The Dickinson’s of the Alamo

dickinson a 001

Painting of Almaron Dickinson by Mark Barnette

Almeron Dickinson didn’t fall in love until he was 29-years of age.  A Pennsylvanian by birth in the year 1800, he served in the United States Army and was trained in the art and science of artillery.  He eventually found his way to Bolivar, Tennessee, located in the southwest corner of the state.  In Tennessee, he met and fell in love with Miss Susanna Wilkerson, who was then just fifteen years of age.  We don’t know why the couple eloped —it may have had to do with her young age—but that’s what they did on 24 May 1829.

Two years later, the Dickerson’s joined a group of 54 Texas-bound settlers, traveling by ship from New Orleans to the coast of Texas.  Upon arrival in Texas, they proceeded overland to the location of the Green DeWitt colony, which was formed around the emerging town of Gonzalez.  Almeron received a league of land (4,428 acres) along the San Marcos River near present-day Lockhart, Texas.  Over the next few years, the Dickerson’s acquired ten lots around Gonzalez, which in those days was an affordable investment.  Almeron served the community as a blacksmith and formed a partnership with a local hat-maker.  As a member of the community, Almeron joined with others in forming a militia to defend against hostile Indians.  Their daughter Angelina was born in 1834.

As it happens, the DeWitt Colony was a prime target for raids by hostile Indians (Karankawa, Tonkawa, and Comanche) and, in fact, in July 1826, these hostiles utterly destroyed Gonzalez.  The town was rebuilt in the following year, even though Comanche continued to attack the settlement with some regularity.  DeWitt demanded the protection of the Mexican army, but available forces were insufficient for this purpose.  DeWitt then negotiated with the local Mexican military commander for the loan of a cannon so that local militia could at least defend themselves.  It was a six-pounder, good for little more than scaring horses.

Since 1830, the newly formed Mexican government wavered between federalist and centralist policies.  As the political pendulum swung sharply toward centralism in 1835, several Mexican states revolted.  In June, several Texian settlers used this unrest as an excuse to rebel against government-imposed customs duties.  Mexico’s federal government responded by sending more soldiers to Texas.  With no shortage of opinion among the Texians, the public was sharply divided on the issue of Mexico’s move toward a centralist regime.  Some communities supported the rebellion, others —including the residents of Gonzalez— declared loyalty to Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  Anxiety over the political future of Mexican Texas caused some communities to send delegates to a “consultation,” while others scrambled to form armed militias.

On 10 September, a Mexican soldier severely clubbed a resident of Gonzalez, which led to widespread outrage and protest.  It was then that Mexican authorities concluded that it would be unwise to leave these settlers in possession of a six-pound cannon. Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, who then commanded all Mexican forces in Texas, sent a detail of six soldiers to retrieve the cannon.  By this time, the citizens of Gonzalez believed  Ugartechea was looking for an excuse to attack the settlement and eliminate their local militia.  They were quite naturally loath to return the cannon.  A town-meeting was held to decide what to do about Colonel Ugartechea’s demands.   Three of the town’s citizens voted to return it; everyone else agreed with the the mayor (alcalde), who wanted to retain possession of it.  Mayor Andrew Ponton believed that the issue of the cannon had become a point of honor.  Gonzalez residents decided to stand their ground.

Mayor Ponton correctly anticipated that Colonel Ugartechea would send additional troops to demand return of the cannon.  As soon as the first Mexican detachment was escorted from town, Ponton sent word to the nearby settlement of Mina requesting reinforcements.  A rumor surfaced, claiming that 300 Mexican soldiers were en route to Gonzalez.  Empresario Stephen F. Austin didn’t help matters by cautioning all Texians to remain watchful and on a firm defensive posture.  He warned the Texians that any unjustified acts of aggression on their part could hinder later support from the United States, if needed.

