A blue norther chilled the air when the “Big Drunk” stepped into Little Rocky Creek to be baptized. His wife, Margaret, softly wept tears of joy as Rev. Rufus C. Burleson lowered the new convert below the frigid waters. Just before Sam was baptized, the pastor told him to hand his watch and wallet to his wife, because they would get soaked. Sam said that she could have the watch, but his wallet needed to be baptized, too. When he came up out of the water, Pastor Burleson said, “Sam, your sins have been washed away in the creek.” Sam responded, “God help the fishes!”
Sam Houston served the great State of Texas as a General, President, Governor, United States Senator, and a member of the House of Representatives. He led the Texas Army to victory at San Jacinto, and was a powerful orator and statesman. For all the victories he had accumulated, Sam always lost the battle of the bottle. The Cherokees were so amazed at his binge drinking, that they gave Sam the nickname “Oo-tse-tee Ar-dee-tah-skee,” or the “Big Drunk.” But then Sam changed.
Why did General Houston release the bottle and cling to the Word of God? How did this transformation take place? While you could point to many factors, the one word that best explains it is: LOVE! Sam fell in love with an amazing woman who cared him more than anything else. With undaunted passion, this young woman that was 26 years his junior, determined to save Sam’s physical and spiritual life. Her strategy was based in prayer and her weapon was love. Her vision was cast and no one would dissuade her, not even her beloved mother.
Margaret Moffette Lea was born April 11, 1819 in Marion, Alabama. She was the favored daughter of a Baptist minister, and even studied at Pleasant Valley Seminary. When she first saw General Houston at a city event, she determined that one day she would meet him face-to-face. That day came rather soon, as she and the General met at a social function in the home of Margaret’s sister. He was a forty-seven year old man of the world, with a widely known record of successes and failures both politically and personally. Known in some circles as “the Raven,” Sam was one of the most cunning, colorful, and controversial figures in Texas history.
But as love would have it, Sam and Margaret connected in a swirl of youthful infatuation and aged captivation. Their lengthy walks and extended conversations were filled with the ingredients of the greatest love stories ever written. Margaret the poet and Sam the orator, would communicate in a romantic echelon similar to prominent English poets of the Victorian era Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who lived at the same time in Britain. Once when Sam was leaving on an extended trip to Texas, he handed Margaret a freshly picked Pink (carnation), and pointed at a lone star in the night sky. He told her to find that star every night, as he would also do, and think of him as he thought of her.
This emotional interchange inspired Margaret to write the poem “Lines to a withered Pink.” In part of the poem she states:
“Time onward flies and swift advance, The years when friends are few,
The years when I shall live perchance, Like thee to wither too.
Thou sweet memento! Gentle flower! Say will he cherish me,
And love me in that dark hour, As now I cherish thee?”
When they announced their engagement, Margaret’s mother was furious and strongly opposed the marriage. Nancy Lea was a devoted Christian who came from a strict religious sect that denounced alcohol and riotous living. She could not approve of her naïve daughter marrying this shrew sophisticate. That placed the free-spirited Sam Houston in the awkward position of complete exposure. But Margaret was convinced, and Nancy would never abandon her daughter. So Sam and Margaret were married on May 9, 1840. You can be assured that no one prayed harder for them than Mother Lea.
Together, Sam and Margaret had eight children and established a marvelous home. As Sam rose to great prominence in Texas lore, Margaret became an amazing First Lady, wife, homemaker, gardener, and poet. Their children were outstanding citizens, and truly loved their parents. Margaret grew vegetables and flowers, tended the children with her faithful maid Aunt Eliza, and kept the home-fires burning as Sam traveled the New World. But he always came home. Margaret was his everything.
When apart, Margaret and Sam would write adoring letters of love and fidelity to each other. Margaret would fill her correspondence with Scripture and original poems. Her unfailing commitment to rescue Sam Houston never wavered. She prayed over him, and cried tears of sorrow over his wayward life. Finally, Margaret loved Sam to sobriety, and led him to faith in Christ. All of her sacred investment culminated on that cold day in November 1854, when Sam committed his life to Christ, joined the local church, and waded out into the welcome waters of baptism. That’s when Margaret and Nancy wept.
Sam Houston died on July 26, 1863, as a committed Christian. He attended church faithfully, and was paying one-half of the pastor’s salary. For all of his notable accomplishments, his greatest conquest was secured when he took charge of his own weakness and gave it to the Lord.
Margaret Moffette Lea Houston died on December 3, 1867. As a revered widow of the President, she had been investing her final years by ministering to victims of the horrifying Yellow Fever epidemic. While caring for others, she contracted the dreaded disease and it eventually claimed her life. Though she had to be buried in a separate tomb and not with her beloved Sam, they are now together in the gardens of Heaven, never to separate again.
It was Margaret’s daughter, noted Texas poet Antoinette Power "Nettie" Houston Bringhurst, that penned these loving words to describe her memories of her mother: “Other scenes may fade and other lessons may be forgotten, but the words of my mother will linger like the echo when songs die away.”
This Texas love story has a happy ending. It was a story that reached beyond human love into the love of God. The greatest love story of all is in John 3:16 NIV - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.