Henderson Yoakum was a Jacksonian stalwart in Middle Tennessee during the tumultuous political battles of the 1830s and 1840s. This native Tennessean later became an important personal and political confidant of Texas Governor Sam Houston and wrote the first comprehensive history of Texas in 1855. Born in Claiborne County in 1810, Yoakum attended the United States Military Academy and graduated twenty-first in a class of forty-five in 1832. He returned to Tennessee upon leaving West Point and married Evaline Cannon of Roane County; the Yoakums promptly moved to Murfreesboro, where Henderson undertook legal training with Judge James Mitchell.
Yoakum entered politics in 1834, publicly siding with Congressman James K. Polk in his feud with fellow Tennessee Congressman John Bell over the Speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives. Yoakum joined the Jackson-Polk Democrats, espousing the virtues of tradition and of the agrarian republic ideal. He served as mayor of Murfreesboro. In 1839 he was elected to the Tennessee State Senate, but was defeated in his reelection campaign in 1841. Two years later, Yoakum served as chair of the State Democratic Convention. Increasingly dissatisfied with the Whig Party’s domination of regional politics, Yoakum decided to leave Tennessee after James K. Polk failed to carry the state in the 1844 presidential campaign.
He moved to Huntsville, Texas, where he opened a law office in 1845. Striking a quick, and lasting, friendship with Sam Houston, Yoakum became prominent in the Texas Democratic Party and grew wealthy, owning over ten thousand acres in five east Texas counties. In 1849 he began writing his History of Texas, a massive two-volume study that “offered a documented and ably argued justification of the Democratic ideology of expansion and empire.” (1) His history was published in 1855 and remains today an important primary source about the early history of Texas. He died in 1856 and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. His friend, Sam Houston, was buried nearby in 1863.