Houston for standing by his principles and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, which resulted in Governor Houston being removed from office. Denson says he that at age sixteen he went to war as his master’s “bodyguard.” In his gripping account of the night before the Battle at Mansfield on the Sabine River, he describes the sound of whippoorwills calling and the low mummer of the men singing spirituals and listing for an attack from the Yankees camped just across the river.

Denson views the slaves who ran away and joined the Union forces as not properly caring for the women and children left behind on the plantations. He goes on to share his concern after the war for the change in the “old order,” and the decline in virtue and chivalry.

After the Civil War, Denson returned to Falls County as a free man and began working to fulfill his two dreams—to preach and to teach. Incorporating a deep understanding of human needs and rights, Denson became a circuit preacher in the Baptist denomination.

On November 8, 1868, the Reverend Denson, his wife, and eleven other blacks organized the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church, the first black congregation in Falls County. Denson believed that black citizens must have the basic rudiments of education, which led him to teach the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He helped start a school sponsored by the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church, and others soon followed. By the mid-1880s Denson won election as county commissioner, becoming the first black official in the county. His good judgment and spirit of cooperation won the respect of both the black and the white communities, and he continued to be respected and called on for advice and counsel until his death in 1938 at the age of ninety-three.

The Rev. Nelson T. Denson and the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church historical marker is located at 507 Bennett at George Street in Marlin, Falls County.on

Sam Houston’s Problems With the Ladies

Before he became the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto and the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston was the darling of all the

Anna Raguet

Anna Raguet

Sam Houston, 1849-1853 by artist Thomas Flintoff

Sam Houston, 1849-1853 by artist Thomas Flintoff

ladies, except for one, Anna Raguet. The well-educated Miss Raguet was fourteen in 1833 when she moved with her father from Cincinnati to Nacogdoches, which was still part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. Marquis James, Houston’s biographer says in The Raven that Anna’s father Henry Raguet was a merchant and landowner, and provided the best house in Nacogdoches for his family where they entertained extensively. Anna, the apple of her father’s eye, played the French harp in the parlor and translated Spanish, especially for the young men in the area who wanted to improve their correspondence with the Texas Mexican government. And, like the forty-year-old Sam Houston, enjoyed the company of the charming young Anna.

When Houston met Anna Raguet he was a Texas newcomer with plenty of baggage—under circumstances that were never made public, his bride Eliza Allen had left him in 1829, and he had resigned as governor of Tennessee. On top of that mystery, he had returned to his former life with the Cherokees and married a Cherokee woman who had refused to come with him to Texas. In addition to his lady problems, Houston was known, even among his beloved Cherokees, as “the Big Drunk.”

To clear the way for a serious courtship, Houston hired a divorce lawyer who failed to get the decree because divorce was against the law in Mexico. Even as Houston began his law practice, hobnobbed with Nacogdoches society, and became deeply involved with the political faction seeking Texas independence from Mexico, he pursued his courtship of Anna through letters and his gentlemanly manners.

Although she did not always encourage his entreaties, she tied his sword sash, and snipped a lock of his hair before he left Nacogdoches for the Texas War for Independence. He continued a one-sided correspondence with Anna during the war. After the Battle of San Jacinto, as his surgeon probed his badly injured ankle for fragments of bone and mangled flesh, Houston propped himself against a tree, weaving a garland of leaves. He addressed a card “To Miss Anna Raguet, Nacogdoches, Texas: These are laurels I send you from the battle field of San Jacinto. Thine. Houston.”

Houston was the hero of the day after San Jacinto and easily won election as the first president of the Republic of Texas. In the midst of the challenges of organizing a new government, he did not return to Nacogdoches for several months. Instead, he worked out of a shack on the banks of the Brazos River in the temporary capital of Columbia and tried to continue his courtship of Anna Raguet by mail. She had ignored the laurel of leaves and card sent from the battlefield of San Jacinto. To avoid gossip that would surely reach her in Nacogdoches, Houston refrained from socials engagements as much as possible and stayed away from alcohol.

Houston’s biographer claims that Dr. Robert Irion, a gentlemanly young physician who had practiced medicine in Nacogdoches and had been elected to the First Congress of the Republic, accepted Houston’s appointment as his Secretary of State. Dr. Irion worked closely with President Houston and had even listened to Houston’s worries about the scarcity of mail from Miss Anna. When Irion went home to Nacogdoches on a short leave, he carried Houston’s letters to Anna.

In early 1837 Houston wrote Irion: “Salute all my friends and don’t forget the Fairest of the Fair!!!” Again Houston wrote: “Write . . .and tell me how matters move on and how the Peerless Miss Anna is and does! I have written her so often that I fear she has found me troublesome, and . . .I pray you to make my apology and . . .salute her with my . . .very sincere respects.” While Houston waited for letters that did not come, he received regular reports of Miss Anna nearing the steps of the altar, although no one seemed to know who the fortunate fellow might be.

Ignoring the laws under the Republic of Texas that required an Act of Congress to secure a divorce, President Houston empowered a judge to quietly hear the case in his chambers and issue the decree. The version of the divorce story that Anna Raguet received was apparently all it took to settle any doubts she may have harbored. The one-sided romance came to an end.

Dr. Robert Irion, upon hearing the news, promptly persuaded Miss Anna Raguet to marry him. The nuptials took place in March or April of 1840. The couple had five children, and they named their first son Sam Houston Irion.

Houston’s Cherokee wife died in 1838 and two years later Sam Houston married his third wife, twenty-one-year-old Margaret Moffette Lea. They had eight children, the youngest born just two years before Houston’s death in 1863.

Margaret Lea Houston

Margaret Lea Houston