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

Black History Month Part III

During the years that Texas was part of Mexico, the government offered free blacks the same rights of citizenship and opportunities for land ownership as were provided to white settlers. And just like the white colonists, the free settlers of color worked to establish successful lives in the new country.  William Goyens (sometimes spelled Goings) settled in Nacogdoches in the early 1820s and became

William Goyens

William Goyens

an Indian Agent, working as a mediator and interpreter between the settlers and Cherokees of Northeast Texas. Born in North Carolina in 1794, the son of a white mother and mulatto father (with Cherokee ancestry), Goyens’ fair complexion may have helped him establish a successful blacksmith business in Nacogdoches and begin land speculation.  His work as an Indian Agent earned the trust of the Indians, the Mexican government, and the settlers in East Texas.  He opened a freight hauling business, manufactured and repaired wagons, traded with the Indians, began lending money, and developed successful sawmill and gristmill operations.  He married a white widow and adopted her son. Despite barely escaping being sold back into slavery on two business trips to Louisiana, Goyens owned as many as nine slaves and added to his wealth by entering the slave trade as a buyer and seller of human chattel.

During the buildup to the Texas Revolution, Goyens served as Sam Houston’s, interpreter as Houston negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees that kept them from siding with the Mexican Army during the war.

After Texas won Independence from Mexico in 1836, laws under the new Republic changed the status of freedmen.  Many slaveholders feared that the prosperity of freedmen would encourage rebellion among their slaves.  The constitution of the Republic of Texas took away the citizenship of free blacks, restricted their property rights, and forbade permanent residence in Texas without the approval of the congress.  The laws became even more restrictive for free blacks after Texas annexation as the twenty-eighth state.

Despite living the rest of his life in the mansion he built west of Nacogdoches and continuing to amass considerable wealth, William Goyens was forced to hire some of the best lawyers in Nacogdoches to defend against white neighbors who constantly attempted to take the property he accumulated. Goyens died in 1856 and is buried next to his wife on the property they acquired near Nacogdoches.

Hendrick Arnold, the son of a white man and black mother, moved with his family from Mississippi to Stephen F. Austin’s colony in 1826.  During the Texas Revolution, Arnold and his father-in-law, Erastus (Deaf) Smith, earned an almost legendary reputation as scouts and spies for the Texan cause. Beginning with the 1835 capture of San Antonio, Arnold’s bravery and skills in the fight for San

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Antonio earned him a citation for his “important service.”  Deaf Smith suffered serious injuries in the Texan’s fight for San Antonio, and Arnold nursed him back to health.  Then, Arnold joined Deaf Smith as they scouted for other cavalry units, even infiltrating the Mexican camps with Deaf Smith disguised as a Mexican and Arnold posing as a runaway slave.  Before the Battle at San Jacinto, Deaf Smith’s spy company followed Sam Houston’s orders to destroy the bridge that would have offered escape from the field of battle for both armies, thus sealing the boundaries for the final battle for independence.

Like all the men who fought for Texas Independence, Arnold was compensated in land for his service, however, his property lay northwest of present Bandera, a site with poor soil that edged Indian territory, evidence of the lower status that a free black man held in the society of that period.  Arnold never lived on his land, choosing instead to live near San Antonio where he operated a gristmill.

By 1827 Arnold had fathered a daughter, Harriet, with one of his father’s slaves, and despite his own status as a free black, Arnold kept Harriet as his slave.  By the fall of 1835, before his participation in Texas War for Independence, Arnold had settled in San Antonio where he married Martina, the stepdaughter of Deaf Smith.  After Texas joined the Union, Arnold placed his daughter Harriet, who was about nineteen, in an indentured-servant contract with James Newcomb.  Newcomb was to pay $750 for Harriet’s service and then free her after five years. The Texas Black History Preservation Project points out that Arnold may have thought that Newcomb, a white man, had a better chance than Arnold of getting the Texas Legislature to accept a petition to allow Harriet to live in the state as a free woman.

Before the end of the indenture contract, both Newcomb and Arnold died in the 1849 Bexar County cholera epidemic.  Newcomb’s administrator successfully petitioned the Texas Legislature to allow Harriet to remain in Texas as a free woman, but Arnold’s wife (it is unclear who she was) sued the administrator for $2,000 plus the $750 due on the indentured-servant contract and asked that Harriet be returned as her slave.  The results of the suit are not clear.  Harriet may have been allowed to remain in Texas as a free woman.

A Taste of Texas Tea

It’s great fun to tell the story of people who don’t fit the expected mold.  In Texas where oilmen are known for strutting about in cowboy boots and living a lavish lifestyle, Tol Barret the pioneer that in 1866 drilled Texas’ first producing oil well was one of those people who didn’t fit the mold.  Even his home (to see photos, click a line at the bottom of this site), located five miles south of Nacogdoches in deep East Texas, fails to meet the grand standards of the oilmen that followed Barret—the wildcatters of the 20th Century.  If you look at the photos you will see that the house is built inside and out of unpainted vertical rough sawn pine boards. The yard is still swept clean, as was the custom in the mid-1800s, to keep down the risk of fire.  The late Captain and Mrs. Phillips moved the house about ten miles from its original site to their Pine Tree Plantation, and converted its detached kitchen and loft into a Bed and Breakfast. Using Barret family photos, the Phillips restored the house and even selected replicas of the Barret’s empire period furnishings for the main house. 

Now that you’ve had a look at the only surviving reminder of the unusual man, his story is worth a read.  Barret arrived in East Texas with his widowed mother and grew up noticing that oil seeped into water wells; that hogs wallowing on creek beds got slimy with oil; and he probably knew that a water well in a nearby county caught fire in 1848 and burned for a year—all signs to the well-educated young man that contrary to the view of “experts” there was oil under Texas’ pine tree covered hills.

Sure enough, in 1859 oil was discovered in the steep wooded hills of Northwest Pennsylvania—all the proof the experts needed to convince the world that they knew their business—oil would be coming from the eastern part of the US.  Undeterred Barret leased a tract of land in December 1859.  The Civil War forced him to put his plans on hold.

After serving in the Confederate Army, Barret came home, formed the Melrose Petroleum Oil Co. with four other men, and renewed his lease.  Using a steam engine for power, he drilled into the earth with an auger that was eight feet long and eight inches in diameter and suspended from a tripod.  He pulled the auger out of the hole with a rope attached to a mule.  In that fashion he struck oil at 106 feet. That first Texas oil well produced ten barrels a day.

Barret secured financing through a Pennsylvania firm and brought a Pennsylvania operator to begin a second well.  When oil prices plummeted from $6.59 to $1.35 a barrel, and the well didn’t come in at 80 feet as the driller expected, he shut down and headed home.

Broke, and unable to convince Pennsylvania oil operators of the merits of Texas petroleum, Barret gave up. He spent the remainder of his life managing his wife’s farms and a mercantile store.

If your measure of success calls for Tol Barret becoming an oil tycoon, you’ll be disappointed.  Barret’s success came with living until 1913, long enough for him to see an oil boom in 1887 at the very site of his original discovery.  And the granddaddy of them all, Spindletop, in 1901 produced a “geyser of oil” in Southeast Texas.  Tol Barret lived to see the “experts” name Texas the Oil Capital of the World.

P.S.  Watch for the Spindletop story next week.