Sam Houston Rode a Gray Horse
by Kameron K. Searle
Just about every history that mentions Sam Houston's horse at
the Battle of San Jacinto mistakenly describes the horse as a white stallion.
The author, Marquis James, appears to
be the culprit who started this myth. James describes Houston's horse as a "white stallion" on pages 246, 250 and
251 of his 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Sam Houston, The Raven.
Writers and historians have mistakenly copied
Marquis James' mistake hundreds of times since 1929. In the 2004 Disney movie, The Alamo, the historians and advisors who
assisted in making the movie historically accurate blew this detail. They placed Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston up on a white
stallion yet again!
Its very romantic and heroic, it is just not true! We hope you enjoy reading about this great
bit of Texas trivia.
Sam Houston Rode a Gray Horse
by Kameron K. Searle
A Horse of a Different Color
A search of the Internet or a reading of any one of a half dozen recent history books about Sam Houston or the Battle
of San Jacinto will advise the reader that Sam Houston was riding a white stallion at the Battle of San Jacinto. And that
this was the horse killed under Houston at San Jacinto.
Sam Houston was not riding a white stallion at San Jacinto.
Houston was riding a gray stallion at San Jacinto and it was that gray stallion which was killed under Houston at the Battle
of San Jacinto. This can be established beyond any reasonable doubt from the numerous writings and eyewitness statements of
participants in the battle of San Jacinto, including General Sam Houston himself.
Note that the number of horses
ridden by Houston is sometimes debated. As the number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle becomes clear in many of these
sources, they will also be included and discussed briefly in conclusion at the end of this chapter. The source of each of
the writings quoted are provided along with the date the source first appeared. My research began with a letter written by
William Zuber in 1902.
William Physick Zuber
William Zuber in his 1902
letter to A. W. Morris writes the following to describe the horse Houston purchased from Isom Parmer:
leaving home for Washington he [Isom Parmer] purchased a very large, fine-looking horse, for which he paid four hundred Mexican
silver dollars, and rode him to Washington. Later, I often saw that horse. He was a large, handsome animal, but I think not
very nimble. General Houston having been re-elected commander-in-chief of the army, left Washington for Gonzales on the 6th
of March, but he was sorrily mounted and wanted a better horse, and proposed to purchase Isom Parmer's fine gray, offering
to pay to him the price that he had paid for the horse--four hundred Mexican silver dollars. Parmer prided very much in that
horse and wished to keep him, to accommodate General Houston though, he accepted the offer, and his memory of this favor to
Houston was always a pleasure to him. This was the horse that was killed under General Houston in the battle of San Jacinto."
William Zuber describes the horse for us in some detail. Zuber was very familiar with the horse. As a fifteen year old soldier
in the Texas army, Zuber traveled with Houston across Texas to San Jacinto and he specifically writes, "[l]ater, I often
saw that horse." Zuber describes Houston's horse "as a very large, fine-looking horse." Zuber continues with,
"[h]e was a large, handsome animal..." From this quote we find that the horse was male. Zuber finishes his description
with, "...General Houston...proposed to purchase Isom Parmer's fine gray,..." Here Zuber provides the color of the
animal which is stated as gray.
Isom Parmer was the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Convention at Washington where Houston
had signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico a few days before. Houston left Washington for Gonzales on March
6, 1836 the same day he purchased the horse from Isom Parmer. Of note, the Alamo fell on the morning of March 6, 1836.
The above quote from W.P. Zuber's 1902 letter to A. W. Morris was taken from the Robert Bruce Blake Research Collection, Compiled
in the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center Archives Collection, 1958-1959, Volume LX, pages 58-57. This cite is for the
copy of the set located at the Clayton Library in Houston, Texas. It is the author's understanding that some sets of the Robert
Bruce Blake Research Collection have different pagination than do others. The exact location of this particular set is mentioned
for that reason. The East Texas Research Center located at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, has the
document Blake copied in its collection.
Below are numerous quotes from many sources which corroborate Zuber with
regard to the color of Houston's horse. These quotes put to rest the myth that Houston's horse was white. At this point, the
evidence would suggest that Marquis James' Pulitzer Prize winning book The Raven is the history that started the myth of the
April 3, 1836
From The Papers of the Texas Revolution 1835-1836, Jenkins,
Presidial Press, Austin, 1973,
Head Quarters, Camp on Brazos
Mr. J. Groce will take charge of a Grey Stallion now on the opposite side of the river, and hold him
subject to the orders of the Commr in Chief of the Army - by order.
