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Sam Houston Leading the Texas Army

Sam Houston Rode a Gray Horse

by Kameron K. Searle

 

A Horse of a Different Color 

   A search of the Internet or a reading of any one of a half dozen recent history books about Sam Houston or the Battle of San Jacinto will advise the reader that Sam Houston was riding a white stallion at the Battle of San Jacinto. And that this was the horse killed under Houston at San Jacinto.

   Sam Houston was not riding a white stallion at San Jacinto.  Houston was riding a gray stallion at San Jacinto and it was that gray stallion which was killed under Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. This can be established beyond any reasonable doubt from the numerous writings and eyewitness statements of participants in the battle of San Jacinto, including General Sam Houston himself.

   Note that the number of horses ridden by Houston is sometimes debated. As the number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle becomes clear in many of these sources, they will also be included and discussed briefly in conclusion at the end of this chapter. The source of each of the writings quoted are provided along with the date the source first appeared.  My research began with a letter written by William Zuber in 1902. 

 

William Physick Zuber

1902

Nacogdoches Archives

   William Zuber in his 1902 letter to A. W. Morris writes the following to describe the horse Houston purchased from Isom Parmer:

"Before leaving home for Washington he [Isom Parmer] purchased a very large, fine-looking horse, for which he paid four hundred Mexican silver dollars, and rode him to Washington. Later, I often saw that horse. He was a large, handsome animal, but I think not very nimble. General Houston having been re-elected commander-in-chief of the army, left Washington for Gonzales on the 6th of March, but he was sorrily mounted and wanted a better horse, and proposed to purchase Isom Parmer's fine gray, offering to pay to him the price that he had paid for the horse--four hundred Mexican silver dollars. Parmer prided very much in that horse and wished to keep him, to accommodate General Houston though, he accepted the offer, and his memory of this favor to Houston was always a pleasure to him. This was the horse that was killed under General Houston in the battle of San Jacinto." 

   William Zuber describes the horse for us in some detail. Zuber was very familiar with the horse. As a fifteen year old soldier in the Texas army, Zuber traveled with Houston across Texas to San Jacinto and he specifically writes, "[l]ater, I often saw that horse."  Zuber describes Houston's horse "as a very large, fine-looking horse." Zuber continues with, "[h]e was a large, handsome animal..." From this quote we find that the horse was male. Zuber finishes his description with, "...General Houston...proposed to purchase Isom Parmer's fine gray,..." Here Zuber provides the color of the animal which is stated as gray.

   Isom Parmer was the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Convention at Washington where Houston had signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico a few days before. Houston left Washington for Gonzales on March 6, 1836 the same day he purchased the horse from Isom Parmer. Of note, the Alamo fell on the morning of March 6, 1836.

   The above quote from W.P. Zuber's 1902 letter to A. W. Morris was taken from the Robert Bruce Blake Research Collection, Compiled in the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center Archives Collection, 1958-1959, Volume LX, pages 58-57. This cite is for the copy of the set located at the Clayton Library in Houston, Texas. It is the author's understanding that some sets of the Robert Bruce Blake Research Collection have different pagination than do others. The exact location of this particular set is mentioned for that reason. The East Texas Research Center located at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, has the document Blake copied in its collection.

   Below are numerous quotes from many sources which corroborate Zuber with regard to the color of Houston's horse. These quotes put to rest the myth that Houston's horse was white. At this point, the evidence would suggest that Marquis James' Pulitzer Prize winning book The Raven is the history that started the myth of the white horse. 

 

Sam Houston

April 3, 1836

From The Papers of the Texas Revolution 1835-1836, Jenkins, Presidial Press, Austin, 1973,

p.311

 

[2557]

[HOUSTON ORDER]

 

Head Quarters, Camp on Brazos

3rd April, 1836

Orders

Mr. J. Groce will take charge of a Grey Stallion now on the opposite side of the river, and hold him subject to the orders of the Commr in Chief of the Army - by order.

Sam Houston

Commr. In Chief

Geo. W. Hockley

Inspr. Genl.

