Dueling Oak

Historical Period: Republic of Texas (1836-1845)
Historical Topic: Civil War & Reconstruction, Republic of Texas
Species: Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
County: Jackson
Public Access: Yes

On an open grassy spot near this giant live oak tree, located west of the Lavaca River, two brigadier-generals of the Texan Army faced one another in mortal combat. The date was February 5, 1837, and the time 7 o’clock in the morning.

The challenger was Felix Huston, a Kentuckian who had come from Mississippi to fight for the Texan cause. An ambitious man without military education or experience, he had hoped to win distinction on the field of battle but had arrived too late for the battle of San Jacinto.

The challenged, Albert Sidney Johnston, also a Kentuckian, was a well educated and experienced military officer of high reputation. He too had missed the involvement at San Jacinto, but shortly after his arrival in Texas, he had been appointed Adjutant-general of the Army with the rank of colonel by General Thomas Rusk.

After General Sam Houston had been elected president of the Republic, he nominated Colonel Johnston as senior Brigadier-general of the Army. General Huston, who had recently succeeded General Rusk, was reduced to the rank of junior Brigadier-general and relieved of command of the Army.

When Johnston arrived at Camp Independence, February 4, 1837, he had the general order of his appointment read to the troops. This act further enraged the already angered Huston, who that same day wrote and dispatched to Johnston a challenge to a duel.

Even before the night was ended the two combatants, their seconds, and some friends crossed the Lavaca River on horseback and rode a short distance to this spot on the edge of the prairie.

Since no dueling pistols were available, they used General Huston’s 12-inch-barreled horse pistols, which had hair triggers. Huston’s reputation as a marksman prompted Johnston’s second to suggest that the duelists fire from the hip to equalize their skills.

Johnston’s strategy was to wait until Huston was taking aim, then raise his gun quickly and fire. The report, he reasoned, would cause Huston’s trigger finger to contract and cause his gun to fire prematurely.

Huston’s ear was grazed by a ball and on the sixth volley, Johnston was felled when a ball passed through the orifices of his hip. It broke no bones but injured the sciatic nerve. When the attending physician judged the wound to be mortal, Huston approached his prostrate commander and expressed his regrets and his willingness to serve under him.

For several weeks, Johnston lay near death in nearby Texana but eventually returned to his command. Huston eventually left the Army and returned to the United States.

Please respect private property by viewing the tree from the road.