Sam Houston’s future was forged in dueling

Published 3:49 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

By Jadon Gibson

Contributing Columnist

Gen. Andrew Jackson was astonished with events after arriving in Maryville, Tennessee in early 1813. The famous general was to make a speech but his greeters and those who had gathered to hear him speak were distracted by preparations being made for a duel of sorts.

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The event would be an old-fashioned whip race and the participants were Houston, a good-natured young lad, and a brutish bully of a man by the name of Hooten who was known for his willingness to take on one and all.

Houston was bent in the Indian ways after spending several years with the Cherokees after losing his father at the age of fourteen.

Unwillingly the young lad took Hooten’s challenge but as they dressed down for the upcoming event Houston noticed the brutishness of the man and knew it was ill-advised to engage him in fisticuffs.

“It’ll be a whip race or nothing at all,” Sam countered in his bargaining with Hooten.

Hooten who wasn’t the most clever fellow you’ll ever meet took the offer perhaps because a crowd had gathered and he never wanted to be known as someone who turned down a challenge.

Houston had seen variations of the whip race while living with the Cherokee Indians and knew he was faster afoot than the brutish Hooten. The race would be run over a quarter mile course with their respective opponent chasing after and whipping at them with a leather whip.

The townspeople and those gathered to hear “Old Hickory” speak were lined up along the route the race would take. Those who normally met to gamble away their time with games of chance were busy putting and taking wagers on the outcome. Some of the brighter minds amongst them had odds favoring Hooten while a few that knew Houston personally favored him.

Jackson decided to join in and watch the event and right away he recognized Houston, who had fought “smart and hard” with him in the war against the Creek Indians.

Jackson was known to engage in several duels himself in fact he had killed a man in a duel. He was a proud man who fought for his honor and that of his wife Rachel, and who eventually became the seventh president of the United States.

He knew Houston’s adversary would be a formidable opponent in a death struggle but he also felt he could hold his own in a whip race because he was fleeter afoot and the runner was given a head start of 15 feet.

A coin was tossed to determine who would take up the whip first. Houston won the coin toss but elected to let Hooten swing the whip on the first run. During the race Hooten could never get close enough to touch Houston with the whip and the crowd roared with delight with his frustrated effort.

Hooten was so infuriated that he struck young Houston with a vicious swing after the race while the young man was bent over catching his breath. Houston knew it best to keep his composure and continued to rest but kept a wary eye on his opponent. His time at swinging the whip would soon be at hand and he now had an added incentive. Several others let it be known that they would protect the young man and see to it that the event would be fair to all.

When the second half of the whip race began it wasn’t long before Houston’s whip began catching up with the fleeting Hooten as the townspeople yelled their approval. A few seconds later the flogging became even more serious as the licks brought blood.

Hooten, never one to follow rules, abruptly stopped and attempted to attack Houston “with fists and feet.” Luckily Houston dodged the effort and renewed his strikes with the whip while stepping aside each time the bully attempted to tackle him. Soon Hooten realized it was folly and that he had best get to the finish line as quickly as possible to cease the striking whip.

As Hooten ran as best he could to the finish line Houston got in several more choice licks stinging the man again and again to the delight of the crowd and to Gen. Jackson.

Following the general’s speech he met with Houston and talked about the Indian wars and discussed the young man’s future.

It would be bright and colorful. He had many accomplishments. He was the first (and third) president of the republic of Texas and governor of Tennessee among many other attainments.

Jadon Gibson lives in Harrogate, Tennessee. His writings are both historic and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.