Houston's marriage had a lot going against it. |
For one thing, he was almost
as well known as a big drunk as he was the hero of San Jacinto and the Republic
of Texas' first president. For another, the woman he asked to marry him was 26
years his junior. For yet another reason, the bride's family did not approve of
But no one counted on the personality of Margaret Lea, who
succeeded first in getting the rough-hewn general to permanently put the plug
in the jug and second, in getting him baptized. She also maintained a household
that Houston always found easy to come home to and hard to leave.
surviving letters, as biographers have pointed out, reflect that they truly loved
At some point early in their relationship, perhaps for their
anniversary, or for the birth of their first child, or as a birthday present or
just because, Houston gave his wife a gold ring with a burnt orange topaz mounted
on it. He had the words "Sam Houston to Margaret Lea" engraved inside the band.
Houstons stayed married for 23 years, separated only by his death of heart disease
at Huntsville in 1863. Margaret made it another four years, dying of yellow fever
on Dec. 3, 1867 at Independence. The ring was not buried with her, as often occurred.
Rather, it must have stayed in the Houston family, with son Andrew Jackson
Houston being the last survivor. Following his death in 1941, many Houston items
hit the market or went to archival holdings. That may have included the ring,
though no one knows for sure.
In 1946, Texana collector Bill Morrow went
to a sale of Houston memorabilia at Turk's Gift and Antique Shop at 417 Main St.
in the city named after Sam. There, the topaz ring caught the Snyder native's
Morrow bought the ring and gave it to his wife, Dora, as a birthday
present. When Mrs. Morrow tried it on, she discovered that Margaret must have
had larger hands, because the gold band proved too large for any of Dora's fingers.
Not being able to wear it did not detract from its historical value,
of course. The ring stayed in Mrs. Morrow's possession, kept in a nice box, until
1977. Then, following the birth of their first grandchild, she gave the Houston
ring to their only daughter, Dana.
Dana and husband Denwood Butler of
Mason decided to offer the ring at a fund-raising gala for the Texas State Historical
Association touted as the organization's auction of the century. Held at the Austin
Convention Center on March 4, the Texana sale brought in about $1 million.
Though the auction catalog estimated the Houston ring as worth somewhere between
$15,000 and $35,000, the historic piece of jewelry went for $45,000 at the black
The highest price realized for any of the 188 items on the
block that night was $260,000 for the right to pick a temporary home for a collection
of Republic of Texas era documents related to the republic's legation in Washington,
D.C. After five years, the more than 250 documents, never before examined by historians
because they have been privately held, will revert to the Texas State Archives.
Second-highest price realized was $105,000 for a document signed by Alamo
defender Jim Bowie on Jan. 5, 1836, two months and a day before his violent demise
when the Mexican Army overran the old Spanish mission in the predawn of March
One of only eight known life paintings of Texas colonizer Stephen
F. Austin fetched $100,000. An early Texas map by Jacob de Cordova brought $75,000
and a collection of papers connected to Civil War fighter and former Texas Ranger
William Carroll Adams went for $65,000.
Proceeds from the auction will
go toward an expansion of the association's 4-million-plus-hits-a-month Handbook
of Texas Online, a project that even someone as visionary as Sam Houston could
not have foreseen - even after a few drinks.