By the end of May 1837, the demobilized majority of the Texas Army was either headed for home or looking for work in the Lone Star Republic, much to the dismay of a reckless general who wanted to fight another round with Mexico.
The swift victory at San Jacinto robbed hundreds of American volunteers of their share of the glory. They had not come all the way to Texas to toast other heroes and stubbornly stuck around in the hope of getting in a few licks of their own.
In the fervent belief that an army was a terrible thing to waste, Felix Huston lobbied loud and long for taking the war to the Mexicans. Since his bellicose rhetoric was music to the ears of the disappointed latecomers, the ambitious adventurer became their unofficial spokesman.
Huston was, in truth, an early convert to the Lone Star cause. In July 1835, three months before the Revolution started at Gonzales, he was actively soliciting support in New Orleans for the imminent uprising. While the colonists were driving the government forces from the province that December, he was working on their behalf in his native state of Mississippi.
Despite genuine enthusiasm for the insurrection, few Mississippians actually joined the struggle. Huston himself waited until March 1, 1836 to announce that he would lead a 500-man expedition to Texas, but the Magnolia State contingent did not arrive until July, two and a half months too late for the fighting.
Huston was on hand, however, to play a key part in the humiliation of Mirabeau Lamar, whose selection as military chief was overruled by a lopsided vote of the rank and file. Angrily blaming Thomas Jefferson Green and Huston for the rejection, Lamar begged David G. Burnet to court-martial his two nemeses.
But the lame-duck president dared not lift a finger against Huston, whose popularity made him the de facto commander of the mutinous soldiers. Although the temporary government never acknowledged his authority, Huston remained in charge until the following February.
Exercising his powerful mandate won at the polls, President Sam Houston sent Albert Sidney Johnston to replace the pretender. In classic southern fashion, Huston challenged his successor to a duel.
The chivalrous affair degenerated into a tragic comedy of errors. Both parties survived the first exchange unscathed, and each man graciously complimented his opponent.
Toying with a twig snapped by Johnston’s misguided missile, Huston said, “A capital shot, General.” “Not so good as yours,” answered Johnston fingering a bullet hole in his lapel.
Neither the second nor third shot drew blood, but on the fourth attempt Huston found the mark. As the badly wounded Johnston fought for his life during the next few days, Huston never left his side. When the victim was finally out of danger, the shaken victor took a short trip to Mississippi to collect his thoughts and to let tempers cool.
Upon his return to Texas, Huston was his old audacious self. Going over the president’s head, he submitted directly to Congress a wild proposal designed to renew hostilities with Mexico.
Huston advocated the creation of a military zone along the Rio Grande patrolled by 10,000 combat-ready troops. As soon as the border was secure, he would march on Matamoros. The plan was a rehash of his original call for an all-out invasion of Mexico issued the previous summer.
Taking the sly and subtle approach, the president asked his adversary to discuss their differences over dinner and drinks. Tricked into thinking Houston was warming to his proposal, Huston naively accepted the invitation.
The pair talked for hours as the clever host feigned interest in his guest’s dangerous ideas in order to keep him off-guard and preoccupied. At the conclusion of the conversation, Houston insisted that Huston sleep in the presidential bed while he spent the night on the floor.
Felix Huston awoke the next morning to learn that his loyal legion had been told to take a hike. While he had been talking Houston’s ear off, the secretary of war had carried out a secret order from the president and furloughed indefinitely almost the entire army.
Huston was still free to invade Mexico, but he would have to do it alone. In one unforgettable evening, Sam Houston had made a colossal fool out of him and wrecked his political future in Texas.
It did not take long for Felix Huston to realize he was finished in Texas, and he soon left for good. Their last names might have been similar, but other than that Huston had to admit he was no match for the Hero of San Jacinto.