Although instructed to avoid violence if possible, Francisco de Castañeda departed San Antonio on 27 September with one-hundred dragoons.  His mission was to reclaim the cannon.  As these troops approached Gonzalez two-days later, they discovered that the citizens had removed all boats from the Guadalupe River, including the ferry. Eighteen armed Texians waited on the opposite side of the river.  Their captain, Albert Martin, informed Castañeda that he must remain on the western bank until Mayor Ponton returned to town.

Castañeda‘s arrival caused a flurry of activity inside the town.  One detail of residents buried the cannon as messengers traveled to nearby communities for their assistance.  More than 80-men responded to the call for reinforcement.  These new men demanded their right to choose their own leader (a typical practice of the day).  The chosen leaders were John Henry Moore (Fayette), Joseph Washington Elliot Wallace, (Columbus), and Edward Burleson (Columbus) to serve as captain, first and second lieutenant.

With no way to cross the river, Castañeda made camp on a high ground along the river bank.  On 30 September, he repeated his demand for return of the cannon; he was again rebuffed.  The Texians insisted on discussing the matter directly with Colonel Ugartechea. Castañeda promptly made his report to Ugartechea, adding that he felt the Texians were stalling.

In San Antonio, Colonel Ugartechea approached Dr. Launcelot Smither, a resident of Gonzalez who was visiting on business.  Smither was asked to help Castañeda in convincing the Texians to obey the instructions of lawful authority.  Smither returned to Gonzalez on 1 October and met with Captain Caldwell.  Smither assured Caldwell that the soldiers intended no harm if the settlers would peacefully relinquish the cannon.  Caldwell instructed Smither to bring Castañeda into town the following morning to discuss the issue further.  Meanwhile, Caldwell called a war council, which quickly voted to initiate a fight.  The Texians dug up the cannon, mounted it on cart wheels and, in the absence of ammunition, they gathered scraps of metal to use in place of cannon balls.  James Neill, with artillery experience during the War of 1812, was placed in charge of the cannon.  He gathered several men to assist him as cannoneers, including Almeron Dickinson. A local minister asked for God’s blessings.  While the Texians were planning their attack, Castañeda learned from an Indian scout that 140 men had gathered in Gonzalez and more men were expected to join the fray. This news prompted Castañeda to began looking for a suitable place to ford the river.

The Texians themselves began to cross the river to confront the Mexican force at around 7 pm.  As only half of the men were mounted on horseback, their progress was slow.  Once assembled on the west bank, the Texians tracked the Mexican soldiers to their encampment.  A thick fog rolled in around midnight, which caused further delay to these efforts.  The Texians finally arrived at the Mexican camp around 3 am. A barking dog alerted the soldiers, who began to fire.  The noise generated by rifle fire spooked the horses, which disrupted the Texian advance.  Moore ordered his men to conceal themselves in the thick underbrush until dawn.

Due to the darkness and fog, Castañeda had no clear idea how many men he was facing.  Proceeding with caution, he moved his men 300 yards further back to a nearby bluff.  Texians emerged from the trees at 6 am and began to fire on the Mexican soldiers.  Lieutenant Gregorio Pérez mounted a counter-attack with 40 dragoons.  The Texians fell back to their previous position in the trees and fired a volley of rifle shot, injuring one soldier.  Pérez returned to the bluff.

As the fog lifted around mid-day, Castañeda sent Smither to the Texians requesting a meeting.  Smither, who was now suspected of colluding with the enemy, was promptly arrested.  Eventually, Moore agreed to meet with Castañeda.  Moore explained that the Texians no longer recognized the centralist government of General Santa Anna. The Texians, Moore assured him, remained loyal to the Mexican Constitution of 1824.  Castañeda confided to Moore that he shared their support for federalism, but that he was honor bound to follow his orders.

comeandtakeitAfter Moore returned to his camp, the Texians raised a homemade white banner with an image of a cannon painted in black, centered, over the words “Come and take it.[1]”  The Texians then fired their misappropriated cannon at the Mexicans, injuring two more men. Realizing that he was outnumbered and outgunned, Castañeda led his troops back to San Antonio.  In fact, the dragoons were gone before the Texians had finished loading their cannon.

