Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Baptism of General Sam Houston by Rufus C. Burleson

This authentic photograph from the 1850's portrays the pool near Little Rocky Creek in Washington County, Texas, where one of my ancestors, Dr. Rufus Columbus Burleson, baptized General Sam Houston (1793-1863), on 19 November 1854. General Houston, the man for whom the city of Houston is named, was the only person in U.S. history to serve as Governor of two different states--Tennessee (1827-1828) and Texas (1859-1861). He was a very good friend of Rufus Burleson, pastor of the Baptist Church in Independence, Texas, who later served as President of Baylor University. Houston was also a close friend of Burleson's predecessor, the Reverend George Washington Baines, the maternal great-grandfather of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson. George Washington Baines would also later serve as President of Baylor University.

This little pond where General Houston was baptized was on the Little Rocky Creek which runs just south of College Station, Texas and the Texas A & M University. There is a ton of Burleson history in that area of the world. After baptizing Sam Houston, Rufus Burleson declared to the General “Your sins are washed away”, to which Houston is said to have replied, “God save the fishes!" My baptismal views are not quite as regenerative in nature as my ancestor's, but I can't help but laugh at the wit and humor of the patriarch of Texas. For more on General Houston, see a short biography of his life. For more on Rufus C. Burleson see here.

In His Grace,



  1. Great story. My only ancestor of note was the President, but I don't have any good stories about him.

    Some other relatives, got plenty about them. But not ol' Grover.

  2. Wade,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a museum has Houston saying, “Lord, help the fish downstream.”

  3. Interesting bit of history!

    My ancestor cousin was L.R. Scarborough and my Grandmother was a Graham claiming kinship with Billy, no less.

    Of course, there were probably a few thieves and pirates with the Scarborough name. There is a bunch of us buried in Conway, SC, and on the Outer Banks north of Manteo and Kitty Hawk.

    The most interesting thing is that most of us want to point out the famous while ignoring the infamous.

    As a matter of fact--this is historical--many of the rascals who were on the edge in good southern society after the Civil War quickly migrated to Texas and points north.

    As usual, it was probably a combination of the sick and the sane. Us Americans are a bunch of mixed up mutts--My father's name is as British as it gets and my mother's Williams is nothing but German Wilhelm Angicanized.

    This mixing of former enemy cultures might actually succeed in bringing a little "Peace on Earth"---IF it were not for our religious bashing theology now separating Baptists one from another!

    Can we have Peace on Earth this year???????

  4. Rex,

    You are correct. The popularized "God save the fishes!" only makes the more historical quote an active tense sentence and a tad more humorous. His wife, Georgia, presents the musuem quote in the official biography.


  5. Gene,

    I agree about people often only pointing out the good and famous in their family tree. In my book, Hardball Religion, I give a glimpse into the more colorful bootlegging, poker-playing,prison-going side of the Burleson family.


  6. Always have been fascinated with family history but not enough to set down and follow it through, I left that to my more interested siblings.

    On dad's side: One of King James (of bible history) wives, are connected.

    On Mom's side: Eng and Chang Bunker. (buried in Mt. Airy, NC - Mayberry to all those not in the know parents home town).

    I think I am more like the side show guys rater than the royalty.

  7. Uhh .. I may be wacko or something, but there does't appear to BE a downstream to that pond. I think that may be what makes it a pond.

    I just KNEW there'd be some deep theology in here somewhere.

    The security word is "prance". I think I'll draw the line at PRANCING. Baptists have enough trouble with DANCING!

  8. Wade
    I Always have been fascinated with family history but I had never research my family until I stumble across the following information from a newspaper date June 6 1923.
    All my life my father had led me to believe that bootleggers had killed my great uncle Edward Sylvester Pierce. Edward was pastor of three Baptist churches (Hatcher Memorial, Oak Grove, and Tarwalet) in Cumberland County about 50 mi. west of Richmond, Virginia. He was shot dead in his yard of his home at Cumberland County Courthouse by two brothers Robert O. Garrett and Larkin C. Garrett. Robert O. Garrett was Cumberland County clerk of court and Larkin C. Garrett who was Commissioner of Chancery. At the time of his death it was reported that the Garrett belong to one of the political factions; Edward was actively aligned with the opposing faction.
    Jurors drawn from outside of Cumberland County convicted Robert and Larkin. Robert was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years by Southampton County Juries. And Larkin was convicted of volunteer manslaughter and sentenced to four years imprisonment by Surrey County Juries. Robert serves his time in Richmond, study law and in 1930 the Governor of Virginia pardon him. He passed the bar in 1931 and in 1932 became a Judge in Cumberland County until he retired.
    A side note, The State Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms people still train in Cumberland County. I wonder why?


  9. Wade,

    I enjoyed reading it. Family history has been a long time fascination for me and is sure does make history come alive.

    Frank "Chip" Lamca

  10. Wade,

    You are probably aware that the Tidwell Religion building on Baylor's campus has a painting of this scene in the hallway of the first floor. Hundreds of religion majors have passed by it over the years...

  11. Bob,
    A pond is what’s left when the river runs dry.

    When the theology river of religion runs dry, all that’s left is the deep water of Jesus.

