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HIDDEN GEM: Sam Houston Memorial Museum

The museum features the largest single collection of Sam Houston-related items, including his "leopard" vest.

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — President. Governor. General. Congressman. Senator. Sam Houston held a lot of titles in his life.

"He was one of the most powerful senators in the United States Senate leading up to the Civil War," said Derrick Birdsall, director of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. "My mission in life is to take Sam Houston from being a state or regional figure and give him the national recognition that he deserves." 

The museum serves an important part of that mission.

"We have 15 acres of property that used to belong to Sam and his family," Birdsall said. "There’s plenty to see here."

The grounds include a store, a number of cabins, and even a working blacksmith shop. 

"We also have a wonderful collection of homes that Houston lived in here in Huntsville," Birdsall said.

RELATED: HIDDEN GEM: Sam Houston State University public art

Houston died in 1863. His death and funeral happened in what's called the Steamboat House. Another home, the Woodland Home, is still located on its original site. Outside its two rooms, you can read real letters written between Houston and his wife. They are changed out every so often, as are the vignettes inside, to bring the letters to life. 

"To be able to give people a glimpse at their daily life, that’s how we interpret. We base everything we do on those documents we have," Birdsall said.

It's free to explore the museum's grounds, but if you want a deeper historical dive, you'll have to pay admission to go inside the Rotunda, which was first built in 1936.

"We have the largest single collection of Sam Houston-related items. You can see cool things like Houston’s vest," Birdsall said. "He would wear it in the Senate often and say, ‘I’m just like a leopard. I never change my spots.’"

The vest is actually jaguar, a gift from Houston's Cherokee friends.

"Don’t let that ruin a good story," Birdsall laughs.

The museum also highlights the Battle of San Jacinto.

"Because Sam Houston is one of the "fathers of Texas," we have a lot of early Texas-related things as well," Birdsall said.

RELATED: It's San Jacinto Day in honor of Texans who fought for independence from Mexico in 1836

He adds that he hopes this pioneer’s career will provide a modern lesson in citizenship.

"If we can get people to look at the variety of things that Houston did over his career with a variety of people, maybe we can start those conversations ourselves," Birdsall said.

Technology has assisted in the museum's goal of teaching more people about Sam Houston. For example, Birdsall recently hosted a Zoom tour of the museum for a group of kids from a military base in South Korea.

"To be able to spread the word of Houston around, that’s my mission in life right now," he said.

For more information about the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, click here.

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