Perhaps more than any figure, Sam Houston personifies the spirit of Texas: Brave, ambitious, generous, unpredictable, prone to excess, humorous and sometimes violent. Texas State Historian Bill O'Neal, an East Texas State University alumnus, has written "Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership," a new work which will be premiered during a free public event on March 2 at Universities Center Dallas.
Bill O'Neal: A big crowd was there because the famous Sam Houston was being baptized. Rev. Burleson baptized him, pulled him up out of the water and said "And now, brother Sam, your sins are washed away! And Houston, who had led quite a wild life, he said "Well, God help the fishes."
Mark Haslett: Even Texans who don't know details about the life of Sam Houston know the name. And most know that whether Houston was in the halls of government, on the battlefield, or in private chambers - Houston burst through life like the proverbial bull in a china closet. So who better to tell the story of Sam Houston than Bill O'Neal?
O'Neal: I was delighted to get to do that, I've been interested in Houston ever since was a kid, reading little kid-version books about this iconic Texas figure.
Haslett: O'Neal isn’t anywhere near as disruptive as Sam Houston. But he might be almost as much fun. O'Neal has been an athletics coach, a schoolteacher, an academic - and through it all, a raconteur extraordinaire. His facility with the spoken word as well as the written makes O'Neal a great fit in his current job as the Texas State Historian. He'll be in downtown Dallas on Wednesday.
O'Neal: Mark, I'm going to be talking about my new book "Sam Houston, A Study in Leadership." In fact, it's going to be premiered at the A&M-Commerce center, right next door to the Majestic Theatre, by the way. It's a biographical treatment with a focus upon leadership. It is not a lengthy volume, like Marquis James wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Houston back in 1929. And James L. Haley, about a decade and a half ago, wrote a monumental biographical treatment of him. This is smaller, a little bit easier to digest, perhaps. But it was really fun to be able to kind of boil down this dramatic life of his.
Haslett: For those who don't know, Sam Houston was one of four presidents of the independent Republic of Texas. He was a military leader in the Texas War of Independence. Before that, he had been governor of Tennessee. After Texas joined the United States, Houston served as a U.S. Senator and later Governor of Texas. But it was Houston's personality that made him a celebrity as well as a leader. You can hear the award-winning O'Neal at noon tomorrow at Universities Center Dallas. Details available online at KETR.org. Look for the web version of this story to hear some more audio from this interview, including talk about Houston's reaction to the South's secession from the Union. Spoiler alert: Houston was a Unionist.
O’Neal: Downtown Dallas on March 2nd at a university venue. And of course, that university being my alma mater. I got my bachelor's and master's from A&M-Commerce, as well as an honorary Doctorate of Letters. And it's just a thrill for me, and a privilege for me to get to do that.
The event will take place Wed., Mar. 2 at 1910 Pacific Place, Dallas, on the third floor. A complimentary buffet lunch provided by A&M-Commerce will be available at 11:45 a.m. with O’Neal’s speech at 12:15 p.m. There will be a book signing at 12:45 p.m. The public is cordially invited.
North by Northeast is a thrice-weekly news feature presenting "Stories that matter to Northeast Texas." Topics include development, education, health care, the environment and the economy. Sports and fine arts are also featured. Hosted by Mark Haslett. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during All Things Considered at 4:44 and 5:44 p.m.