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The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt


While William was playing his pranks, hunting, and drinking in the beauties of nature, his parents pondered over his future. On account of climatic conditions and educational advantages, they decided in 1843 to leave the Brazos for the Island of Galveston, in what was still the independent Republic of Texas.

Taking his family and a few of the servants with him, Taliaferro Howard left the plantation negroes to work under an overseer. When he arrived at Galveston, he purchased a new home, called “La Fitte Fort.” In 1816 this place was owned by the La Fitte brothers; they were French pirates, and in 1820 the inhabitants of Galveston ran them off the Island and turned their home into a dumping-ground for old firearms and large quantities of outworn mahogany furniture. In the center of the garden was an old cannon. It can be seen on the Island to-day, and is all that remains to mark the place where “La Fitte Fort” once stood.

William, now seventeen, was advised to take life a little more seriously. He was sent to Professor Deane’s College, where, at the request of his father, he concentrated on the legal side of learning. Here he commenced his long friendship with David S. Terry, a fellow student, who later became prominent in the political and judicial life of California.

At this period great excitement prevailed throughout the Republic of Texas. The whole world wondered whether this rich country was going to be annexed to the United States. Great Britain appeared anxious that Texas should remain a Republic, and offered to finance her in order that she might increase her army and navy. LaMar was the head of the Texan Navy.

General Memucan Hunt had been appointed Secretary of the Navy in 1838, and had succeeded in inducing a large number of officers to resign their commissions in the United States Navy and serve under him. This noted patriot had started life as a planter. During the Texan Revolution he raised a mounted company, and In conjunction with James Henderson, traveled from Norfolk, Virginia, by way of New Orleans, and arrived in time to aid General Thomas Green. In August, 1836, he accepted an appointment as Major General in the Army of the Republic, and in this capacity he was sent as I’ nvoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to the l ‘lilted States from the Texan Republic.

On his arrival at Washington, General Hunt found that recognition of the Republic had been defeated in the House by a majority of sixteen. This upset his plans, but by persistent work the hostile majority in Congress was won over, and General Hunt was formally received as Minister on July 6, 1837. One day in August of this year he addressed a letter to John Forsyth, American Secretary of State, proposing the admission of Texas into the Union, and continued to agitate the subject with officials and Senators until annexation became a reality.

Soon after William’s arrival in Galveston, his father began to take an active part in public affairs. With the passing of the time the political excitement grew greater, and the country became divided in opinion with regard to annexation.

Early in 1845, a tall, noble-looking man, dressed in buckskin breeches and Mexican blanket, called at the Howard home. He appeared rather conservative in temperament, and filled his pipe slowly while Taliaferro Howard related some of his early experiences in New Orleans and Old Virginia. When the visitor learned that Major Howard was born in the same State as himself, he realized, as he afterward said, that they were soul-friends. Slowly approaching his subject, he explained that he had once been Governor of Tennessee, but that

The Historic Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Courtesy of the Southern Pacific Railway Company

[click to enlarge]
The old mission building in which David Crockett and other brave Americans were besieged by the Mexicans in 1836 and died in defense of liberty.

an unfortunate marriage had necessitated his resignation after only two years of service. This unpleasant incident in his life had caused him to go into solitude for at least three years,

This aristocratic-looking man was General Sam Houston, one of the most distinguished and interesting characters in United States history. He was born in Rockbridge, Virginia, and after the war of 1812, in which he played an active part, General Houston had studied law and secured the envied position of District Attorney. Later, moving to Nashville, Tennessee, he became Adjutant-General of the State and afterward Major General. In 1823, he was elected to Congress and served two terms. Then he was nominated Governor of Tennessee, being elected by an overwhelming majority; but domestic troubles—and drink—caused his resignation after only two years in office. Leaving Tennessee, he was adopted into the Cherokee tribe of Indians, and took up his abode with them for about three years.

In the year 1830 we find him in Texas endeavoring to gratify his fondness for rural pursuits. He lived at San Felipe de Austin, and there, in spite of his desire to abandon public life, he was drawn into the political activities of the time. With his powers of foresight, he could vividly see the rising of a new commonwealth, a new field of achievement, where all the bold elements of his character could find full play.

He allowed his name to be used as a candidate to a convention that was to be held in April, 1833, and much to his surprise he was elected. Thus he became a member of the first deliberative assembly of Anglo-Saxon men—there were fifty members, with William Wharton as president—to discuss the project of making Texas one of the States of the Confederacy of Mexico. Great care was taken to render the new Constitution favorable to the Federal Government of Mexico. To General Houston is attributed the moulding influence which controlled the actions of the assembly and gave tone to the political feeling and events that followed, for he was a born leader with rare human qualities.

Becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Texas, in the spring of 1836 he was elected a member of the convention which made Texas a separate republic, and later served in the field at the head of the republic’s military forces, which now had to fight the armies of Mexico. Immediately after the capture of the Alamo by the Mexicans, March 6, in which many prominent Texans were slain, General Houston with seven hundred and fifty men met General Santa Anna, who had eighteen hundred Mexican soldiers, on the banks of the San Jacinto, near the mouth of Buffalo Bayou. With the battle-cry of “Remember the Alamo!” Houston and his fellow Texans attacked the Mexicans, killing six hundred and thirty of them and taking seven hundred and thirty prisoners, including their General, Santa Anna. In this conflict General Houston was wounded, and on account of the shabby treatment received from jealous civil authorities he took a boat to New Orleans, where he could rest and recover his health.

