Here in Texas, we honor our heroes, even those with flaws. Castrating a preacher and another man would be considered a flaw, right?
A couple of dozen or so folks showed up Wednesday at the Texas State Cemetery to honor Robert Potter, a long-ago Texas hero who, despite his better traits and place in Texas history, had issues that once led him to take things into his own hands. Other men’s things.
The ceremony was for the placing of Texas Navy Association memorial medallions on the graves of four members of the long-defunct Texas Navy, which, unknown to many, played a key role in our history. The featured honoree was Potter, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and combatant at the Battle of San Jacinto. He served as a senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas and as secretary of the Republic of Texas Navy.
Potter was born in North Carolina in 1799 and died — killed, actually — in East Texas on March 2, 1842, the sixth anniversary of Texas independence.
Perhaps not unlike you, Potter wound up in Texas after things didn’t go so well for him elsewhere. He served in the North Carolina House of Commons and later represented that state in the U.S. House. The Handbook of Texas tells us “he resigned after an incident that occurred on Aug. 28, 1831 in which Potter, in a jealous rage, maimed his wife’s cousin and another man.”
He spent six months in prison and his wife, unforgiving, divorced him three years later. North Carolina voters, more forgiving, sent him back to their House of Commons in 1834.
Alas, Potter, was expelled from that legislature in 1835 for, the Handbook of Texas reports, “cheating at cards, but the real motivation was probably the maiming.”
Texas Navy Association President Jerry Patterson, our former state land commissioner who has a keen sense of history and a sometimes skewed sense of humor, didn’t attempt to sugarcoat Potter’s life. As we chatted pre-ceremony, Patterson referred to the maiming (I think we all can agree that castration fits under the general umbrella of “maiming”) as “a little episode.”
“He was very jealous of his beautiful young wife, and he somehow conjured up the idea his wife was having an affair with her minister and her cousin,” Patterson said, adding, “He Potterized them, as the term was coined thereafter. He turned them into geldings is another way to describe it.”
The Handbook of Texas says “domestic, legal and political troubles in North Carolina caused Potter to decide upon Texas as a place for a new beginning.”
Isn’t that the story of Texas? A place to make new beginnings and hope that word hasn’t made it here about old maimings. Potter enmeshed himself in Texas politics and military adventures.
His path to the State Cemetery, though not direct, began when he was killed in East Texas in 1842 by a group called the Regulators. Potter was a leader of a rival faction known as the Moderators. The Regulators and Moderators didn’t like each other, and sometimes expressed that dislike by killing each other.
The Regulator-Moderator War was a thing in Harrison and Shelby counties. The Regulators were in favor of regulation and the Moderators preferred moderation. Or something or nothing like that.
Potter, for whom Potter County up in the Panhandle is named, initially was buried near his home and later moved to the State Cemetery in 1928.
Patterson, in his remarks at the ceremony, didn’t gloss over the “incident on the 28th of August 1831.”
“I will try to be genteel in my description of what followed, but there really ain’t much other way to describe it than he took out his knife and he removed the men of their plumbing, if you will,” he said, possibly causing some men in attendance to silently say, “No, I won’t.”
Prior to his remarks, Patterson told me, “We honor many men who had things in their past that were less than sterling examples of gentlemanly conduct, not the least of which are Bowie, Crockett and Travis. They all had baggage.”
“There was only one perfect person to walk the planet,” he said as he scanned the nearby graves in the State Cemetery, “and I don’t think he’s here.”
See a video of Wednesday’s ceremony at mystatesman.com.