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RON ROZELLE is the author of nine books, including the memoir Into that Good Night, a finalist for the PEN Prize, and was the recipient of the Robert A. Calvert Book Prize for My Boys and Girls are in There: The 1937 New London School Disaster. He lives in Lake Jackson, Texas.
Texas A&M University Press
Hardcover, 978-1623495862 (Also available as paperback and ebook), 232 pages, $29.95
December 13, 2017
Reviewed by Si Dunn
Most Texans recall how Gen. Sam Houston was a hero of the 1836 revolution that brought Texas independence from Mexico. Some likewise remember that Houston was a key figure in both the Republic of Texas's formation and Texas becoming America’s twenty-eighth state in 1845.
But, as Lake Jackson author-historian Ron Rozelle highlights in this engrossing examination of Sam Houston’s final years, the great hero’s accomplishments quickly were hurled aside when he tried to stop Texas from leaving the Union and joining the Confederacy in 1861.
Rozelle writes: “He had been a general of the highest rank, twice the president of a republic, the governor of two states [Tennessee and Texas], a senator, congressman, official ambassador of and to the tribal nations, and a potentially viable candidate, more than once, for the office of president of the United States.”
The often-flamboyant Houston also had gained other labels. “He was called many things in his time: hero, patriot, traitor, firebrand, maverick, Indian lover, genius, drunkard, and liberator.”
Exiled: The Last Days of Sam Houston examines events, issues, family relationships, and life decisions leading up to Houston’s expulsion as Texas governor once he refused to pledge loyalty to the Confederacy just before the Civil War. The book then follows Houston and his family into exile in East Texas, including Huntsville, where he would die just two years later, an old man worn down by pneumonia and lingering 1836 war wounds, plus the harsh changes to his fortunes and the world around him.
Ironically, following his ouster, Houston supported his eldest son’s decision to enlist in the Confederate Army. Houston even took fatherly pride in Sam Jr.’s training and appearance in uniform.
The path to Sam Houston’s downfall, the author contends, was set well before the Civil War, when Houston became one of two U.S. senators from Texas in 1846. Rozelle writes that Houston quickly found himself “at odds with other senators of both his party and geographical region, not on the issue of slavery, which he defended as an absolute economic necessity in the South, but as a vocal champion of Indian rights and a steadfast defender of keeping the Union bound tightly together through any storm that might threaten it.”
Rozelle notes that “[a]t times” in his book, “suppositions are made in the narrative—based always on the established characteristics and beliefs of the subjects and the mores and realities of the era — to better relate the time and place, but no actual events were altered and no characters introduced who never existed.”
He also emphasizes that “every effort was made to locate and document facts and figures in sources both primary—particularly original documents and hundreds of Houston’s personal letters—and secondary, including numerous biographies and histories.”
Nonetheless, a few Sam Houston scholars and aficionados may take issue with some contentions in Rozelle’s well-written book. However, Exiled is aimed also at a general audience. Many readers likely will gain enjoyable insights into one of America's most controversial and intriguing political leaders.
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Si Dunn is an Austin novelist, screenwriter, and book reviewer.
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