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Sam Houston Oak

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
They call it Sam Houston's oak.

The ancient tree shades a wide area just east of Peach Creek, 8.5 miles from Gonzales. In the vicinity of the tree on March 14, 1836, Sam Houston and several hundred Texas citizen-soldiers spent one of the worst nights of their lives, albeit a very short night.
Sam Houston Oak, Gonzales, Texas
Sam Houston Oak
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, 2008

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The day before, Houston had dispatched from Gonzales three of his best scouts, Erastus "Deaf" Smith, Henry Karnes and Robert Handy, on a dangerous mission. They had orders to ride to Bexar to learn how Col. William B. Travis and the other defenders of the Alamo were doing. With Smith in charge, the scouts made it only 20 miles west of town before they rode up on Susannah Dickinson, her infant daughter Angelina and Joe, Travis' slave.

Dickinson passed on the grim news that her husband and all the others had died early on the morning of March 6, their mission fortress overwhelmed by soldiers under Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Karnes raced back to Gonzales to report to Houston while Smith and Handy stayed behind to escort the survivors.

The word Karnes carried threw Gonzales into a panic. Twenty-five of Houston's soldiers deserted, an enraged Houston ordering their arrest. Houston's next order, made shortly after Smith and the survivors arrived about 11 p.m., was to torch the town and retreat.

Houston said that women and children should leave immediately, assuring the townspeople that his troops would serve as a rear guard to protect them from the advancing Mexican army.

Led by Houston, 374 citizen-soldiers marched eastward all night, crossing Peach Creek at Bartholomew D. McClure's plantation. In the pre-dawn darkness, the general called a stop for breakfast and rest.

To the west the Texans could still see the orange glow of the burning town. Soon they started new fires, and began boiling coffee and cooking breakfast.

"While we were sipping our unsweetened coffee," private James Kuykendall later wrote, "two or three loud explosions in quick succession were heard in the direction of Gonzales." The soldiers grimly assumed the booms came from Mexican field pieces, but Sidney Sherman had another theory: Houston had said something about leaving poisoned liquor behind in the hope of killing some unsuspecting Mexican soldiers. They were hearing the barrels of booze blowing up in the fire, he suggested.

Their bellies full, even the strong coffee did not prevent most of the men from sinking into an exhausted sleep.

Meanwhile, stragglers continued to arrive from the burned town - men, women and children on foot, in oxcarts or on makeshift, horse-drawn sleds to more easily traverse the mud left by recent rains.

"It was a sad thing to see the women and children plodding their way across the prairie," later wrote David Kokernot, one of the volunteer soldiers. "No tongue can express the sufferings those fleeing families were called upon to endure."
Sam Houston Oak, Gonzales, Texas centennial marker
Sam Houston Oak centennial marker
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, February 2008

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A gray granite historical marker placed nearby in 1936 says the oak that was there when all this happened briefly served as the "headquarters" of Houston's army. While that is technically true, Houston did not linger. Two hours after arriving, the weary general, longer days ahead of him, commanded the soldiers to fall in and continue their eastward march.

At least he had more men than he had arrived with. A volunteer company organized in San Felipe by Capt. John Bird had been camped at the creek and readily joined Houston's army. Now the general had an addition 90 men.

The owner of the land along Peace Creek, McClure, had settled there in 1831 with his 19-year-old bride, Sarah. They lived in a cabin and made a living off the land and by providing food to travelers. The McClures fled with the rest of Gonzales County's residents, but returned after the revolution.

When McClure died in 1841, Sarah kept the place. "A braver or grander-hearted woman never trod the soil of Texas," historian John Henry Brown later observed.

Two years after being widowed, Sarah married Charles Braches, a merchant. Not far from the huge oak where Houston and his soldiers had napped, Braches built a two-story Greek Revival plantation-style house for his new wife.
McClure-Braches House,  GonzalesTX
The McClure-Braches House built in 1843
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, February 2008
Sarah outlived her second husband, staying in the house until her own death in 1894. A century later, the old house still stood, but it was vacant and endangered.

The old house is still owned by descendants of the Braches family. In 1995, the house was restored -- a gift to the Braches family and to posterity from an adjacent property owner.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March 12 , 2004 column

Directions to the Sam Houston Oak

Photographer's Note:
From the Gonzales County Courthouse (414 St. Joseph St.) in Gonzales, go north on St. Louis St. for 2.0 miles. Turn right (east) onto US Alt. 90. and go 8.0 miles (cross Peach Creek), then left on CR 361 (a centennial marker is here). Go 0.3 mi. to the entrance for the McClure-Braches House on the left. The tree, also known as the "Sam Houston Oak," is on the left of the drive to the old house.. - Sarah Reveley, February 2008
View of McClure-Braches House from Hwy  90A
View of the McClure-Braches House from Hwy 90A right before you reach the marker where you turn left, head down that road a bit to the house.
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, 2008
Sam Houston Oak McClure-Braches House
Sam Houston Oak and McClure-Braches House
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, 2008
McClure-Braches House Sam Houston Oak sign
McClure-Braches House Sam Houston Oak sign
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, February 2008
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