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Texas Rangers and
Sam Houston's Grave

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The old Texas Rangers who gathered in Austin for a reunion in the early fall of 1897 surely figured they had fought their last fight. After all, they had battled and survived Mexican soldiers, Comanches and outlaws. But that’s before they heard what some folks in Tennessee were up to.

Meeting in the Capital City on the night of October 8, the aging rangers got word that certain parties in the Volunteer State were agitating for the removal of Sam Houston’s remains from Texas to his old stomping grounds in Tennessee. Some of the old rangers had known Houston. The others all knew of his place in their state’s history.

Houston came to Texas in 1832 following a drunken sabatical among the Cherokees in what is now Oklahoma. Before then, he had served as governor of Tennessee, his political career there ending concurrently with his short-lived first marriage. Only four years after crossing the Red River, having assured Texas’ independence from Mexico by defeating Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at San Jacinto, Houston became the first president of the new Republic of Texas.
Huntsville Tx - Sam Houston Statue
The 67-foot Sam Houston Statue in Huntsville
I-45 S, (exit 112) I-45 N (exit 109)
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, October 2010

He lived to see Texas admitted as the 28th state in 1845, dying at 70 of natural causes on July 26, 1863 during the bloody Civil War he had tried to avert. His family abided by his wishes and buried him in Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, the Walker County town he and his wife Margaret had settled in because it reminded him of his boyhood home in Tennesse.

But 33 years after his death, the sentiment had risen in Tennessee that Houston should be exhumed from his Texas grave and shipped “home” to the hills of his youth. The former rangers gathered for comradery in Austin learned of this idea in a letter from Marie Bennet Urwitz, president of the Cuero-based San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the daughter of a former ranger.

Mrs. Urwitz wrote that “a proposition has been made the family of Gen. Houston for the removal of the remains of that immortal chieftain from Texas to Tennessee.”

She continued, “I hope your patrioic and venerable body will offer a strong protest against any such proposition. A state which would allow [Houston’s removal] is not worthy of the grave of [Ben] Milam, Bowie, Travis or the memory of such a man as your [former Ranger captain] Jack Hays.”

The aging rangers, used to saddling up and riding hard at a moment’s notice, acted quickly after hearing Mrs. Urwitz’ letter. Voting unanimously, the veterans approved this resolution:

“Whereas, we have learned that there is a proposition to remove the remains of Gen. Houston from this state to Tennessee; be it

“Resolved, that we, the ex-rangers of Texas, are unalterably opposed to the removal of the remains of that hero from the land of his choice and the field of his illustrious and imperishable fame.

“Resolved, that the remains of our immortal chieftain should abide in their final rest in the sacred soil of Texas, which he successfully defended and that an appropriate monument worthy of Texas should mark the grave which will be sought by patriotic pilgrims in increasing numbers through future ages.”

Texas newspapers of the day are silent on how it all played out, but Houston’s remains stayed put in Huntsville. Doubtless, most of the veteran rangers who voted for the resolution to keep the hero of San Jacinto in Texas would have defended Houston’s burial place with force of arms had the movement to move him progressed further.

Huntsville Tx - Sam Houston Memorial Grave and Monument
Sam Houston Memorial Grave & Monument, Oakwood Cemetery, Huntsville
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, October 2010

As for the former rangers’ recommendation that “an appropriate monument” be placed over Houston’s final resting place, that took a little longer. Not until April 21, 1911 – the 65th anniversary of San Jacinto – did assorted dignitaries show up for the dedication of a large granite monument at Houston’s grave.

Sharing the limelight with Alonzo Steele, the battle’s last survivor, the “Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan gave the keynote speech at the unveiling of the massive stone, which features a trio of bas reliefs of Houston by sculptor Pompeo Coppini.

“It is [the] willingness to die for what one believes is right,” Bryan said that spring day, “that makes civilization possible.”


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
January 13, 2011 column
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Huntsville, Texas

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