History might recall the Battle of Gonzalez as a minor skirmish were it not for its consequences.  A large number of Texians had taken up arms against the government of Mexico and had no intention of returning to their previously neutral stance. Two days later, Austin communicated to the Texas Committee on Public Safety, “War is declared.”  This suited General Santa Anna because he had already determined to crush the Texians, as they were now in a state of rebellion. Gonzalez became the rallying point of all Texian opposition to the centralist government.

As with the others in the DeWitt Colony, Almeron Dickinson was swept up in the euphoria of victory (over a Mexican company that chose not to draw blood), and Dickinson decided to join the march to San Antonio de Béxar.  He marched alongside 300 Texians who imagined themselves an army.  They served under the command of Stephen F. Austin … a man with no previous military experience. In San Antonio, General Martin Perfecto de Cos [2] and 650 regular army troops awaited the arrival of these Texians.  Cos fortified the town plaza west of the San Antonio River and established his headquarters in a run down former mission everyone called the Alamo [3].

By the time the Texians arrived along Salado Creek, east of San Antonio in mid-October 1835, their numbers had increased to around 400 men, including famed Jim Bowie, Juan Seguin, and James W. Fannin.  General Cos was reinforced by an additional 100 men.  In late October, the Texians began to disagree with one another about the stated intentions of General Sam Houston.  Houston wanted to delay any conflict with Mexico in order that his army could be properly trained, equipped, and reinforced.  Texians serving under Austin, however, weren’t having any of this “delay” business.  They continued their efforts to capture San Antonio.

On 27 October, Bowie and Fannin advanced with 90 or so men to Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna.  General Cos ordered Colonel Ugartechea to attack the Texians with 275 men.  The Texians successfully drove off this attack, inflicting more than 50 casualties and capturing one Mexican cannon.  Austin arrived shortly thereafter and urged a continuation of the assault into San Antonio, but he found little support for this plan by his officers.  Texian encampments along the San Antonio River, both north and south of the town, prompted General Cos to adopt a defensive posture within the crumbling Alamo.

The Texians were reinforced by a company of men from East Texas led by Thomas Rusk; their numbers now approached 600 men.  Yet, in spite of this increased strength, there was scant support for an assault on the town from among the Texian officers.  The men, frustrated by sitting around doing nothing, began to return to their homes in early November.

The larger conflict evolved into one of a series of minor skirmishes between Mexican patrols and Texian scouts.  The Texians were focused on capturing supplies and denying General Cos any additional reinforcements.  It was becoming a stalemate.  William Travis led a small force in the capture of 300 horses and mules found grazing along the Medina River on 8 November.  Colonel Ugartechea departed San Antonio with a squadron of cavalry to accompany reinforcements back to the Alamo.  Austin sent mounted troops to intercept him, but he was unsuccessful.  Unseasonably cold weather and diminishing supplies had a negative effect on men on both sides.

In mid-November, three companies of men (around 100 in total) arrived from the United States to reinforce the Texians.  Austin again planned an assault on San Antonio; his officers questioned the wisdom of such an undertaking.  Austin, in realizing his inadequacies as a military leader, accepted a diplomatic post in the United States and soon departed San Antonio.  The Texians elected Edward Burleson to replace Austin as their military commander.

Texian scout Erastus (Deaf) Smith [4] reported the approach of Mexican cavalry on 26 November.  Burleson ordered mounted troops to cut them off, which resulted in a series of attacks/counter-attacks.  Mexican troops finally withdrew from the field back to San Antonio. History records this as the “grass fight” because the Texians were able to capture Mexican supply animals which were laden with fodder for horses (rather than rumored gold).

It was the beginning of an unseasonably cold winter and Burleson was considering a withdrawal to Goliad when a Mexican officer surrendered to the Texians, telling them that the Mexican soldiers were demoralized.  Ben Milam and William Cooke saw this an an opportunity and, gathering 300 volunteers, obtained Burleson’s permission to attack the town of San Antonio.  Through aggressive scouting, Burleson’s force kept General Cos and his 570 men in a defensive posture.  Half of Cos’ force were stationed inside the town, and the other half inside the Alamo.