    The theology of the C/R is fading into the cry for missions.

  12. Hi REX RAY,

    That was beautifully said.

    Love, and many prayers,

    P.S. Your story about 'the fish downstream brings to mind the legend of Aunt Evelyn, the mountain spring-water, the forest ranger, and the hippees peeing into the water upstream. :)
    (My Aunts were such colorful, funny, and wonderful women.)

  13. "A pond is what’s left when the river runs dry.

    When the theology river of religion runs dry, all that’s left is the deep water of Jesus."

    Rex, theology is quite simply the study of God. What I hear you saying is that when we stop studying about God, then all that is left is a pool of stagnate knowledge unwhich Jesus sits?

    The Bible describes Jesus as truth and life, this flowing from a river of life. Learning from Scripture and allowing God to transform us through that (theology) is the only way we see Jesus. About the only thing good that comes out of ponds here in mid-Missouri is catfish.


    The CR was necessary. But the church cannot stop reforming, because sin will not stop degenerating.


  14. Wade--

    How about this story from my father about my great grandfather, Reddin Scarborough--reputed to be the wealthiest man in Madison County, Ga, around Athens.

    He gained his wealth by being the official "brewer of spirits" for Federal troops stationed there before the Civil War. He had 2 families because his first wife died in childbirth after about 5 children.

    He married my great grandmother and produced my Grandfather, Charles Newton Scarborough. There was a death of my great grandfather under suspicious circumstances as the house burned down as well. There was always suspicion of foul play.

    Anyway, my grandfather was virtually disinherited and became a tennant farmer. He could remember, as a child, playing with chests full of Confederate money, now worthless!

    I think there must be a William Faulkner type novel in there somewhere. What is most hilarious to me is that my father was a T-totaler who made no Baptist bones about the evils of alcohol.

    Yet, in total honesty, he shared the story of my ancestors as we concreted over the family grave site at the Moon's Grove Baptist
    Church outside Athens. The eldest son gets to carry he family story to the generations to come!

    I will gladly tell it because it bespeaks the struggles of the South before, during, and after the Civil War and into the present demented Baptist days!

  15. Christiane,
    Your words would not be near as beautiful if they didn’t come from the heart.

    On the other hand there’s Kevin. So much of the time he chooses to see the antonym of what’s said.

    Instead of seeing the pond that represents the living water of Jesus, he sees “stagnate” water.

    Instead of “learning from Scripture and allowing God to transform us”, he can’t see the CR disregarded the warning of Jesus:

    “…teaching as doctrine the commands of men” (Matthew 15:9) with the words:

    “Those who depart theologically will be identified and called to repent” (SBC Vice-president Jim Richards)

    Which makes the warning of Jesus clear in (Mark 12:38 Luke 11:52 Living) “Beware of the teachers of religion.”

    Hey! Since catfish come from ponds, I rest my case. :)

  16. Hi REX RAY,

    The holidays can be tough on people sometimes.

    My own husband, normally a joyful presence, becomes sad and withdrawn on Christmas Eve. We all understand. Long ago, his best friend's father died suddenly on Christmas Eve. The man had been a surrogate father to my husband. His own father was in a Veteran's hospital for many years.

    Our gift to my husband is to allow him his time to remember.

    Holidays can be tough on people sometimes. Maybe Kevin will cheer up soon.

    Much love, L's

  17. Merry Christmas to you too L's.

    I am actually doing quite well this holiday season. It is actually January when I get angry and depressed, and the evil blog troll in me comes out to play.

    Beware that time! Oh yes, beware saying anything with which I might disagree...


  18. Ah Burleson history.. a favourite of mine!

    My specific line hails from the hills of West Virginia (and North Carolina before that much like yours I presume). My side has many stories of the bootleg, prison, trouble, riot-starting, poker-playing facet of the family.. My grandma has stories of the Hatfields and Mccoys =]

    My direct family line has many ministers in it.. including myself and my father.

    I've done a lot of family history and have found that most all of the strands of our families have very very similar attributes. You, much more prolific than I, exhibit the trait of standing up for those who need it!

    Blessings to you and your family this Christmas!

  19. I had a conversation with a Church of Christ Pastor not long ago. He told me the waters of baptism washes away a persons sins. That is when they are saved. I do not agree, I believe that only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins. Do you think that Baptists of long ago ever believed like the Church of Christ. I have been reading some strange things about some Baptists wanting to say that the King James was translated wrong because of the verse that claims that our sins are washed away in baptism. I think it is heresy.

  20. Wade, I really enjoyed your messages here this week in Tahlequah.

    My father, Jess Bigbee, pastored the church in Independence during the 1980s, and the pew in which Sam Houston sat was still preserved in its original location and marked with a Texas flag. What makes that fact especially noteworthy was that the church burned in the 1870s, but Sam Houston's pew was dragged out and salvaged, while most of the rest of the church was destroyed. When the church was rebuilt, it was rebuilt in its original design and Houston's pew went back in the same spot.

    During the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986, Houston's membership in the church at Independence was noted by several magazines, which ran stories about it, most notably, National Geographic, Southern Living and Texas Highways.


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