   According to Zuber, Houston purchased "Isom Parmers fine gray" on March 6, 1836 and then rode to Gonzales. After hearing of the fall of the Alamo, Houston began his tactical retreat. We now find Houston on the west bank of the Brazos River across from Groce's Plantation. The gray horse is still with Houston. We find out from Houston that the horse is a stallion. Houston still has the gray horse with him at this point in the retreat. He has sent the horse over to Groce's Plantation on the east side of the Brazos River and placed the horse in the care of Jared Groce, the owner of Groce's Plantation.

   Houston is still has the gray horse on April 3, 1836, 18 days before the battle of San Jacinto.

 

James Monroe Hill

(Written by his own hand.)

Austin, Texas, October 19, 1897

From Heroes Of Texas, James Monroe Hill, Battle of San Jacinto, Jones, Union National Bank, Houston, 1935, p.5 & p.6

Recollections of James Monroe Hill

"At about 3:30 oclock in the afternoon of the 21st the order was given to fall in line, we were going to fight now. The order was hardly given sooner than obeyed, for we kept ready all the time. We had nothing else to do - and we did that with a will. Each company took its place in the line and we marched through the north end of the island of timber. Houston passed by me riding a gray dapple horse, his big saber swinging by the buckskin strings to his belt, and I thought him the finest looking man I had ever seen - or ever yet have seen. I thought it probable that either, he or his horse would be shot. A noted mark for the enemy. I had all confidence in his bravery."

   James Monroe Hill was in Burleson's regiment. James Monroe Hill places Houston on the gray horse as the battle of San Jacinto is about to begin. He describes how fine he thought Houston looked and writes that he thought Houston or his horse would be shot, "[a] noted mark for the enemy."

   In the James Monroe Hill's  October 20, 1895 letter in the "McArdle Notebooks - The Battle of San Jacinto" in the Texas State Library and Archives, Hill wrote, "Gen Houston's horse that he was on going into battle was a dapple gray."  Click here to see the James M. Hill letter.

   Both Houston and his horse would be shot. Houston would ride in front of the Texas infantry up to the Mexican center. The Texas cavalry would ride up from the Mexican left and Sherman and his men would come in from the Mexican right. No one can question Houston's bravery as he rode in front of the Texas infantry toward the Mexican center, the so called "breastworks." The infantry being on foot and Houston being on horseback, Houston and his horse became the largest single target in the middle of the field of battle for the Mexicans to shoot at. And shoot at him they did from the best fortified position on the entire field of battle.

   Can anyone really doubt Houston's bravery given the fact that he was effectively drawing much of the Mexican fire on himself and away from the Texas infantry?

   Later James Monroe Hill writes:

"As I passed down the flat lands I saw General Houston on a different horse. I afterward heard that it was the third one, two having been killed under him. I did not know then that he himself was wounded."

   At this point the gray stallion Isom Parmer sold to General Sam Houston on March 6, 1836 at the Convention at Washington was dead having been killed during the initial charge against the Mexican center. As we shall see in later accounts, Houston did in fact ride three different horses during the course of the battle.

 

Moses Austin Bryan

July 2, 1859

From The Battle of San Jacinto - April 21, 1836 

Union National Bank, Houston, 1936, p.32

   This account of the battle was written by Moses Austin Bryan to General Sidney Sherman.

"Soon after the General ordered Capt. Turner's men back to the Mexican camp, and was about to return himself, being shot through the ankle, when a Mexican officer's horse, upon which he had been mounted after losing the gray upon which he went into battle, fell with the General and expired in a few minutes. Some men standing by catching the General as he fell - I, with others, looked at the horse and found he was shot through with a ball. The General mounted again and left for the Mexican camp, which was the last I saw of him that evening."

   Moses Austin Bryan was a nephew of Stephen F. Austin. In this 1859 letter to Sidney Sherman, he provides the order and number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle and the source for the second horse ridden by Houston in the battle.

   Moses Austin Bryan's account says that Houston first lost "the gray upon which he went into battle." Here as in the other accounts that describe the color of Houstons horse, we find the color given as gray once again for the first horse.