Distracting the Mexicans with artillery fire directed at the Alamo on 5 December, Milam and Francis (Frank) Johnson led a two-pronged attack into the town.  The Mexicans returned fire, forcing a halt to the Texian advance.  One Texian cannon was destroyed later in the day.  The next day, the Texians began digging trenches between houses as cover from well-aimed Mexican rifle fire.  When a sharpshooter’s bullet killed Milam, Johnson took charge, directing a renewed assault on 7 December. On the next day, Colonel Ugartechea returned with over 600 men, but only about 170 of these men were experienced field soldiers.  Burleson sent 100 men to reinforce Johnson.  Texians and Mexican were soon engaged in bloody hand-to-hand fighting.

General Cos ordered his dragoons to threaten the outlying Texian camps but found them too well defended.  That night, Cooke seized the home of a priest situated on the main plaza.  The bad news was that Cooke soon found himself cut off from the Texian force.  General Cos then decided to consolidate his force at the Alamo and ordered a withdrawal from the town.  It was at this time that four companies of Mexicans deserted.  This sudden loss of men prompted General Cos to request terms of surrender on the morning of 9 December.  Burleson accepted the general’s surrender, granting the Mexican force parole, while relieving them of most of their field equipment and weapons.  At the conclusion of this siege, 35 Texians had given up their lives.  The Mexicans had sustained losses of 150 dead and as many wounded.  It would appear that the Texians had more accurate rifles.  After the battle, most of the Texian volunteers returned to their homes; a few remained in town.  General Cos’ withdrawal left San Antonio in the hands of the Texians.

While Almeron was participating in the Siege of Béxar, Susanna remained in Gonzalez with Angelina, but after a newly formed troop of Texians looted her home in search of warm clothing and other supplies, she fled to join her husband.  She arrived in San Antonio in late December.

Texian war planners decided that the Alamo (while crumbling and far too large to defend with so few men) offered a strategic value that could not be ignored.  San Antonio de Béxar was situated at an important Texas crossroad, with two approaches from the Mexican Interior.  The first of these Atascosito Road extended from Matamoros through San Patricio, Goliad, Victoria, and into the Austin colony; the second was the Old San Antonio Road that crossed the Rio Grande at Paso de Francia, wound northeastward through San Antonio, Bastrop, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, and across the Sabine River into Louisiana.  Two fortifications blocked these routes: Presidio La Bahia at Goliad, and the Alamo in San Antonio.

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Lieutenant Colonel Neill confers with Major Green in the Alamo. Drawing by Gary Zaboly

Placed in charge of the Alamo garrison was James Neill; James Fannin assumed command at Goliad.  Most Texian volunteers returned to their homes after General Cos withdrew his forces.  The Texians were being regularly augmented by newly arriving American volunteers.  These were the men who constituted a majority of troops at Goliad and Béxar.  Neill and Fannin agreed with the supposition that Mexican forces might be stopped at either of these crossroads and they dedicated themselves to that purpose.  Yet, neither of these men harbored any illusions about their likely success.  Without quick reinforcement, neither the Alamo or La Bahia could long withstand a siege.

There were twenty-one pieces of artillery (of various caliber) at the Alamo.  It was Neill’s artillery background that made him the ideal choice for this assignment. He began a series of working parties tasked to repair the crumbling mission.  Major Green Jameson served under Neill as chief engineer and it was he that installed most of the cannons on the breastworks of the Alamo.  Green may have been a bit too optimistic, however, when he told Sam Houston that his artillery could “…whip 10 to 1.”

