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07.01.04 The Raven, A Biography of Sam Houston, by Marquis James, published in 1929 by Bobbs-Merrill.

Notes Concerning the Author:

Marquis James (1891-1955) was born in Springfield, Missouri to parents Houstin James, a lawyer, and Rachel Leo Marquis James, a schoolteacher.  The family migrated to Enid, Oklahoma in 1894, when Marquis was only 3 years old.  There he spent his childhood, graduating from Enid High School in 1910.  Although his father had died two years earlier, Marquis managed to spend one year at Phillips University before feeling that he needed to set out on his own finding work as a reporter for “various newspapers across the country.”  He married “fellow reporter Bessie Williams Rowland in 1914.”  During The First World War, James was an Army captain in France (1917-1919).  Leaving the Army at the age of 28, James spent the following 9 years as “the National Publicity Director for the American Legion and worked on the staff at the American Legion Monthly.”

So, like many historians whose work is on our Society’s Recommended Reading List, Marquis James was neither an historian by profession nor an academic.  But history and writing were obviously his passions and it is likely that wife Bessie was helpful.  Two important biographies by Marquis James are on our Recommended Reading List.  The first published (1929) was a biography of Sam Houston, titled, “The Raven,” and for that biography James received a Pulitzer Prize the following year.  The second published was a biography of Andrew Jackson, initially presented in two volumes: volume 1, The Border Captain, 1934, and volume 2, The Portrait of a President, 1937.  Then, in 1938 the two Jackson volumes were combined into one book, titled, The Life of Andrew Jackson.  For the Jackson biography, James also received a Pulitzer Prize.

Between 1923 and 1954 Marquis James wrote many other histories, often histories of large corporations or major business leaders (DuPont, Metropolitan Life, W. R. Grace, Texaco and others).

In 1955 James “died suddenly at the age of 64 of a cerebral haemorrhage.”


Sam Houston (1793-1863) was born on the family farm near Lexington, Virginia to parents Captain Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton Houston, the fifth child, all boys to that point.  The father’s main occupation was overseeing Virginia militia matters, which took him away from home most of the time.  The mother’s main occupation was overseeing the family farm, her husband’s inheritance.  Sam was 13 years old when his father died, but having anticipated death and knowing that finances where slim, he had prearranged for his family to migrate to eastern Tennessee, where he arranged for the purchase 419 acres near Maryville just north of the Smoky Mountains, spiritual home of remaining Cherokee Native Americans.  Two prominent cousins of the late Sam Houston had arrived in the region with their families shortly after the Revolutionary War, an advantage to Elizabeth and her children from the start.  But young Sam Houston, who loved adventure and reading, had no interest in a life on the farm, a spirit he must have inherited from his father.

Sam Houston was 16 years old when he left home to live with a tribe of 300 Cherokees on a large island in the Tennessee River.  For a period of 3 years that would become his home.  The chief was Oo-loo-te-ka, a member of the National Council of the Cherokee Nation and a peaceful man whose name translates to “He-Puts-the-Drum-Away.”  The chief’s sister was married to John Rogers, part Scot, who had two wives and numerous children.  Two of Rogers’ boys, John and James, were Sam’s “fast friends.”  And he enjoyed the easy life-style and spending time with Cherokee boys and girls his age.  Yet he had already become well educated for a pioneering man.  The English translation of Homer’s Iliad fascinated him.   But from where did Sam Houston get the name, “The Raven?”  Marquis James tells the story:

“Chief Oo-loo-te-ka adopted Sam as a son and christened him Co-lon-neh — The Raven.  The name was a revered one, with associations in Cherokee mythlogy.”

Much later in life, The Raven, then 56 years old, would look back on his life and write that, “there’s nothing half so sweet to remember as this sojourn [I] made among the untutored children of the forest.”

At the age of 19 Sam left the “untutored children of the forest,” returned to his mother’s home near Maryville and announced he would open a private school.  But the thing hardly got off the ground before news arrived that America had declare war on Great Britain.  The War of 1812 was launched.  And Sam intended to be a part of it.

On March 24, 1813 Sam volunteered for the Regular United States Army.  He was only 20, but Elizabeth gave her consent.  Then she sent her most unusual son off with these words:

“My son, take this musket and never disgrace it; for remember, I had rather all my sons should fill one honorable grave than that one of them should turn his back to save his life.  Go, and remember, too, that while the door of my cabin is open to brave men, it is eternally shut against cowards.”

