Three days after his victory over Santa Anna’s army, Sam Houston still lay in his tent on the battlefield at San Jacinto. His left leg throbbed with the pain of a compound fracture inflicted by an enemy bullet. He was angry. His ragtag, outnumbered volunteer army contained Texans, Tennesseans, and Louisianans, but almost none of the nearby landowners, despite his plea for help two days before the battle. Perhaps driven by that fevered anger, Houston struck back at them. The instrument of his retaliation was another local landowner, one of the few who had been with him since the previous year. David Kokernot knew his neighbors and the neighborhood and took the assignment with apparent relish. He would regret it forever.
Kokernot, born in Amsterdam of poor Jewish merchants, had come to New Orleans with his family at age thirteen and soon apprenticed himself to the alcoholic pilots at the mouth of the Mississippi River. His parents found success as importers and retailers of dry goods, but the boy craved more stimulation, which he found by squandering much of his family’s new fortune in Europe and the Caribbean. Unchastened, he was next off to Texas to sell his stock of pants, vests, and cotton ticking, financed by his mother, but found himself drawn to the more exciting events of the Texas Revolution unfolding around him. He revered Sam Houston, but his expansive interpretation of the general’s order after the last battle earned him the contempt of his superiors and the scorn of his Tory neighbors. Their leader pursued him for a decade before cornering him in a Huntsville courtroom. Kokernot’s case appeared hopeless even after his defense attorney, Sam Houston, arrived from Washington, DC, to “give the old Tory a blizzard,” as one newsman described it.
This meticulously researched biography relies heavily on original documents and is illustrated throughout with newly created maps, along with contemporary sketches and photographs.