|WACO, Texas – In the State of Texas, no icon stands taller than military hero Sam Houston. The 67ft statue near his retirement home of Huntsville, said to be seen from 10 miles away, illustrates his towering presence over the conscience of the Lone Star State.
But, nothing will stand taller in Texas on Nov. 26 than Lot 100 at A & S Auctions of Waco: a presentation sword given to Houston in 1841 by the soldiers who served under him at San Jacinto, the battle that avenged The Alamo, sent Mexican general Santa Anna packing and secured the sovereignty of the Republic of Texas.
“What can be more iconic in Texas?” asks auctioneer Scott Franks. “Few people know we have this … word is starting to trickle out. But, we’ve already been contacted by a few, saying they’re extremely ready to buy it.”
Franks has had possession of the sword for nearly a year, attempting to get the definitive provenance of the highly decorative sword. It was a part of the estate of the late Joe Crain, a legendary Texas collector, Franks says. Unfortunately, no one knows where Crain acquired the sword. But, Franks wanted to “go the extra mile” to get the authoritative answer to the validity of the historical piece.
And that came in an Aug. 19 letter from historians at The Alamo: “This 19th century presentation sword was inscribed to Sam Houston upon his election to a second term of president of the Republic of Texas in 1841,” the letter states. “The sword is well-crafted and has been kept in excellent condition considering its age … Overall, the presentation sword is an outstanding example of 19th century design and craftsmanship. It is intricately detailed and inscribed, making it a first-rate addition to any collection.”
The veterans of San Jacinto spared little expense in presenting the sword and scabbard to their Command-in-Chief. The maker’s mark (A &FK) is clearly visible on the forte of the blade. The brass hand guard is highly detailed with crossed cannons on one side, a lone star on the opposite side. It has an ivory grip, wrapped with wire gold. The blade form is gladius: straight-short and double-edged.
Hand-stamped and engraved on the scabbard, with its original harness, is the inscription: “Presented to President Sam Houston, Republic of Texas by Texican Vols. Battle of San Jacinto Remember the Alamo Remember Fannin 1841.”
“It is significant that the word ’Texican’ is used,” according to historians at The Alamo, “as this was used to describe Anglo-speaking citizens during the period, but was superseded by the more familiar ’Texan.’”
Houston was elected Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Texas in March 1836. On March 6, the Mexican Army, lead by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, routed The Alamo Mission in San Antonio, killing all the defenders.
Five days later Houston, after hearing of the defeat at the Alamo, organized recruits of the 1st Regiment Volunteer Army of Texas at Gonzales. On March 13, short of rations, Houston and his forces retreated before the superior forces of Anna.
After a four-days march, in heavy rain and troops struggling in mud, Houston stopped near present-day LaGrange where he received additional troops and continued east two days later with 600 men.
Santa Anna, meanwhile, concentrated on another mission housing Texas militia volunteers at Goliad. On March 20, Col. James Fannin surrendered his forces of nearly 400 volunteers, most of whom where executed at Santa Anna’s orders.
The “Remember Fannin” on the scabbard is in reference to the Colonel, who was the last to be executed, according to a witness of the “Goliad Massacre.” Reportedly Fannin, after watching the execution of most of his men, made three requests: he asked for his personal possessions to be sent to his family, to be shot in his heart and not his face, and to be given a Christian burial. Santa Anna’s soldiers took his belongings, shot him in the face and burned Fannin’s body along with the other Texans who died that day.
Fannin, who reportedly was detested by his own men, has suffered at the hands of historians in the past several years. The inscription from the San Jacinto volunteers adds a curious twist to history, according to researchers from The Alamo. “The reputation of James Walker Fannin, commander of Fort Defiance (La Bahia), has suffered somewhat in the passing years, and it is unusual to see a positive reference to him.”
Despite criticism for his perceived lack of willingness to fight, Houston continued his eastward march towards the Gulf Coast. But towards the middle of April, Santa Anna had caught up with Houston.
However, the Mexican general and dictator had split his own army into three separate forces in an attempt to encircle Houston and his forces. On April 21, at the Battle of San Jacinto, Houston surprised Santa Anna and his Mexican forces during their afternoon “siesta.” After a short and furious battle, estimated at less than 18 minutes, the Texans defeated the Mexicans decisively. Houston, reportedly, had two horses shot from beneath him and suffered a shattered ankle from a stray bullet.
Badly beaten, Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco, granting Texas its independence.
Houston went on to become one of the most storied heroes of Texas history, twice serving as President of the Republic of Texas, and serving in the Congress of the Republic. After Texas achieved statehood, Houston would be elected as both Senator and Governor.
In the wake of such a man who casts a long shadow over the state of Texas, Franks has no idea what the sword will bring at auction.
“We’re selling it at no reserve,” he says. “There’s no way of estimating it … what do you compare it to? We’ll just let the market determine where it will go.”
And, in Texas, that may be one tall order to fill.
Eric C. Rodenberg