The First Texan (1956)
Director: Byron Haskin.
Starring: Joel McCrea (Sam Houston), Felicia Farr (Katherine Delaney), Jeff Morrow (Jim Bowie), Wallace Ford (Henry Delaney), Abraham Sofaer (Don Carlos - magistrate), Jody McCrea (Lt. Baker), Chubby Johnson (Deaf Smith - army scout), William Hopper (William Barrett Travis), Dayton Lummis (Stephen Austin), Rodolfo Hoyos Jr. (Col. Cos), Roy Roberts (Col. Sam Sherman), David Silva (General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana), Frank Puglia (Pepe, San Antonio Hotel owner), James Griffith (Davy Crockett), Nelson Leigh (Col. Hockley).
based on life of Sam Houston (starring Joel McCrea)
December 1, 1832. Sam Houston crosses the Red River. Late at night he reaches a village. He goes into a hotel bar and asks for a room and food for himself and for his horse. The bartender gives him a bottle of wine and will heat up the steak and beans for him. While Sam waits for the grub, he drinks his wine. A little later, a white man in a suit comes out and starts talking with Sam. Then he asks how long has Sam been sitting here? About five minutes. He asks Sam where did he come from? Tennessee. The man looks a little puzzled, so Sam just tells him he didn't hear any conversations and he wasn't ease-dropping. The man says, oh, he wasn't worried about Sam as soon as he said he came from Tennessee. The man says his name is Jim Bowie. Sam tells him his name is Sam Huston. Bowie asks if Sam is Governor Sam Huston of Tennessee? Sam says he was at one time, but not any more. Jim says he read about the Governor's resignation.
Jim wants Sam to come with him to the back room where they are are talking about something important: the Independence of Texas from Mexico. Sam says he doesn't want anything to do with politics. He came to Texas because he heard a man could get a fresh start in life here. Jim tells him that if he stays in Texas he is going to have to be concerned with Texas independence. Sam says if that's true, then he won't be staying in Texas. Bowie stands up and says: "I'm disappointed in you, sir." Sam says: "I'm disappointed in myself. So are a lot of other people."
The bartender starts walking up the stairs with Sam behind him. He is showing Sam to his room. Just then the Mexican Colonel Cos bursts into the bar with his soldiers. He tells his soldiers where to go. They rush for the back room. The Colonel wants to know about the stranger standing on the second floor landing. Sam just says he's: "A guest." The bartender is now beside the Colonel and he says they don't want any trouble at the hotel. The Colonel says they are already in a lot of trouble. They are guilty of harboring revolutionaries. It's what they call treason. He then tells the guest that he better just remain a guest and nothing more.
The Colonel goes over and opens the back door. The guys inside are caught off guard. The Colonel says they are all under arrest. Jim Bowie walks slowly to the door and then quickly slams it in the face of the Colonel and locks the door. He tells the men to get out the back way. The Colonel tells two of his men to go around the back. Sam goes into action. He knocks down and out the two men headed outside and grabs one of their rifles. The rest of the Colonel's men use a table to bust through the door. Bowie and Pablo draw their knives. They both have the large-style knife known as the Bowie knife. It looks like a fight is about to start. Sam intervenes. He says there has been no blood spilled here yet and there doesn't have to be blood spilled. He tells both sides to hold off. He asks for the Colonel to give his word as an officer and a gentleman that the accused will not be hurt, then he can go ahead and arrest Jim and Pablo. The two men object, but Sam says he will serve as their lawyer and he'll get them out of jail.
Sam goes to a furniture maker's establishment. A woman named Katherine Delaney comes out to greet Sam. He says he has come amount the space they have for rent here. The woman shows him the room. He says he'll take it. He plans to work here as an attorney. He introduces himself and then she gives her name. She tells him welcome to San Antonio. Katherine says he will be their first American lawyer. Her uncle Henry Delaney shows up and Katherine introduces him to Sam Houston. Uncle knowd that name. Sam has to excuse himself because he has to get to the courthouse in twenty minutes and he still has a few thing to do before that. He leaves. Uncle tells Katherine that was Governor Sam Houston. Not long ago, he was elected Governor, but there was a scandal involving himself and his wife and after a few days they separated. He resigned only after serving as governor for a couple of months.
