Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carthage Book Club

On a Friday afternoon in March I drove to the house of Jean Bunyard on Lake Murvaul, less than 20 miles from Carthage. The Carthage Book Club was holding its March meeting and wanted some sort of program pertaining to the Texas Revolution from the State Historian. I responded to their invitation by pointing out that Sam Houston was a key figure of the Texas Revolution, but instead of talking about the Runaway Scrape and the Battle of San Jacinto, I suggested that they might prefer a program on Sam's three wives, as well as other romantic interludes.

At the Bunyard lake house

They liked the idea of a Sam Houston soap opera. I enjoyed lunching with the ladies, most of whom were longtime friends. And they seemed to enjoy the program about Houston and his wives. His first marriage, while he was governor of Tennessee, proved to be a disaster. His bride, much younger than Governor Houston, soon left for home. Eliza Allen Houston was not ready for marriage, and rumor held that she was pushed into the union by her politically ambitious family. In any event, Houston responded to the public furor by resigning the governorship and returning to the Cherokee tribe with which he had lived for three years as a Tennessee teenager.

By now the Cherokee had been forced to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma). Known to the tribe as the Raven, Houston was welcomed back and urged by the Cherokee and other tribes as an intermediary with Indian agents and with tribal delegations to Washington D.C. Houston opened a trading post near Fort Gibson in I.T., but it was operated primarily by his Cherokee wife, Diana Rogers Gentry Houston. When Houston decided to try his luck in Texas, he left the trading post to Diana. She died in 1838 and is buried in Oklahoma's only national military cemetery, at Fort Gibson.

After Houston became a national military hero following the spectacular victory at San Jacinto, he was overwhelmingly elected president of the new Republic of Texas. The Texas Constitution did not permit consecutive presidential terms, and while visiting Alabama in an effort to recruit colonists, he was introduced to lovely Margaret Lea. For both Sam and Margaret it was love at first sight. Like Sam, Margaret had lost her father while she was a teenager. Her father was a minister, and she was a devout Baptist. He returned to Texas and a year of courtship ensued, mostly through courtship. Houston wanted to bring her to Texas for their wedding, but Margaret's mother, a formidable and highly capable woman, insisted that he return to Alabama for a wedding in their home.

They were married - in the Lea home - in 1840. Sam was 47 and Margaret 21, and during their 23-year marriage she presented him with eight children, four sons and four daughters. Their last child, Temple Lea Houston (named after her father) was the first baby born in the new - now the venerable and rebuilt - Governor's Mansion in Austin. Sam was re-elected president, he served the State of Texas for 13 years as a distinguished but controversial member of the U.S. Senate, and he concluded his public career as the only man ever to be elected governor of two states. And Margaret became the only woman to be first lady of the Republic of Texas and of the Lone Star State. 

During their marriage Margaret created a warm home life, in a succession of family residences, for her restless husband. The preacher's daughter prevailed upon Sam to be baptized at the age of 64, to her relief and as a good example for their children. She abhorred his drinking habits and influenced him to cut back markedly, which probably extended his life. He died at 70 in 1863, surrounded by his entire family. Sadly, Margaret died during a yellow fever epidemic only a few years later, at the age of 48. Because of health laws she was buried beside her mother at Independence, the site of her death, instead of beside her illustrious husband in Huntsville. Sam's domestic life was almost as adventurous and interesting as his public career.

Texas Tea Room and Panola County Heritage Museum

A few weeks later I received another invitation from the Carthage Book Club (both invitations were delivered to me by Brenda Giles, a former student of mine who had a distinguished teaching career in Carthage). The Book Club, in conjunction with the Panola College History Club, sponsored an appearance at Panola College of Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, who were scheduled to present their program "Riders of the Orphan Train" on Thursday, April 6. Alison and Phil have researched the Orphan Train Movement for 20 years. The Orphan Train Movement was begun by a New England minister and social reformer named Charles Loring Brace. While studying theology in New York City, he was horrified that as many as 10,000 homeless orphans and abandoned children were living on the city streets. During the period from 1854 to 1929, the Children's Aid Society, organized by Reverend Brace, transported more than 250,000 homeless children from New York and other eastern cities to western states, such as Texas. The children were met at western train stations by adults who brought them to their family homes. The final orphan delivery occurred at the depot in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

In the Texas Tea Room


With Alison and Phil

Carthage Book Club members wanted the State Historian in the audience to meet the authors and to view their PowerPoint presentation of this little-known historical chapter. Unfortunately I had an out-of-town appointment on April 6. But Alison and Phil were scheduled to arrive in Carthage on Wednesday afternoon, April 5, and several ladies from the Book Club were hosting them for a six-o'clock supper at the Texas Tea Room. I was invited to join the supper party and help greet Alison and Phil, and I was delighted at the opportunity. I did a little homework beforehand, and I was able to ask them pertinent questions. Of course, we are fellow writers and researchers, and that gave us a lot to talk about. I enjoyed sharing another meal with friends from the Carthage Book Club. And after returning to Carthage I learned that the program was a great success, with almost 200 students and townspeople in attendance.  

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