Commr. In Chief
Geo. W. Hockley
According to Zuber, Houston purchased "Isom Parmers fine gray" on March 6, 1836 and then rode to
Gonzales. After hearing of the fall of the Alamo, Houston began his tactical retreat. We now find Houston on the west bank
of the Brazos River across from Groce's Plantation. The gray horse is still with Houston. We find out from Houston that the
horse is a stallion. Houston still has the gray horse with him at this point in the retreat. He has sent the horse over to
Groce's Plantation on the east side of the Brazos River and placed the horse in the care of Jared Groce, the owner of Groce's
Houston is still has the gray horse on April 3, 1836, 18 days before the battle of San Jacinto.
James Monroe Hill
(Written by his own hand.)
Austin, Texas, October 19, 1897
From Heroes Of Texas, James
Monroe Hill, Battle of San Jacinto, Jones, Union National Bank, Houston, 1935, p.5 & p.6
Recollections of James
"At about 3:30 oclock in the afternoon of the 21st the order was given to fall in line, we were going
to fight now. The order was hardly given sooner than obeyed, for we kept ready all the time. We had nothing else to do - and
we did that with a will. Each company took its place in the line and we marched through the north end of the island of timber.
Houston passed by me riding a gray dapple horse, his big saber swinging by the buckskin strings to his belt, and I thought
him the finest looking man I had ever seen - or ever yet have seen. I thought it probable that either, he or his horse would
be shot. A noted mark for the enemy. I had all confidence in his bravery."
James Monroe Hill was in Burleson's
regiment. James Monroe Hill places Houston on the gray horse as the battle of San Jacinto is about to begin. He describes
how fine he thought Houston looked and writes that he thought Houston or his horse would be shot, "[a] noted mark for
In the James Monroe Hill's October 20, 1895 letter in the "McArdle Notebooks - The Battle
of San Jacinto" in the Texas State Library and Archives, Hill wrote, "Gen Houston's horse that he was on going into
battle was a dapple gray." Click here to see the James M. Hill letter.
Both Houston and his horse would
be shot. Houston would ride in front of the Texas infantry up to the Mexican center. The Texas cavalry would ride up from
the Mexican left and Sherman and his men would come in from the Mexican right. No one can question Houston's bravery as he
rode in front of the Texas infantry toward the Mexican center, the so called "breastworks." The infantry being on
foot and Houston being on horseback, Houston and his horse became the largest single target in the middle of the field of
battle for the Mexicans to shoot at. And shoot at him they did from the best fortified position on the entire field of battle.
Can anyone really doubt Houston's bravery given the fact that he was effectively drawing much of the Mexican fire on himself
and away from the Texas infantry?
Later James Monroe Hill writes:
"As I passed down the flat lands I
saw General Houston on a different horse. I afterward heard that it was the third one, two having been killed under him. I
did not know then that he himself was wounded."
At this point the gray stallion Isom Parmer sold to General
Sam Houston on March 6, 1836 at the Convention at Washington was dead having been killed during the initial charge against
the Mexican center. As we shall see in later accounts, Houston did in fact ride three different horses during the course of
Moses Austin Bryan
July 2, 1859
From The Battle of San Jacinto - April 21, 1836
Bank, Houston, 1936, p.32
This account of the battle was written by Moses Austin Bryan to General Sidney Sherman.
after the General ordered Capt. Turner's men back to the Mexican camp, and was about to return himself, being shot through
the ankle, when a Mexican officer's horse, upon which he had been mounted after losing the gray upon which he went into battle,
fell with the General and expired in a few minutes. Some men standing by catching the General as he fell - I, with others,
looked at the horse and found he was shot through with a ball. The General mounted again and left for the Mexican camp, which
was the last I saw of him that evening."
Moses Austin Bryan was a nephew of Stephen F. Austin. In this 1859
letter to Sidney Sherman, he provides the order and number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle and the source for the
second horse ridden by Houston in the battle.
Moses Austin Bryan's account says that Houston first lost "the
gray upon which he went into battle." Here as in the other accounts that describe the color of Houstons horse, we find
the color given as gray once again for the first horse.