The trial begins. The Republic of Mexico charges the defendants with conspiring to make a revolution. High treason against their country. Sam gets up to say that this court is not lawful. The judge has no authority over a city under martial law. The judge disagrees so Sam now says that the Colonel has no legal authority to make either arrests or accusations.
The Colonel is really angry when the judge sides with Sam. His brother-in-law is none other than General Santa Anna. He tells the judge the neither he nor the General will forget what has happened here today. The case is dismissed.
The Americans are really happy with Sam's performance. They all want to shake hands with him. Sam gets to meet some important people: Steven Austin (whose last name was used for Austin, Texas), William Travis and Jim Fannin.
Katherine now works as secretary for Sam. Sam wants to get to know Katherine better, but she wants to keep their relationship on a business basis. He dictates a letter in which he says that his divorce will soon be a fact.
Henry Delaney invites Sam to dinner. All of a sudden, gun shots are heard. Three Mexican soldiers ride out of town. They have shot Pablo. Pablo says the soldiers arrested him and tried to force him to give the names of everyone involved with Texas independence. He escaped, but they chased him and shot him.
Jim Bowie tells his men to get their guns and they will ride out to do something about the killing of Pablo. Sam stops them saying that General Santa Anna is looking for the slightest excuse to take over the Mexican government, and a Texas uprising would fit the bill. Santa Anna wants a war and he wants it right now. He says the Texicans don't even have the beginnings of their own army, so how could they fight against Santa Anna? Bowie now changes his mind and says they can wait.
Sam and Katherine are together after the dinner. She is scared for her Uncle and says the men act like hot-blooded boys. She doesn't want to lose her Uncle after she lost her father in the fight for independence from Spain. They kiss. He asks if it's to early to talk of marriage? She says he hasn't even said that he loves her. Sam tells her that he loves her. They hug.
Davy Crockett makes an appearance. He has a message for Sam. President Jackson wants to speak to him. Sam says he will leave immediately.
Washington, D. C. Jackson wants to know how the Texas independence movement is coming along. He says he wants Texas to come into the union, but it has to be a republic first. He wants Sam to be a leader of Texas. Sam says he doesn't want to be in politics anymore. The President tells him he is going to do it. No one else can do it. "Sam you're it." Without Sam, the nation will probably lose Texas. Sam gives into the President. But now a message comes in that Santa Anna has taken over the Mexican government and is sending troops to Texas and martial law has been declared. Sam says now Texas has to fight against Mexico.
Sam re-crosses the Red River and is back in Texas. When Sam gets back to San Antonio Jim Bowie is organizing a company of soldiers. Jim and William Travis are happy to see Sam back. Sam says they are going to need a lot more than one company of men. Bill says it's enough. They will set up a garrison at the Alamo Mission and they can hold off an army there.
Sam goes to greet Katherine and her Uncle. Davy Crockett is there too. Katherine gives Sam a big hug. When Katherine learns that Sam is now to be deeply involved with the insurrection she is pretty mad at Sam. He tells her that President Jackson himself asked Sam to see this thing through. Katherine still says that's not a good enough reason for his breaking his promise to her. "I want to be in it," says Sam. She says: "Then we're finished." Sam says he's very sorry and then leaves.
This time the back room is full of people. And Sam is the leader of the insurrection group. During the meeting, he receives a message about the Alamo. "Am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. Have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character to come to our aide with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to 3 or 4 thousand in four or five days. If this is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible. Victory or Death." Signed by William Barrett Travis, commanding."
Sam says he must leave at once. Someone says they are going with the General. But Sam says to them: "I'll pick up what troops I can at Gonzales and head for San Antonio. The rest of you have work to do. Texas needs a constitution. Make one!"