Twelve days before the new republic’s first election, he returned to Texas, and his popularity was so great that he received all the votes cast, and became the first President of Texas. Taking up his residence at Houston, near Galveston Bay, in 1837, this celebrated soldier in due time visited Galveston Island. Thus it was that Major Taliaferro Howard, with his own keen interest in politics, came into touch with President Houston when the latter made his first trip to the Island. Houston soon confided to Howard that his position as President was by no means one to be envied, since the tangled state of Texan affairs caused him constant anxiety. He had a plan to cure these troubles, and so diplomatically and convincingly did he present his ideas to Howard that he promptly obtained his new friend’s interest and assistance in the endeavor to annex Texas to the United States.

When the President, on that first visit, had enjoyed some light refreshments, including two glasses of whisky, he turned to the boy, William, and said: “You must come and hear me speak in the church.” Naturally, young Howard was present when the time came, and witnessed a great demonstration; but what surprised him most was that President Houston delivered an eloquent address on temperance.

Major Taliaferro Howard invited President Sam Houston to take up his abode at their home whenever he visited Galveston. Several months after that first visit, General Houston announced his intention to speak at Galveston in favor of annexation. On receiving this information, Major Howard and the Mayor made necessary preparations, for it was not likely to be exactly a gala occasion; in fact, when the people of the Island learned that the President was in favor of annexation to the United States, there were some who planned to kill him. The younger Howard, long afterward, vividly recalled the day and hour of this great meeting. The hall was crowded with eager people, some ready to cheer, and the majority ready to hiss and jeer. When President Houston mounted the platform he was protected on either side by Major Taliaferro Howard and the Mayor, who carried hickory sticks in their hands ready for action. His extraordinary personality and unusual eloquence resulted in complete silence until the close of his address, when there was great excitement, but no serious violence. After that, President Houston and Major Howard set out on an extensive political campaign for the purpose of supporting annexation. The President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, was opposed to the idea, but Houston, being a diplomat as well as a warrior, commenced negotiations with France and other European powers to take Texas, and this caused the opposition to die down. While his father was campaigning with President Houston in different parts of Texas, William Howard was busy scattering the new political ideas among the young folks.

With the approach of election day, when the issue was to be decided by popular vote, the whole Republic was in a state of revolution. People went to the polls in remarkable numbers, and some curious scenes were witnessed. One old farmer, in spite of his sufferings from a serious malady, insisted that his son place him in a wagon and take him to the voting place. Amidst a whirl of contention he cast his ballot for a Senator who favored annexation, and this one vote gave the majority which decided the admission of Texas into the American Union, December 29, 1845.

This is regarded as a very important item in United States history, for it is asserted by thinking people that had Texas remained independent, Great Britain would have attempted to control not only that state, but also the vast empire to the west of it, including California, Oregon and Washington.

General Sam Houston was elected the first United States Senator representing Texas. He served thirteen years, and while in the Senate did everything to prevent discord between the North and the South. He also upheld the Indian cause, saying that no treaty made with the Indians had ever been violated by them—or had ever been carried out in good faith by the Government. The younger Howard was a lifelong admirer of Sam Houston.

Immediately following annexation, an epidemic of yellow fever swept the whole of Galveston Island. The Howard family were busy moving into their new house when William fell a victim to the terrible disease. He was nursed by his father, and after many days of suffering, amidst general anxiety, slowly recovered. His father was the next to succumb to the plague, and after a short illness passed away. Two hours before his death he called William to the bedside, and told him that it was his duty to take care of his mother. The dying man also advised him to continue the study of law.

The death of his father was a great blow to William and it also threw a weight of care and responsibility upon his young shoulders. Realizing that the family were now largely dependent upon him, he gave up his studies and applied himself to looking after his father’s property. I lis task consisted of the management of stock, plantation lands, and the supervision of slaves. The handling of these matters required much thought and hard work, and he was only twenty years old; yet with the assistance of his mother, he quickly grasped the situation and was successful in his administration of affairs.

About this time serious trouble began to brew between the United States and Mexico. War eventually became so imminent that companies were formed and equipped in every town throughout the State. These preparations were made for the specific purpose of invading Mexico and endeavoring to obtain more satisfactory terms regarding the western boundary of Texas.

Galveston felt the need for action, and the young hot blood of the Island ran wild. William Howard was among the first to enroll, and was unanimously elected Captain by his comrades. He fitted out a company at his own expense and entered into these activities with all his heart and soul. When the company was ready for active service, General Memucan I Iunt visited Galveston. He had been entrusted by the Governor of the Lone Star State with the task of inspecting the army that had been organized for the invasion of Mexico. Two days before the company was ordered to leave for Mexico, William rushed into the house to bid his mother good-by. She seemed very low spirited and said to the boy, “Well, William, are you really going to leave me with all these slaves?” Then, recalling the death-bed words of his father, “Take care of Mother,” he left the house in silence, returned to his company, and with great grief handed the men over to his cousin Robert.

While Captain Robert Howard’s company went into Mexico, William worked in the Consular Department with General Simes. The war was of short duration, and at its close he resumed complete management of his mother’s affairs.

William’s favorite sister, Ann, celebrated the peace (1848) by marrying General Memucan Hunt, the officer who had inspected the Army of Invasion. After the wedding they left for Washington, D. C., where they were the guests of President Taylor.

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