Varina Davis’s Description of Sam Houston
We should be grateful to Varina Davis, the future First Lady of the Confederate States of America, for her sprightly portrayal of the youthful Sam Houston. Yet, she was in error in one detail; Houston stood only six feet, three inches tall. Many noted, however, that he constantly stood so erect that he seemed taller. She employed a word, common in the nineteenth century, that has gone out of vogue. A “catamount” is what modern folks would call a cougar. The young bachelor cut quite the figure among the belles of Nashville and Washington, but his charms clearly failed to tempt Mrs. Davis.
“He was considerably over the ordinary height, six feet four at least. He had a noble figure and handsome face, but he had forgotten Polonius’s advice, ‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not express’d in fancy.’ He rejoiced in a catamount skin waistcoat; it was very long-waisted, and his coat was left ostentatiously open to show it. Another waistcoat, which he alternated with the catamount, was of glowing scarlet cloth. His manner was very swelling and formal. When he met a lady he took a step forward, then bowed very low, and in a deep voice said, ‘Lady, I salute you.’ It was an embarrassing kind of thing, for it was performed with the several motions of a fencing lesson.”