“Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly he flailed ..."
Imagine, if you will, such an opening statement by Francis Scott Key, defense attorney for Sam Houston in an assault case in 1832 in Washington, D.C.
The man who wrote The Star Spangled Banner had a way with words, and that's probably why Sam, after beating the tar out of a congressman with his hickory cane, picked him as his defense attorney.
Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio had enraged Houston with ugly remarks about him in a speech before the House of Representatives. He accused Houston, a former congressman from Tennessee, of fraud and corruption in connection with a rations program for Indians.
The remarks particularly hit a sore spot with Houston, an honorary Cherokee who had the Indians' best interest at heart and, in fact, paraded around in full Indian regalia.
The day after the infamous speech, Houston had to be restrained by Congressman James Polk from charging into the House to confront Stanbery. Houston
then wrote a note to Stanbery demanding that the congressman explain his accusations or prepare to defend his honor. When Stanbery did not respond, Houston grew madder by the minute.
The newspaper, the Telegraph, added more fuel to the fire, printing Stanbery's speech and agreeing with the speech-maker.
Aptly, on a Friday the 13th in April, 1832, Houston was strolling down a street with friends when he spotted Stanbery. He yelled at him, demanding an explanation for the slanderous comments, and when Stanbery looked the other way, trying to ignore him, Houston came after him.
Wielding his hickory cane, Houston proceeded to hit him over and over.
He nearly killed the poor guy and nearly got killed himself. Knowing he was on Houston's hit list, Stanbery carried a pistol and during the attack he fumbled for the weapon, finally found it, and it misfired.
The gun made Houston even more furious. "Damn rascal!" he kept yelling, hitting his victim. He continued to flail away until his friends managed to pull him off the poor guy.
Stanbery then requested that Houston be charged with assault and tried by the House of Representatives. He said he had been waylaid by the giant Tennessean who severely bruised and wounded him.
For the first time ever, the House had a private citizen arrested for attacking one of its members for words spoken before Congress. The trial dragged on, day after day, wtih attorney Key declaring he was proud to stand by such a man in such a cause and saying that Houston was not a man of violence but was a patriot who had given his right arm for his country at Horsehoe Bend. Stanbery, armed and ready, was the violent one, claimed Key. The defense attorney also argued that the House members should not be conducting the trial in the first place, that they were violating the separation of powers guaranteed by the Constitution. Sam, always the ham, insisted on starring in the final scene, making his own closing statements. "I'll take over, now. Thank you, Francis. "
Francis Scott Key himself could not have made a more star-spangled, flag-waving, super patriot speech than that of his client. Sam’s mesmerized audience responded with a standing ovation. He didn't get off Francis Scott Key-free, however. The House found him guilty but his punishment was a mere reprimand.
It's not over yet. Stanbery pursued the case in the city court which also found him guilty and slapped him with a $500 fine. It's still not over.
In the twilight's last gleaming, President Andrew Jackson pardoned Sam and he never paid a cent. Thanks to Wanda Orten in "Texas Escapes"
Oakhurst is located in San Jacinto County, Texas, on Highway 190 15 miles east of Huntsville. Take FM 946 south from 190 and drive 2.4 miles. Look for a sign on the left pointing to Raven Hill Cemetery. Exit to the right to Raven Hill Road, but keep to the left and go straight ahead on Jenkins Road, resisting the urge to go right on Raven Hill. You will drive about 0.4 miles to Raven Hill Cemetery Road, turn right and drive a short distance to Raven Hill Cemetery on the right.
To the box:
Enter the gate and go to the back left corner of the chain link fence and look under leaves and pieces of concrete. This cemetery lies on or very close to Sam Houston's plantation, Raven Hill. There is an historical monument nearby, but it is remote and on private property and, therefore, inaccessible.