After the gray fell, we know from several accounts that
Houston acquired a second horse. Now this presented a problem for this researcher at first. If Houston is mounted on horse
back in front of the infantry and the Texas cavalry is way off to Houstons right, how would Houston obtain the second horse
in the middle of the battle? There is no account of a mounted Texas officer or cavalryman being kill or wounded in the vicinity
of Houston at this point in the battle. Then Bryan gives us the obvious answer. Houston mounted "a Mexican officer's
horse." No color is given for the Mexican officer's horse which Houston rode in the battle, but at least Bryan provides
the source for the second horse. We know the second horse Houston rode was also wounded and killed from this account, "...he
was shot through with a ball." The account of James W. Winters later in this paper describes a Mexican officer falling
from his horse after being shot and gives the number of horses ridden by Houston in the battle.
says that Houston mounted a third horse and rode back to the Mexican camp. But by this late point in the battle, horses would
have been much more plentiful. No source is given for the third horse but Dr. N. D. Labadie provides the color of the third
horse. See his account later in this paper.
March 16, 1895
These reminiscences were written by
Mr. Sparks in the form of a letter to Reverend J. L Walker, of Bruceville, Texas, and dated March 16, 1895.
Of Texas, S.F. Sparks, His Recollections, Extract from Quarterly Texas State Historical Association, Union National Bank,
Houston, 1933, p.11
Recollections of S. F. Sparks
"While I was standing there leaning on Bailey, there
was a stir among the prisoners. They were jumping to their feet, and clapping their hands, and saying, "Santa Anna."
I looked and saw two of our men on horseback and a Mexican in front pointing his finger, and saying "Houston."He
was carried to where Houston lay under a tree, suffering from his wound. I told Bailey that that was Santa Anna, and to carry
me to where Houston was. He did so. When we got there, Zavala was there, and Santa Anna was introduced to Houston. About the
first question he asked was, whether General Houston rode in front of his men on a dapple gray horse with drawn sword. Houston
answered he rode such a horse, and was in front with the other officers."
This letter was originally published
in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume XII, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, 1909,
p. 72. Here S. F. Sparks claims he overheard Santa Anna himself specifically ask Houston if he "rode in front of his
men on a dapple gray horse with drawn sword." If Sparks story is accurate, we must conclude that Santa Anna did survey
the battlefield for some period of time in the battle before he fled. Sparks maintains in his account that Santa Anna specifically
referred to a dapple gray horse.
From The San Jacinto Campaign of 1836 - As Given in the
Depositions in the
Case of John Forbes vs. Nicholas D. Labadie,
No. 2509, In the District Court of Nacogdoches County,
Volume I, pages 84, 88 and 97 to 98
Compiled by R. B. Blake,
Texas State Library Archives Division
the Deposition of Witness James Gillaspie
Direct Interrogatories by Plaintiff
No. 2.--Were you engaged in the
service of the country and in the army during the campaign of the year 1836 in the then Republic of Texas? If yea, what post
or position did you fill in the army? If you were in command, state in what command, and to what Regiment you belonged?
was. I was a Captain in the Texas Army and belonged to the Second Regiment.
No. 12.Did you see Gen. Houston in the
Battle of San Jacinto? If yea, state if you know what kind of horse or poney he rode, if any or either?
A. I saw Gen
Houston in the Battle of San Jacinto. He was riding a gray horse.
X No. 10.-If in your
answer to the 12th Direct Interrogatory by plaintiff, you state the kind of horse or poney Sam Houston rode in the said Battle
of San Jacinto, tell how you came to recollect so particularly the description of said horse or poney after a lapse of twenty-three
years? May you not be mistaken at this late period as to the description of said horse or kind of horse he was?
After the Second Regiment was formed for battle, Gen. Houston passed down in front of the regiment and spoke to every captain
belonging to it. He passed within ten feet of where I was standing. I am not mistaken in the kind of horse that he rode. I
afterwards saw the horse after he was wounded.
Here we have James Gillaspie testifying in a deposition under oath
on direct and cross examination that Houston rode a gray horse at San Jacinto.
From The Texas
Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,
Texian Press, Waco, 1967, p. 283
From Sam Houston's Speech to the
United States Senate on February 28, 1859
Houston Speaking About Himself in the First and Third Person:
will, in concluding this point, read the testimony of General Rusk, to show that the Commander-in-Chief remained on the field,
and continued in pursuit of the enemy until his horse, pierced with five balls, fell under him."
