A legendary Tennessean's roots

The Sam Houston School memorializes a Tennessee legend

By Tracy Woods

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains stands a building few today would recognize as a school. But a school it was to Tennessee’s seventh governor, Sam Houston.

I remember touring the one-room schoolhouse on a field trip in fourth grade. The building was small and devoid of much sunlight. It had an old smell too, but it was built in the 1700s.

This historic site intrigues me now as I learn more about its infamous teacher, Sam Houston.

Sam Houston was born in Virginia but moved to Tennessee after his father died in 1806. At 16, Houston packed up his
books and ran away from home. He quickly found himself living with a band of Cherokees learning to hunt, fish and speak their language.

After three years, Houston returned home to Blount County and opened a school in order to pay off a $100 debt despite jokes that his degree was from "Indian University."

The 19-year-old enrolled students for $8 a term. The school year began after corn-planting season in the spring and continued until harvest time in the fall. The one-third of the tuition was payable by cash, one-third in corn and one-third in varicolored calico from which his shirts were made.

The building stands on its original site, about five miles from Maryville, despite an offer from Texas to buy and move the building.

Made of poplar logs, many of which are still original, the schoolhouse has a fireplace at the back of the room, desks made from window apertures, and a seven-foot ceiling hovers over log seats.

This schoolhouse, the oldest in Tennessee, was built two years before Tennessee joined the union in 1796 and now enjoys thousands of visitors curious to learn more about the legendary Houston.

Guests learn the untold stories: Though Houston’s passion was books and learning, he only taught for a single year and then enlisted as a private in General Andrew Jackson’s Army in 1813. He became known during The Battle of Horseshoe Bend when he led his platoon to victory.

One fight soon became many and many also knew the name of Sam Houston to mean warrior.

After the war, Houston spent some time fighting for the Cherokees but soon returned to Lebanon, Tenn. to practice law. Within five years, he had served as district attorney, adjutant-general, and major-general of Tennessee’s militia.

In 1823, Houston was elected to Congress, and by 34 he was overwhelmingly elected seventh governor of Tennessee.

But two months into his term as governor, Houston resigned the office of governor, packed up his belongings and left for Arkansas to join his adoptive Cherokee family.

After the death of Houston’s mother, the former Tennessee governor again rose to prominence eventually fighting for Texas’ freedom from Mexico and becoming President of Texas, before it joined the Union.

Once Texas was admitted to the U.S., Houston was elected to the U.S. Senate and then became Texas’ seventh governor.

Visitors today can tour the schoolhouse imagining life in the 1812 when Houston taught without running water, heat or plumbing. An old stream, used by Houston on hot and humid Tennessee summer days, still flows nearby.

Picnic grounds, a gift shop and the beginning of a museum collection has been build for visitors’ enjoyment. The Sam
Houston Schoolhouse makes history come alive!

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