Has Texas Changed? New Documentary on Sam Houston Examines the Character of Early Texas

Sam Houston was the first president of Texas and its seventh governor when it became a state. He was instrumental in bringing Texas into the United States. There’s a new documentary on the man on public television, including Basin PBS. In it, we learn that some of the earliest debates in Texas are still active.

The documentary is called Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier, and Pioneer. Filmmaker Denton Florian drew much of his material from a 2002 biography by James Haley who asked the question “what made Houston tick?”

He had, as James Haley said, a backbone of strap iron. And he was right. He’s been vindicated by history. He was right on secession, and not going down that road. He was right about the Civil War. He was right about most of the things that he said, that he predicted all came true.

Houston died in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, after being the only Southern governor to oppose secession. But years before, after fighting so hard to make Texas a state, he saw how fragile the country truly was.

He was a staunch union man and was not going to budge from that. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed in 1854, Sam Houston predicted that we’re going to have a Civil War. He said it’s going to happen. My beloved South will go down in a sea of blood and smoky ruins. So some of the things he said we’re just creepy. Exactly the way he said it was.

Houston’s position as a Southern man for the Union grew unpopular with the rise of sectionalism and states rights. The late Ann Richards, governor of Texas in the early 1990s, also appears in the film. She describes how politics in the state really haven’t changed.

I think places are very much defined by their history. And this was an independent bunch of cusses that came down here. Which is all the more remarkable that Sam Houston was able to keep his focus that he wanted able to bring Texas into the Union against the feelings of all these people. The attitude that the federal government is not going to tell us what to do – that exists to this very day. You could run a poll today in Texas on some of the issues that existed when Sam Houston was alive, and I will bet you that the variance of percentage on the vote wouldn’t be very much.

There are many parts of present-day Texas named after Sam Houston. The state’s most populous city, a university, and his descendants. Sam Houston IV appears in the documentary. With his family linked so strongly to Texas annexation, we asked him what he thinks of present-day efforts for Texas to secede?

 Ha ha, well, I don’t think it will ever happen. And I think it will be the wrong thing to do. The United States is well established as it is. I scoff at those people.

The Sam Houston documentary will be broadcast on public television for three consecutive Thursdays, beginning today, October 2.

About Tom Michael

Former KRTS/KXWT News Director
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