In Texas, a Museum for a Larger-Than-Life Hero, Sam Houston.
Sam Houston was larger than life. The city of Huntsville, Texas, has a 20-meter-tall statue of him. It is said to be the largest statue of any American hero. Nearby, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum holds many of his belongings. Patrick Nolan is the director.
PATRICK NOLAN: "He is really the only man in our history who was president of an independent country, also governor of two different states, the only man to have that distinction, Tennessee and Texas, United States senator from Texas, commanding general in a very successful war."
Sam Houston suffered personal and political defeats early in life. In 1832, he joined American settlers in what was then the Mexican territory of Texas.
PATRICK NOLAN: "The idea of remaking yourself, of re...kind of...constituting your career, if you will, was there, and Texas was an opportunity to do that."
Sam Houston led Texas rebels to victory against a larger Mexican army at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Texas won independence from Mexico before joining the United States. Houston became governor of the new state, but was forced to retire to his farm in Huntsville in 1861. Nolan says Houston refused to sign an oath to support rebellious southern states against the north.
PATRICK NOLAN: "He would not take that oath to support the Confederacy. He would resign -- he didn't resign, he would be dismissed, he would be fired before he would do it."
The Civil War was still being fought when Sam Houston died at his home in 1863. James Haley has studied his life. He says Sam Houston and his wife owned slaves, but paid them for extra work. He says Houston angered many southerners because he opposed efforts to expand slavery to other states.
JAMES HALEY: "Every year, he had a speaking tour up the Ohio Valley, through Pennsylvania, New York and into New England. That was really the center of his political strength, because he was unpopular in the South because of his stance against slavery."
Sam Houston predicted the Civil War years before the fighting started.
JAMES HALEY: "The South will go down, I think he said, in a sea of smoke and ruin and that will be the end of the South as we know it, and the North will think they've won this big victory. He said the North will have its own price to pay; they will reap a harvest of assassination."
One week after the main Confederate army surrendered, President Abraham Lincoln was murdered. Haley says Sam Houston freed all his slaves before he died. The money he gave them helped some become educated and start businesses. Sam Houston continues to interest people, and his influence in Texas remains strong. I'm Barbara Klein.