In the night Sam arrives at an encampment of Texicans. He finds the sentry, a young lad, sleeping at his post. Sam wakes him and the the guy balls him out, thinking that Sam is just a messenger. Sam asks his name and rank. The guy says who is he to ask him these questions? Sam says his name is Sam Houston. Now the young fellow realizes who he's talking to and he immediately apologizes to the General. The General now makes the fellow a corporal and says he's in charge of this section. And he better tell his sentries that the punishment for sleeping on a sentry post is the firing squad. Now the fellow realizes just how big a break the General just gave him.
Sam goes into the tent of Col. Hockley. He lights a match and ignites the wick in the lantern. He then awakens the Colonel. The Colonel thinks Sam is a messenger too. Sam tells the man his name, and, of course, the Colonel knows who he is. He gets out of bed, says he's at the General's service and shakes Sam's hand. He then introduces the General to the Colonel's aide, Captain Martin. Sam says that the sentry was asleep and so was everyone else. The Colonel admits that he has had trouble maintaining discipline among the Texicans. They came here to fight and for six weeks all they have done is nothing. Sam says to get the men up and get them ready to march by daybreak. And: "Tell them they'll get their war." The Colonel says they have 230 soldiers. The two officers want to know where are they going? To the Alamo, a mission in San Antonio, about three days march from here.
The men start marching. There are white and brown men marching in the unit. Sam says that tomorrow night they should reach Goliad [92 miles southeast of San Antonio] where Fannin's forces should join them. Fannin has around 250 soldiers.
Don Carlos in a buggy brings a message to the General from Gen. Santa Anna. The Alamo has fallen and everyone of its defender have died. Some of the defenders were executed. Santa Anna says this type of massacre will face every Texan who takes up arms against the Mexican government. Santa Anna wants unconditional surrender or death. Sam orders one of the men to head to Goliad and tell Fannin to blow up the place and bring his men here to Sam Huston. Then he wants the man to scout out the Mexican army and bring back the details.
The scout returns to say that Santa Anna and the Mexican army are only 20 miles behind him and heading this way. Santa Anna has around a thousand troops. Sam gives the order for his men to get ready to move away from the Mexican force. Captain Martin says we're not going to retreat again?! Sam just ignores his comment.
At night at camp, the scout says there's another column of about 500 Mexican soldiers coming their way. It will take a day and a half to two days for the second column to join up with Santa Anna. The scout has some good news too. A group of Texicn reinforcements from Nacogdoches, northeast of Houston, is coming up. And they have two little cannons.
Houston picks an encampment area. His scout comes up to say that the reinforcements are only about two hours away from them. The scout says with the reinforcements is a woman. Sam says well Col. Sam Sherman has a wife and five kids. Maybe so, but the young lady is coming to see Sam Houston, not Sam Sherman.
Col. Sherman comes into camp with his officers and Miss Katherine Delaney. The Colonel says that Miss Delaney has a petition to present the General. Sam Houston tells Katherine that they have already set up a tent for her. After supper he will come to her tent and talk to her. Katherine goes to find the tent.
Sam holds a brief conference with Col. Sherman and his officers plus Houston's officers. Houston says that the army is still retreating. Col. Sherman will have his troops in the very rear of the column, while the Colonel himself will be up front with Houston. Col. Sherman asks if they are going to stop retreating and face the Mexican army? Houston says that the Colonel's order are to retreat. The Colonel asks when will they fight? Houston says they will fight when he says they will fight.
Sam tells Lt. Baker to bring Miss Delaney to see him. He also says that he wants Lt. Baker to escort Miss Delaney to the nearest town tomorrow. Baker asks Sam if maybe some other officer might take her. Sam says Baker doesn't want to lead the retreat. Baker says that's not it, and besides he figures it's not going to be a retreat for long. He thinks he knows where Sam is heading. The Plain of St. Hyacinth at the bend of the San Jacinto River [east of Harrisburg, Houston, Texas where the San Jacinto River empties into Burnet Bay]. Sam tells Lt. Baker not to tell anyone about his figuring the plan out.