   After the gray fell, we know from several accounts that Houston acquired a second horse. Now this presented a problem for this researcher at first. If Houston is mounted on horse back in front of the infantry and the Texas cavalry is way off to Houstons right, how would Houston obtain the second horse in the middle of the battle? There is no account of a mounted Texas officer or cavalryman being kill or wounded in the vicinity of Houston at this point in the battle. Then Bryan gives us the obvious answer. Houston mounted "a Mexican officer's horse." No color is given for the Mexican officer's horse which Houston rode in the battle, but at least Bryan provides the source for the second horse. We know the second horse Houston rode was also wounded and killed from this account, "...he was shot through with a ball." The account of James W. Winters later in this paper describes a Mexican officer falling from his horse after being shot and gives the number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle.

   Bryan's account says that Houston mounted a third horse and rode back to the Mexican camp. But by this late point in the battle, horses would have been much more plentiful. No source is given for the third horse but Dr. N. D. Labadie provides the color of the third horse. See his account later in this paper.

 

S.F. Sparks

March 16, 1895 

These reminiscences were written by Mr. Sparks in the form of a letter to Reverend J. L Walker, of Bruceville, Texas, and dated March 16, 1895.

From Heroes Of Texas, S.F. Sparks, His Recollections, Extract from Quarterly Texas State Historical Association, Union National Bank, Houston, 1933, p.11

Also see:

http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/archives/feature/sfsparks.html

Recollections of S. F. Sparks

"While I was standing there leaning on Bailey, there was a stir among the prisoners. They were jumping to their feet, and clapping their hands, and saying, "Santa Anna." I looked and saw two of our men on horseback and a Mexican in front pointing his finger, and saying "Houston."He was carried to where Houston lay under a tree, suffering from his wound. I told Bailey that that was Santa Anna, and to carry me to where Houston was. He did so. When we got there, Zavala was there, and Santa Anna was introduced to Houston. About the first question he asked was, whether General Houston rode in front of his men on a dapple gray horse with drawn sword. Houston answered he rode such a horse, and was in front with the other officers."

   This letter was originally published in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume XII, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, 1909, p. 72. Here S. F. Sparks claims he overheard Santa Anna himself specifically ask Houston if he "rode in front of his men on a dapple gray horse with drawn sword." If Sparks story is accurate, we must conclude that Santa Anna did survey the battlefield for some period of time in the battle before he fled. Sparks maintains in his account that Santa Anna specifically referred to a dapple gray horse.

 

James Gillaspie

1859

From The San Jacinto Campaign of 1836 - As Given in the Depositions in the

Case of John Forbes vs. Nicholas D. Labadie,

No. 2509, In the District Court of Nacogdoches County, Texas,

Volume I, pages 84, 88 and 97 to 98

Compiled by R. B. Blake,

Texas State Library Archives Division

 

From the Deposition of Witness James Gillaspie

Direct Interrogatories by Plaintiff

No. 2.--Were you engaged in the service of the country and in the army during the campaign of the year 1836 in the then Republic of Texas? If yea, what post or position did you fill in the army? If you were in command, state in what command, and to what Regiment you belonged?

A.--I was. I was a Captain in the Texas Army and belonged to the Second Regiment.

No. 12.Did you see Gen. Houston in the Battle of San Jacinto? If yea, state if you know what kind of horse or poney he rode, if any or either?

A.  I saw Gen Houston in the Battle of San Jacinto. He was riding a gray horse.

Cross Interrogatories

X No. 10.-If in your answer to the 12th Direct Interrogatory by plaintiff, you state the kind of horse or poney Sam Houston rode in the said Battle of San Jacinto, tell how you came to recollect so particularly the description of said horse or poney after a lapse of twenty-three years? May you not be mistaken at this late period as to the description of said horse or kind of horse he was?

A.  After the Second Regiment was formed for battle, Gen. Houston passed down in front of the regiment and spoke to every captain belonging to it. He passed within ten feet of where I was standing. I am not mistaken in the kind of horse that he rode. I afterwards saw the horse after he was wounded.

   Here we have James Gillaspie testifying in a deposition under oath on direct and cross examination that Houston rode a gray horse at San Jacinto.

 

Sam Houston

1859 

From The Texas Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,

Texian Press, Waco, 1967, p. 283

From Sam Houston's Speech to the United States Senate on February 28, 1859

Houston Speaking About Himself in the First and Third Person:

"I will, in concluding this point, read the testimony of General Rusk, to show that the Commander-in-Chief remained on the field, and continued in pursuit of the enemy until his horse, pierced with five balls, fell under him."

