It is odd enough to read, in the chronicles of those days, that amid all this suffering and squalor there was drawn a strict line between “the quality” and those who had no claim to be patricians. “The quality” was made up of such emigrants as came from the more civilized East, or who had slaves, or who dragged with them some rickety vehicle with carriage-horses—however gaunt the animals might be. All others—those who had no slaves or horses, and no traditions of the older states—were classed as “poor whites”; and they accepted their mediocrity without a murmur.
Because he was born in Lexington, Virginia, and moved thence with his family to Tennessee, young Sam Houston—a truly eponymous American hero—was numbered with “the quality” when, after long wandering, he reached his boyhood home. His further claim to distinction as a boy came from the fact that he could read and write, and was even familiar with some of the classics in translation.
When less than eighteen years of age he had reached a height of more than six feet. He was skilful with the rifle, a remarkable rough-and-tumble fighter, and as quick with his long knife as any Indian. This made him a notable figure—the more so as he never abused his strength and courage. He was never known as anything but “Sam.” In his own sphere he passed for a gentleman and a scholar, thanks to his Virginian birth and to the fact that he could repeat a great part of Pope’s translation of the “Iliad.”
His learning led him to teach school a few months in the year to the children of the white settlers. Indeed, Houston was so much taken with the pursuit of scholarship that he made up his mind to learn Greek and Latin. Naturally, this seemed mere foolishness to his mother, his six strapping brothers, and his three stalwart sisters, who cared little for study. So sharp was the difference between Sam and the rest of the family that he gave up his yearning after the classics and went to the other extreme by leaving home and plunging into the heart of the forest beyond sight of any white man or woman or any thought of Hellas and ancient Rome.
Here in the dimly lighted glades he was most happy. The Indians admired him for his woodcraft and for the skill with which he chased the wild game amid the forests. From his copy of the “Iliad” he would read to them the thoughts of the world’s greatest poet.
It is told that nearly forty years after, when Houston had long led a different life and had made his home in Washington, a deputation of more than forty untamed Indians from Texas arrived there under the charge of several army officers. They chanced to meet Sam Houston.
One and all ran to him, clasped him in their brawny arms, hugged him like bears to their naked breasts, and called him “father.” Beneath the copper skin and thick paint the blood rushed, and their faces changed, and the lips of many a warrior trembled, although the Indian may not weep.