Sam looks at the petition Delaney brought him. It is a petition asking Sam Houston to fight. And there's another such petition from San Antonio. He asks her if she came all this way just to give him these petitions? She says no, she came to tell him that she was wrong. She now realizes that they are all a part of Texas. He thanks her for saying that. It means a great deal to him. He makes Katherine promise not to tell anyone what he's going to tell her. He always intended to fight. She asks him when and he says he can't tell her that. The two of them hug each other. She starts to cry because, she says, she is frightened that something might happen to Sam.
General Cos (the former Colonel Cos) and his 500 men report to Gen. Santa Anna. Santa Anna and Gen. Cos both agree that Sam Houston's plan is to draw the Mexicans onto the lands of the United States by continually retreating east. But, Santa Anna says, once Houston is out of Texas, they will not follow him into the United States. Rather they will stay in Texas and deal with the revolt of the Texans. By that time a Houston who was chased out of Texas won't have much authority even over his own soldiers. Santa Anna estimates that quieting Texas will only take him about two months.
Captain Martin gets a group of disenchanted officers together to take at least half of Houston's men from him to fight Santa Anna. Lt. Baker and another loyal office have been listening to the conspirators talk. They come into the tent and put Captain Martin and the other three officers under arrest. At this very tense moment, Sam Houston comes into the tent with two other men. He tells everyone to sit down. He wants everyone ready in one hour. They are going on a night march. We will attack at first light. Now he presents his reasons for constantly retreating. First, he wanted to make sure Santa Anna thought that the Texans were heading for the United States. Second, he wanted the Mexican army in a position from which it could not retreat. And that's where the Mexican army is right now. They have the San Jacinto River at their backs. Sam then asks if there are any questions? Nobody asks any questions so Sam now wishes them "good luck" and "Remember the Alamo!"
The Texicans sneak up on Santa Anna's encampment. They get their cannon in place. The signal for the start of the battle will be the sounds of the cannon firing. The cannons fire and the Texicans now open up rifle fire on the Mexicans. This is followed by the Texicans charging the Mexicans. Sam and other officers on horses lead the way. They do a lot of sword fighting with the Mexicans.
Gen. Cos shoots Sam Houston off his horse. Then he runs over for the kill, but a group of Houston's officers grab and kill Cos. Sam says he got shot in the leg. The men take Houston into one of the Mexican tents. A Mexican doctor tends to Houston's wound. Houston regains consciousness and asks what were their losses: 6 killed and 24 wounded. The Mexicans suffered 630 dead, 208 wounded and 730 taken prisoners. That makes a total of 1,568. But there's no sign of Santa Anna.
Lt. Baker and others bring in Santa Anna for Sam Houston to see and talk to. Houston is going to make the Mexican General sign a document of unconditional surrender. He tells Santa Anna the Texican dictates: any other armies Mexico has in the field in Texas will evacuate Texas, and the General and the Mexican prisoners will remain here until the Texas government decides what to do with them. Santa Anna thinks Sam Houston wants to see him hang, but Houston says that's not up to him, but to the Republic of Texas.
The Texicans are on the march again. Katherine Delaney comes out and gives Houston an official document. The document is the declaration of the establishment of the Republic of Texas. When Sam tells everyone what the document is, a big roar goes up from his men. The scouts shouts out the question, whose going to be the President of the Republic of Texas? Katherine says: "Sam Houston." Another big roar of approval goes up from Houston's men.
Good movie. So what if all the parts of the film are not true. The information about the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto are close enough to the truth so you will not only remember the battle of the Alamo, but the battle of San Jacinto too. I wasn't much impressed by the love story in the film with a heroine that was a bit too bossy and not patriotic enough. But then again, all's well that ends well. Joel McCrea (as Sam Houston) did a good job of acting as a man who was half civilian and half military man and not betraying either role.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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