Elizabeth held up a gold ring so her son could read the engraving on the inside surface, then she slipped it onto his finger.  To be sure, Houston proved to be no coward.  The Creek Nation made the mistake of going to war on the side of the British.  Horrible fighting ensued.  Under the overall command of Andrew Jackson, Houston was prominent among the men who fought and defeated the Creek Nation, forcing it to hand over much land to settlers.  Marquis James would describe the fight against the Creek Nation at the Horseshoe, a bend in the Tallapoosa River in what is now the State of Alabama.  Creeks were well protected behind breastworks of spongy green logs.  A charge was ordered:

“The Regulars reached the ramparts first.  Major Lemuel P. Montgomery scaled them and toppled back dead, but his name survives in the capital city of Alabama.  Ensign Sam Houston was the next man on the works.  Waving his sword he leaped down among the among the [Creek warriors] on the other side.  The platoon scrambled after its leader.  The first man over found him, covered with blood, beating off a ring of Indians with his sword.  The ramparts were taken.”

Houston had taken an arrow in his thigh, and after it was pulled out, he was bleeding a great deal.  When General Andrew Jackson a bit later called for volunteers to storm a Creek stronghold, none stepped forward.  Marquis James continued:

“When the men hesitated the wounded Ensign seized a musket from one of them and ordered a charge.  The only chance of success was to rush the port-holes which bristled with arrows and rifle barrels.  Houston plunged on, and when five yards from the redoubt stopped and levelled his piece.  He received a volley from the port-holes.  One ball shattered his right arm.  Another smashed his right shoulder.  His musket fell to the ground and his command took over.  The rash boy officer tried to rally his men; they failed him, and alone he climbed back up the ravine under fire and collapsed when he reached the top.

“Jackson reduced the redoubt by setting fire to it with flaming arrows.  The Creek insurrection was over, and the British were without military representation in the South.”

Space does not permit further presentation of this abstract.  We have only arrived at page 34 of this 489-page biography.  When reading further you will be with Sam Houston during his recovery from the awful wounds just described; his retirement from the Army; his law practice in Nashville, his Tennessee political life, including election to the Governor of the State; his marriage, at age 35 years, shortly afterward to 18-year-old Eliza Allen of Gallatin, which, so sadly and quickly failed.  What a blow that was to this man of immeasurable courage.  His spirit had been broken by a rather immature 18-year-old girl.  One final detail cannot be omitted.

Sam Houston immediately resigned the office of Governor and, on April 23, 1829, the man known as “The Raven,” went to be with friends of his youth, Chief Oo-loo-te-ka and his Cherokees, now relocated to what would become Oklahoma.  Houston took a Cherokee wife, Tiana Rogers, “a living link with Oo-loo-te-ka’s island in Tennessee, where a runaway boy with a copy of the Iliad and a rifle had learned the meaning of love and much of the meaning of life.”  Tiana was of no ordinary linage; her father was John Rogers, a Cherokee leader who was part Scot and an ancestor of the famous entertainer Will Rodgers.  But Houston could not remain with his Cherokee wife and his Cherokee friends for but a while.  His broken spirit had healed and Texas called.

Sam Houston said goodbye to Tiana and, on December 2, 1832, he crossed over the Red River into Spanish Texas.  That would be his destiny.

The space allocated for this abstract is already overused.  You have to read the rest for yourself.

In seeking to experience and understand the southern culture through it leaders, five men are recommend for your consideration.  Live their lives through the biographies recommended by the Society — witness their family and faith, their options and choices made, their struggles and sufferings, their sadness and happiness, their defeats and triumphs.  Observe how those life experiences molded their character and made them magnificent leaders of their people.  Here are the five:

George Washington of Virginia: Father of our Country — a study of determination.

Thomas Jefferson of Virginia: Exceptional President — a study of intelligence and wisdom.

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee: Military Leader and Exceptional President — a study of leadership.

Sam Houston of the Republic of Texas: Military Leader and Exceptional President — a study of courage.

Jefferson Davis of Mississippi: President of the Confederate States of America — a study of devotion.

Availability of this Book

Marquis James’ The Raven is available as a used book from Amazon and as reprints.  It is not available as a Kindle e-book but digital copies can be obtained through Google.  Several historians have written biographies of Sam Houston, as you would expect.  Avoid all but the one by Marquis James.  With James you will live the history as if you were there.