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Highsmith, Samuel (1804–1849)

Thomas W. Cutrer Biography Entry

Samuel Highsmith, Texas Ranger, was born in Boone County, Kentucky, in 1804. During the War of 1812 his family moved to the St. Charles District, today Lincoln County, of Missouri Territory, where they settled on the lower Cuivre River. Highsmith accompanied his older brother, Ahijah M., and the families of several other men, including that of Zadock Woods, to Texas. They crossed the Red River on December 24, 1823, and settled on the extreme western frontier of Stephen F. Austin's colony. Being single, however, Highsmith did not apply for a grant and returned to Missouri, where he married Teresa Williams in 1826. She was the stepdaughter of Winslow Turner and most often went by his family name. Almost immediately the couple departed for Texas, where they lived for a time with relatives in Austin's colony. Indians, however, soon drove the colonists from the Colorado River, forcing the six families on that frontier back first to Rabb's Mill and then even farther south to the vicinity of Columbus and Old Caney. There the Highsmiths found refuge with the family of Aylett C. Buckner. When the Indian threat subsided, Highsmith moved his family to Green DeWitt's colony and received a labor west of Gonzales in what is now Guadalupe County on September 4, 1829. According to family tradition he fought in the battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and in the siege of Bexar that December. His nephew, Ben Highsmith, was one of William B. Travis's final messengers from the Alamo. After the fall of that fort, Highsmith joined Sam Houston's army at Gonzales but left the ranks to protect his family in the Runaway Scrape, during which his father-in-law died. Some sources place Highsmith at San Jacinto as one of sixteen soldiers detached to capture Antonio López de Santa Anna after the battle. According to the family he captured Santa Anna's saddle, the silver from which he had melted and cast into spoons, and the Mexican dictator's uniform coat, in which he had himself photographed. The coat is said to have been lost in the Capitol fire of 1881.

After San Jacinto, Highsmith and his family lived in Texana for a time before receiving a grant in what is now Jackson County, where he and a brother-in-law, Abram Clare, went into the hog-raising business. The Army of the Republic of Texas was camped nearby, however, and consumed all of Highsmith's stock. He is said also to have provided horses and mules under contract for the Texan Santa Fe expedition.

Highsmith served as a volunteer during the so-called Córdova Rebellion in 1838 and was chosen as one of three arbitrators to distribute the spoils captured from Vicente Córdova's band among the Texan volunteers. He served as a volunteer under Edward Burleson in the battle of Brushy Creek in the spring of 1839. In 1839 or 1840 he moved his family to Bastrop, where in 1840 he owned six town lots, one slave, two horses, and fifteen cattle. Highsmith also owned 2,214 acres in Gonzales County and 650 acres in Travis County. He took part in the battle of Plum Creek and was serving under Capt. John Coffee Hays when Mexican general Rafael Vásquez captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842. Hays dispatched him to Seguin and the settlements on the Guadalupe River to warn the settlers of the invasion and gather volunteers. Highsmith then returned to the Texas army gathering outside San Antonio and served as a private in Capt. James Gillaspie's company until Vásquez evacuated the republic.

Highsmith served as sergeant at arms for the Texas House of Representatives at Washington-on-the-Brazos during the 1843 and 1844 terms and in August 1845 was deputized to carry "special and extra mail" between Bastrop and La Grange. He moved to Austin in the winter of 1845–46 and was soon thereafter commissioned a captain in the Texas Rangers. In the Mexican War he commanded Company K of Col. William C. Young's Third Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, in 1846. At the end of this company's enlistment term he recruited and commanded Company D of Col. John C. Hays's First Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, in 1847; this unit won a notable battle over the Waco Indians on the Llano River in August of that year, and in 1848 Highsmith was elected captain of a company of Col. Peter H. Bell's regiment, which was assigned to frontier defense. With this company, in April 1848, he won a victory over the Wacos on the Pedernales River in what is now Blanco County. He is said to have personally killed Chief Big Water in hand-to-hand combat in this engagement.

After the Mexican War Captain Highsmith was stationed in San Antonio as commander of one of the two companies of rangers garrisoning the town and in August 1848 was chosen to command the escort that guarded the commissioners sent by the state of Texas to open a road from San Antonio to El Paso. Under Hays's command, he and thirty-five men of his company set out on their journey in early September and marched from San Antonio for the Rio Grande. "We encountered an exceedingly rugged and dry country," he reported to Colonel Bell, "which caused great inconvenience to my men and great injury to their horses." By October 18, when the rangers reached Fort Leaton near Presidio del Norte, Highsmith and his men were near starvation, "our only food consisting of mustangs and our pack mules," he reported. The party started for home on November 25 and arrived in San Antonio after an arduous journey. Highsmith reported that "a first rate road can be established on or very near the same route which we traversed . . . with the necessary requisites of wood, water, and grass, over a fine and level country, unobstructed by mountains or any natural opposing obstacles."

With the completion of this mission Highsmith submitted his resignation from the ranger service, intending to return to private life. The trip had greatly weakened him, however, and he died of influenza on January 10, 1849. His funeral was held at the Presbyterian church near the corner of Commerce and Presa streets in San Antonio, and he was buried in an unmarked grave thought to be near that of Benjamin R. Milam in Market Plaza. Samuel Highsmith was the father of seven children, including Henry Albert and Malcijah Benjamin Highsmith.

Cody Edwards, The Highsmith Men, Texas Rangers (M.A. thesis, University of North Texas, 2012). John Holland Jenkins, Recollections of Early Texas, ed. John H. Jenkins III (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958; rpt. 1973). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836–1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Charles D. Spurlin, comp., Texas Veterans in the Mexican War: Muster Rolls of Texas Military Units (Victoria, Texas, 1984). Telegraph and Texas Register, April 17, 1839. Homer S. Thrall, A Pictorial History of Texas (St. Louis: Thompson, 1879). Maude Wellis Traylor, "Captain Samuel Highsmith, Ranger," Frontier Times, April 1940. Gifford E. White, 1830 Citizens of Texas (Austin: Eakin, 1983).

Time Periods:

  • Texas Revolution

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Highsmith, Samuel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 30, 2019