What were Sam Houston’s connections to Baylor University?
No single name is more synonymous with Texas independence and statehood than legendary Texas general, president, governor and senator Sam Houston. Given Baylor’s position as Texas’ oldest continuously operating university, it seems only fitting that Houston would have strong ties to Baylor. Houston’s Baylor connection actually changed his life, and that of his family.
The 1830s and 1840s were pivotal times for Texas, a place where leaders like Houston and Judge R.E.B. Baylor crossed paths as they guided the young republic through its independence from Mexico and into statehood. General Houston, wildly popular after leading the decisive Battle of San Jacinto that led to Mexico’s surrender in 1836, became the first regularly elected president of the new Republic of Texas. Three years later, Judge Baylor moved to Texas, and two years after that, he was elected to the Texas Supreme Court.
The two men became friends, and Judge Baylor delivered the invocation at Houston’s second presidential inauguration. Their first connection, however, incredibly occurred years before they met. As a young man, Baylor saved an 11-year-old girl, Margaret Lea, from drowning in a flooded Alabama creek. Ten years later, Lea became Houston’s second wife.
By the 1850s, Texas was a state and Baylor was a university. Houston, by then a U.S. Senator, was so impressed by the young university that he moved to Independence in 1853 so that his children could attend Baylor — and four of his eight children did just that. When his daughters eventually married, two of them chose Baylor’s fourth president, William Carey Crane, to officiate their weddings.
Houston’s most life-changing tie to the university came in 1854. Late that year, upon hearing a sermon delivered by Baylor President Rufus Burleson, Houston committed his life to Christ. Wasting no time, Burleson baptized Houston in Independence’s Rocky Creek. After being told his sins were washed away, Houston, who led a very colorful life, is said to have quipped, “God save the fishes.” (The image above is from a painting, “The Baptism of Sam Houston,” that hangs in historic Independence Baptist Church.)
Today, the most prominent reminders of Houston’s influence on Texas history are the city that bears his name and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, the town where he spent the last few years of his life. But it was Baylor University that exerted the strongest influence on Houston in the latter years of his life, and it was with Baylor people that he developed relationships that would shape both Texas and the university created to serve it.
Sic ’em, Sam Houston!