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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Letter clears up error about Houston’s leg

May 4, 2002

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— Despite a famous painting and at least three biographies depicting Gen. Sam Houston as having been shot in the right ankle, the man who led the battle of San Jacinto 166 years ago Sunday seems to have a leg up on historians.

Richard Rice of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in Huntsville recently found proof of the mistake in a letter Houston wrote to his wife, Margaret, on Jan. 11, 1853.

After informing her he had nothing to tell "that would cheer or delight" her, Houston wrote: "I suffer slightly in my left leg, from the same cause, that I complained of at home, the San Jacinto wound."

And Madge Thornall Roberts, Houston's great-great-granddaughter, also notes that Andrew Jackson Houston, Sam Houston's son, wrote in a 1938 book that "the general's left ankle was shattered by a copper ball."

"He would certainly have known which was his father's lame leg," Roberts said.

The seemingly trivial revelation casts a shadow of inaccuracy on one of the most famous paintings in Texas history, William Henry Huddle's 1886 depiction of Santa Anna's surrender, which hangs in the state Capitol. In it, Houston is shown lying beneath an oak tree, his right ankle wounded.

At least three biographies since then have said a musket ball hit Houston in the right leg.

The right ankle wound also is depicted by a 67-foot statue of Houston that stands south of Huntsville, where Houston retired and died in 1863, showing him holding a cane in his right hand.

It was Rice's alertness that prevented the error being repeated again in a new diorama of Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's surrender to Houston.

The Battle of San Jacinto, fought April 21, 1836, occurred a month and a half after Texas declared independence from Mexico.

Houston's 900 men engaged the Mexicans and, as the infantry famously shouted "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" in remembrance of two bloody losses, the Texans took just 18 minutes to win a battle that left 630 Mexican soldiers dead and 730 captured.

Santa Anna was taken prisoner the following day and agreed to cede Texas.

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