In this quote
from his speech to the United States Senate, Houston indicates that the first horse was hit "with five [musket] balls."
James Washington Winters
June 7, 1901
From Heroes Of Texas, James Washington Winters, History of theBattle of San
Jacinto, Jones, Union National Bank, Houston, 1931, p.3
Extract from Quarterly Texas State Historical Association
account of the Battle of San Jacinto
James Washington Winters
"I saw Houston in the midst of the enemys
tents near the first regiment to the right. A Mexican officer tried to rally his men, but was soon dispatched by a rifle ball
and fell from his horse. Our regiment passed beyond the Mexican breast work before we knew it, while our other two regiments
came up in front of them, so then we did them up in short order. I never heard any halt ordered. We never halted. The battle
was won in fifteen or eighteen minutes. The Mexican cavalry broke in disorder, while ours was hotly pursuing them. Houston
had two horses killed from under him, and was on his third one before we passed the Mexican works."
J. W. Winters
fought in Sherman's division (the left wing of the Texas attack) under Captain, William Ware.
N. D. Labadie
The Texas Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,
Texian Press, Waco, 1967
San Jacinto Campaign.
"Having reached the spot where I left my wounded comrade, I observed Gen. Houston on a bay pony, with
his leg over the pommel of the saddle. "Doctor," said he, "I am glad to see you; are you hurt?" "Not
at all," said I. "Well," he rejoined, "I have had two horses shot under me, and have received a ball in
my ankle, but I am not badly hurt."
Here Dr. Labadie provides the color of the third horse Houston rode at the
Battle of San Jacinto. Labadie says Houston was "on a bay pony." A bay horse is reddish brown in color.
From The Texas Almanac 1857 - 1873, Compiled by James M. Day,
Texian Press, Waco, 1967, p. 164
Sam Houston's Speech to the United States Senate on February 28, 1859
General Ben McCulloch's Recollections of the
Battle of San Jacinto,
February 28, 1858
"At the battle of San Jacinto, I was in command of one piece of artillery.
The fire from it opened upon the enemy about two hundred yards distant. We advanced after each discharge, keeping in advance
of the infantry, until we were within less than one hundred yards of their breastwork, at which time I had aimed the gun,
but was delayed in firing for a moment by Gen. Houston, who passed across some thirty yards in front of the gun, and was at
that time nearly that distance in advance of every man in that part of the field. After this, I saw him advancing upon the
enemy, at least one third of the distance between the two armies, in front of Colonel Burleson's regiment, when it was not
more than seventy or eighty yards from the enemy's breastworks. About this time the enemy gave way, and the route became general."
Benjamin McCulloch's recollections were read by Houston in his February 28, 1859 speech to the United States Senate regarding
the Battle of San Jacinto. To a point in the battle, the artillery was moving and firing out in front of the infantry. We
see from McCulloch, the commander of one of the Twin Sisters, that Houston was not only out in front of the infantry at this
point in the battle but that he was also in front of the artillery. Every man on the center of the field had a very good view
of Houston and his horse. The explosion of two six pounder canons going off a mere 30 yards almost directly behind Houston
must have been deafening to say the least.
This quote is also interesting and unusual in that it gives some description
by a commander of one of the Twin Sisters as to how the Twin Sisters were deployed in the Battle of San Jacinto.
It bears repeating. No one can question Houston's bravery as he rode in front of the Texas infantry and artillery toward
the Mexican center. The infantry and artillery being on foot and Houston being on horseback, Houston and his horse became
the largest single target in the center of the field of battle for the Mexican army to shoot at. And shoot at him they did
from the best fortified position on the entire field of battle, their breastworks. On his "very large, fine looking"
gray horse, Houston rode on anyway. Houston himself was shot through the left ankle. After his horse was shot five times and
killed beneath him, he got on another one, a Mexican officer's horse. After the second horse was shot and killed beneath him,
he got on a third, a bay. And General Houston and the Texas army went on to win the independence of Texas that day, April
The writer would appreciate being notified of any corrections or inaccuracies in this paper. Thank you.
Kameron K. Searle
Kameron K. Searle
9111 Katy Freeway, Suite 202
Houston, Texas 77024