   In this quote from his speech to the United States Senate, Houston indicates that the first horse was hit "with five [musket] balls.

   In this quote from his speech to the United States Senate, Houston indicates that the first horse was hit "with five [musket] balls."

 

James Washington Winters

June 7, 1901

From Heroes Of Texas, James Washington Winters, History of theBattle of San Jacinto, Jones, Union National Bank, Houston, 1931, p.3

Extract from Quarterly Texas State Historical Association

An account of the Battle of San Jacinto

James Washington Winters

"I saw Houston in the midst of the enemys tents near the first regiment to the right. A Mexican officer tried to rally his men, but was soon dispatched by a rifle ball and fell from his horse. Our regiment passed beyond the Mexican breast work before we knew it, while our other two regiments came up in front of them, so then we did them up in short order. I never heard any halt ordered. We never halted. The battle was won in fifteen or eighteen minutes. The Mexican cavalry broke in disorder, while ours was hotly pursuing them. Houston had two horses killed from under him, and was on his third one before we passed the Mexican works."

   J. W. Winters fought in Sherman's division (the left wing of the Texas attack) under Captain, William Ware.

 

N. D. Labadie

1858

From The Texas Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,

Texian Press, Waco, 1967

San Jacinto Campaign.

By N. D. Labadie

"Having reached the spot where I left my wounded comrade, I observed Gen. Houston on a bay pony, with his leg over the pommel of the saddle. "Doctor," said he, "I am glad to see you; are you hurt?" "Not at all," said I. "Well," he rejoined, "I have had two horses shot under me, and have received a ball in my ankle, but I am not badly hurt."

   Here Dr. Labadie provides the color of the third horse Houston rode at the Battle of San Jacinto. Labadie says Houston was "on a bay pony." A bay horse is reddish brown in color.

 

Benjamin McCulloch

1859

From The Texas Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,

Texian Press, Waco, 1967, p. 164

From Sam Houston's Speech to the United States Senate on February 28, 1859

General Ben McCulloch's Recollections of the Battle of San Jacinto,

February 28, 1858

 

"At the battle of San Jacinto, I was in command of one piece of artillery. The fire from it opened upon the enemy about two hundred yards distant. We advanced after each discharge, keeping in advance of the infantry, until we were within less than one hundred yards of their breastwork, at which time I had aimed the gun, but was delayed in firing for a moment by Gen. Houston, who passed across some thirty yards in front of the gun, and was at that time nearly that distance in advance of every man in that part of the field. After this, I saw him advancing upon the enemy, at least one third of the distance between the two armies, in front of Colonel Burleson's regiment, when it was not more than seventy or eighty yards from the enemy's breastworks. About this time the enemy gave way, and the route became general."

   Benjamin McCulloch's recollections were read by Houston in his February 28, 1859 speech to the United States Senate regarding the Battle of San Jacinto. To a point in the battle, the artillery was moving and firing out in front of the infantry. We see from McCulloch, the commander of one of the Twin Sisters, that Houston was not only out in front of the infantry at this point in the battle but that he was also in front of the artillery. Every man on the center of the field had a very good view of Houston and his horse. The explosion of two six pounder canons going off a mere 30 yards almost directly behind Houston must have been deafening to say the least.

    This quote is also interesting and unusual in that it gives some description by a commander of one of the Twin Sisters as to how the Twin Sisters were deployed in the Battle of San Jacinto.

 

Conclusion

   It bears repeating. No one can question Houston's bravery as he rode in front of the Texas infantry and artillery toward the Mexican center. The infantry and artillery being on foot and Houston being on horseback, Houston and his horse became the largest single target in the center of the field of battle for the Mexican army to shoot at. And shoot at him they did from the best fortified position on the entire field of battle, their breastworks. On his "very large, fine looking" gray horse, Houston rode on anyway. Houston himself was shot through the left ankle. After his horse was shot five times and killed beneath him, he got on another one, a Mexican officer's horse. After the second horse was shot and killed beneath him, he got on a third, a bay. And General Houston and the Texas army went on to win the independence of Texas that day, April 21, 1836.

 

   The writer would appreciate being notified of any corrections or inaccuracies in this paper. Thank you. Kameron K. Searle

Kameron K. Searle

602 Sawyer, Suite 460

Houston, Texas 77007

713-880-4529

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