Every man has, at one point or another, faced extreme adversity and utter failure. Many of these failures help to define us, make us bitter, or scared. In some cases, the failures push men to do great deeds. In line with this universal truth, the fathers of Texas were some of the largest failures in United States history. Among their ranks were disgraced impotent politicians, land swindlers, serial business failures, and an expecting father who fled his wife and debts. Despite all of these flaws and misdeeds, the heroes of the Texas revolution became some of the most revered figures in the state and country’s history.
These men realized that the past did not define their present and future. Every one of them had an integral part in settling Texas and fighting for independence of the state. Similarly, as most of us struggle with our own past and failures, it is important to realize that every day is a new chance to leave a positive mark on the world as the men of Texas did.
A Fresh Start
The men who tried to settle the state of Texas and ultimately fought for independence were, for all intents and purposes, the most varied bunch of failures of any pantheon of heroes. As I will outline, the men ran the gamut from business failures, to debtors, and even land swindlers. Somehow, they were all able to put their past behind them in order to become immortal legends in the state of Texas.
Moses Austin – Due to his premature death, Moses Austin was arguably the least recognized father of Texas. Nonetheless, it was Moses (father of Stephen F. Austin, the namesake of the current Texas capital) who was awarded the empresario grant to bring the first 300 Anglo families into Texas.
Born in 1761, Moses showed great promise at a young age. After the American Revolution made him an orphan, he used 70 pounds sterling to invest in the dry goods business, which supported him for many years. By his late 20’s, Moses was seeking to make a fortune in lead mines in Virginia, but it wasn’t long before he found himself in debtors’ prison. Seeking his fortune elsewhere, Moses took his family to Mississippi to exploit the lead mines in the Spanish held territory. At first, Moses seemed to be succeeding where he had failed only a few years prior. In 1810 his net worth was approximately $190,000 (millions by today’s standard). Yet only one decade later, Moses found himself again in debtors’ prison.
After years of failed business attempts, Moses Austin acquired a grant from the governor of Texas to bring a total of 300 Anglo families into the state. Although he died before his dream could become a reality, he had set in motion one of the most important events in Texas history. His willingness to disregard his past failures in search of his future success was the first step towards founding a new state.
Jim Bowie – Famed for his “Bowie” knife and dying heroically at the Alamo, James “Jim” Bowie was and remains one of the most beloved characters in Texas folklore. While his deeds and death in the Texas revolution far overshadow his past, there is ample reason to scrutinize his previous failures. A choice encounter with Jean Laffite in Louisiana put Bowie in the employ of a pirate, a smuggler, and a slave trader for many years.
It wasn’t long before Bowie had graduated to the next level of banditry as he forged Spanish documents to claim thousands of acres of Louisiana land. Catching on, Bowie was quickly run out of Louisiana by United States sheriffs. Before long, he was living in Texas with no money and even fewer friends. Despite this, he saw a greater future for himself and his people in an independent state of Texas – one he was willing to die for.
Davy Crockett – For much of the early 19th century, Davy Crockett was a successful man’s man. He was revered for his hunting prowess (especially bears, wildcats, and other predators), which led to an excellent career as a politician. With the patronage of the famous Tennessee president, Andrew Jackson, there was a time when Davy Crockett was not only wealthy, but also popular and well known across the globe.
However, as Jackson’s allure soon turned into perceived tyranny, the fate of Crockett went with him. His own administration actively worked against him, his enemies publically slandered him, and his friends left him. In 1834 he was narrowly defeated for re-election and famously said “you may all go to hell… and I will go to Texas”. Go to Texas, he did. With volunteers from the frontier state of Tennessee, Crockett arrived in Texas, fought gallantly at the Alamo, and paid the ultimate price. His past humiliation and political failures did not confine him to his cabin in the wilderness, but instead prodded him to seek greatness elsewhere.
William B. Travis – The youngest hero of Texas was a mere 26 years old when he died as a Lt. Colonel leading the Alamo garrison in 1836. As an educated lawyer, Travis lived a modest life in Alabama. Writing, editing, and publishing the Claiborne Herald brought him little success, but his practice supplied his family with enough to survive.
While his professional life seemed in good order, his personal life was not. Only two years after the birth of his first son, personal debt and friction with his wife made him seek a new life. While his wife was pregnant with their second child, Travis slipped away across the national border into the state of Texas. Although running away from his duty to his wife and children, he did not compromise his duty as a lieutenant colonel in the Texas militia. Facing assured death, Travis stood tall.
Sam Houston – As General in command of the Texas army and strategist for the victory at San Jacinto, Houston was arguably the most well-known of the state’s founding fathers. His reputation in the United States, however, was tarnished by multiple foul deeds and disgrace.
In the late 1820’s Sam Houston was one of the most famous men in Tennessee. The successor of Andrew Jackson, Houston was expected to take the route from his governorship to the presidency. However, marital problems and stories of infidelity in the press ruined his career and forced him to resign in disgrace. For years, he fled to Native American reservations and learned their languages, their customs, and their culture. Growing sympathetic to the Cherokee cause, Houston traveled to Washington to plead their case to his old ally, Jackson. In a confrontation with a politician in Washington D.C., Houston was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to a relatively small fine. Defeated, disgraced, and in debt, Houston fled to Texas.
A lesser man would have perhaps taken to drinking heavily contemplating the fall from state governor to convicted felon. In contrast, Houston seized the opportunity to use his leadership and military skills in order to found a new Republic.
Your Goals Are Ahead, Not Behind
Our past failures hold tremendous value if we learn from them and improve ourselves as a result. Still, your goals are all in front of you rather than in the past. Allowing your past failures to prevent your future success is no way to live and the founding men of Texas imbued this truth. No matter how large the failure, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get the hell back out there.