Sam Houston, an American Hero

Sam Houston (1793-1863) is a man every schoolchild in America should know.

He was the first United States Senator from Texas, the former President of the Republic of Texas, the only man to serve as Governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas), and a legendary war hero. Sam Houston epitomizes the self-made American man.

I’ve been interested in the life of Sam Houston for four reasons:

  • My cousin Rufus Burleson, President of Baylor University, baptized Sam Houston.

  • Sam married Margaret Moffett Lea of Marion, Alabama, a friend of the Burleson family who lived in Marion (where my great-great-grandfather raised his family).

  • Same and Margaret’s son, Temple Lea Houston (1860-1905), worked as an attorney in Enid, Oklahoma.

  • The Pulitzer-winning biography of Sam Houston’s life, The Raven, was written by Enid, Oklahoma’s native Marquis James.

In 1990, award-winning religion reporter Jim Jones of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote a story of Sam Houston’s conversion to Christ and his baptism by Baptist pastor Rufus Burleson of Independence, Texas.

Jim died in 2015. He was a humble, erudite man several times for stories he wrote.

Of all the stories I’ve read on the conversion to Christ of Sam Houston – including the one written by Rufus Burleson – Jim Jones’ 1990 article remains my favorite.

I am posting this story “online” for my grandkids and great-grandkids to be inspired by Sam Houston’s life. I also want the family of religion reporter Jim Jones to know how much I appreciate his work!


How Sam Houston Became a Baptist


Jim Jones, Religion Editor, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (1990)


Independence Baptist Church, Independence, Texas, the church where Sam Houston confessed his faith in Christ to Pastor Rufus Burleson (1823-1901)

Sam Houston, a hero of the Texas war for independence and president of the Republic of Texas, became a Baptist late in life.

I heard much about Houston, one of my favorite historical characters, when I visited Bay lor University in Waco earlier this month.

Houston, a rugged 6-foot-6-inch soldier and politician who was christened “The Raven” by Indians he lived with at one time, became a Baptist, partly at the urging of his wife, Houston was baptized in 1854, at the Baptist church in Independence, Texas, by the Rev. Rufus Burleson, then president of Baylor University and pastor of the small church.

The historic village of Independence, southwest of Huntsville, was the first home of Baylor and the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836.

Houston made a public profession of faith after discussing some doctrinal points with the Rev. George W. Baines, who also served as a Baylor president and was the great-grandfather of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Burleson says in his writings that Houston walked down the aisle, shook his hand, and said, “I give you my hand, and with it, I give my heart to the Lord.”

Houston’s life before and after joining the little Baptist church reads like fiction.

In his youth, he fought with President Andrew Jackson in Indian wars, then lobbied for the rights of the Indians who had adopted him. A commanding political figure, Houston was elected governor of Tennessee in 1829.

But his life had many ups and downs. Houston’s marriage to Eliza Allen, who was from a prominent Tennessee family, ended mysteriously after only three months, shortly after being elected governor of that state,

Houston resigned as governor of Tennessee and disappeared, never mentioning the reasons for the marriage breakup. He had gone back to live with the Indians, settling near Fort Gibson in what is now Oklahoma- ma with Tiana Rogers, a beautiful woman of Cherokee descent, historical sources say.

Tiana died after the couple moved to Texas, and Houston, when he was 47, married Margaret Lea, a Baptist. The couple had eight children. The youngest, Temple Lea Houston, was washed away.” born in the Texas governor’s mansion in Austin.

Houston, already a legendary figure, saw his political career end in rejection by his fellow Texans. He was accused of cowardice and treason and forced to resign as Texas pocketbook governor because he opposed Texas’ secession from the Union. However, one of his sons, Sam Houston Jr., served in the Confederate Army.

The political courage of Houston in taking the unpopular stand of opposing secession was cited in a chapter in President John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage.

The baptism of Houston was a significant event for early Baptists, said long-time Baylor staff executive Thomas Turner, a researcher-historian who refers to several books and documents about the event, including Lois Smith Murray’s Baylor at Independence.

Houston was to be baptized in a coffin-shaped baptistry chiseled out of the rocky bed of Kountz Creek north of Independence. But mischievous boys, hearing of the upcoming baptism, filled the unusual baptistry with mud and trees.

Burleson discovered the prank in time and switched the baptism to Little Rocky Creek, where a historical marker tells of Houston’s baptism on November 19, 1854.

Rufus Burleson baptized Sam Houston at Little Rocky Creek on November 19, 1854

Texans came from throughout the countryside to see the baptism of the man who had surprised Santa Anna and his Mexican troops at the battle of San Jacinto.

After baptizing Houston, Burleson said, “Now, Sam, your sins are all washed away!”

Sam Houston replied, “God save all the fishes downstream.”

Seeing he had forgotten to remove his wallet before being dunked into the water, Houston told Burleson, “Well, preacher, you’ve baptized my pocketbook too!”