Why Houston Displayed is So Damned Important &
Why You Should Buy a Copy as Quickly as Humanly Possible
Followers of this website will be aware that the DeGolyer Library and the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies have recently published a new edition of Robert Coleman’s Houston Displayed, Or Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto? It is the thirteenth volume of their Library of Texas. This series makes available various nineteenth-century books or previously unpublished source manuscripts in Texas history, newly edited, annotated, and introduced by contemporary scholars, with helpful indexes, all attractively designed, printed, and bound uniformly in cloth. The collection includes such titles as Noah Smithwick’s, The Evolution of a State or Recollections of Old Texas Days (edited by Alwyn Barr), William Fairfax Gray, The Diary of William Fairfax Gray: From Virginia to Texas, 1835-1837 (edited by Paul Lack), Matilda Houstoun’s, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico; Or, Yachting in the New World (edited by Marilyn McAdams Sibley), and Thomas J. Green’s, Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier (edited by Sam W. Haynes). I am pleased and humbled to be included in such eminent company.
The problem is that Houston Displayed is so rare that even long-term Texana collectors may be unfamiliar with it. Since it is the thirteenth volume in the Library of Texas series, here are thirteen reasons it should peek your interest.
John H. Jenkins, the late historian and bibliophile, thought so highly of Houston Displayed that he included it in his Basic Texas Books: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works for a Research Library. Yet, until the publication of the Library of Texas edition (edited by yours truly) the volume was almost impossible to find and expensive to acquire. Only six of the nineteenth-century editions remain in public repositories. For the first time in fifty-six years, the pamphlet is once again available for students of Texas history.
Other than General Sam Houston’s post-battle report to Ad Interim President David G. Burnet, Houston Displayed was the first detailed account of the San Jacinto campaign.
Moreover, it was also the first account intended for public consumption written by a veteran of the campaign.
My new introduction places Robert M. Coleman and his 1837 pamphlet in historic context.
The Library of Texas edition is not a facsimile. The designer did not duplicate the cramped and hazy type of the 1837 original. For the first time, readers can examine the text without the irritation of scrawly fonts.
I have included more than a hundred text annotations that support or refute Coleman’s claims by comparing them with other contemporary accounts.
From Charles Edward Lester in 1846 to James L. Haley in 2002, no Houston biographer attempted to evaluate Coleman’s tract in any serious or objective fashion. They were either ignorant of it, ignored it, or dismissed it out of hand as prejudiced and thus unworthy of consideration. Henceforth, students of Sam Houston, the San Jacinto campaign, or the Texas Revolution ignore Houston Displayed at their peril.
Coleman was the first to raise the subject of Sam Houston’s alcoholism in a public forum.
Although others later corroborated it, Coleman was the first to reveal Houston’s 1835 suicide attempt.
Coleman was the first to discuss Houston’s desire to build a “floating bridge” across Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836. Other veterans subsequently corroborated the episode.
Coleman was the first to reveal that it was not General Sam Houston, but rather Secretary of War Thomas Jefferson Rusk, who made the command decision to turn south toward Harrisburg and the enemy the night before the Texian army reached the “forks of the road.”
Coleman provides details of the campaign and battle found in no other primary account.
As one of Houston’s aides-de-camp, Coleman was privy to behind-the-scenes conversations and decisions that would not have been accessible to the rank-and-file.
On April 4, 2020, I was scheduled to appear in Houston at the annual San Jacinto Symposium to talk about the new edition of Houston Displayed. Sadly, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, organizers decided to cancel the event. That was manifestly the proper course, still I was disappointed to have missed seeing all my Bayou City pals. When I posted about this on Facebook, a fellow Texas writer and old friend suggested that I compose a blog describing what I would have talked about in my San Jacinto Symposium presentation.
So here it is, Wally.
Thanks for the idea.
Follow this link to purchase the book from the DeGolyer Library Bookstore online ($40 plus shipping), but act fast. I’d hate to see any of my loyal followers who want a copy to miss out