Béxar was located quite some distance from the bulk of Texian settlements; resupply was always going to be a problem.  As early as 14 January, Neill advised Houston that his garrison was in a “torpid, defenseless condition.”  He sent another message to the provisional government informing them that, “Unless we are reinforced and victualled, we must become easy prey to the enemy, in case of an attack.”  Soon after, Houston began to question the wisdom of maintaining a garrison at the Alamo.  Despite this foreboding, Houston informed Governor Henry Smith on 17 January that James Bowie and a company of volunteers had departed for San Antonio.  He added, “I have ordered the fortification in the town of Béxar to be demolished, and, if you should think well of it, I will remove all the cannon and other munitions of war to Gonzalez and Copano, blow up the Alamo, and abandon the place, as it will be impossible to keep up the station with volunteers, the sooner I can be authorized, the better it will be for the country.”  Governor Smith did not think well of it.

Bowie and his volunteers arrived at the Alamo on 19 January. He was impressed with all the work accomplished by Neill to fortify the aging mission.  Neill convinced Bowie that the Alamo was the only viable post between the centralists and Texian settlements.  Apparently, Neill motivated Bowie to the task of defending the Alamo.  Bowie wrote to Smith, telling him, “No other man in the army could have kept these men at this post under the neglect they have experienced.”  A few days later, Bowie wrote again to Governor Smith, saying that both he and Neill had resolved to “die in these ditches” before surrendering the Alamo. Smith resolved to send additional troops and provisions to Béxar.

Committed to bolstering the mission garrison, Smith ordered Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis to take his cavalry unit and report to Colonel Neill.  Only 30 horsemen responded to Smith’s summons; Travis pleaded with him, “I am unwilling to risk my reputation (which is ever dear to a soldier) by going off into the enemy’ s country with such little means, and with them so badly equipped.”  When Smith ignored Travis’ theater, Travis threatened to resign.  Eventually, however, Travis obeyed his orders and made his way to Béxar with thirty horsemen.

Reinforcements began to trickle into the Alamo.  Travis arrived on 3 February and, like Bowie, committed himself to Colonel Neill and the fortification.  On 8 February, David Crockett arrived with a group of Tennessee Volunteers.  On 14 February, Neill learned that members of his family were gravely ill and that he was desperately needed back in Bastrop.  Placing Travis in charge as acting post commander, Neill departed for home on that same day.  Travis’ appointment was no slight to Bowie, since he was a colonel of volunteers, while Travis held a regular commission.  It was Bowie’s men who objected to Travis most; they felt that the 26-year old lacked maturity and any proven ability in command.  And, perhaps, Travis was a bit too full of himself.  In any case, after animosity, Bowie and Travis agreed to co-command the Alamo garrison until Neill returned to duty: Bowie would command the volunteers, Travis the regulars.

Meanwhile, General Santa Anna’s centralist army had reached the Rio Grande.  Travis did not believe the Mexicans could reach Béxar until mid-March; he must have been red-faced when Santa Anna’s force arrived on 23 February.  Travis sent a dispatch to Governor Smith: “The enemy in large force is in sight.  We want men and provisions.  Send them to us.  We have 150 men and are determined to defend the garrison to the last.”

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Painting of Susanna Dickinson by Mark Barnette

After joining him in late December 1835, Almeron Dickinson found shelter for his wife and child inside the town of San Antonio de Béxar.  When General Santa Anna arrived at the head of his two-thousand-man army, Almeron, who was then holed up inside the Alamo, raced his horse into town, swept Susanna and Angelina on to the back of the horse, and galloped back to the protection of the mission.  Susanna and Angelina joined with other women and children already inside the Alamo.

The following day, General Santa Anna demanded the surrender of the garrison.  Travis replied with a shot from a cannon and the siege of the Alamo began almost immediately.  Travis took full command of the garrison that same day when Bowie, suffering what was then termed “typhoid pneumonia,” could no longer exercise his command.  In any case, both Travis and Bowie realized that their goose was cooked.

On 1 March, Lieutenant George C. Kimbell’s ranging company from Gonzalez made its way through the enemy cordon and into the Alamo. Garrison strength now consisted of between 185 to 260 combatants.  Travis was grateful for the reinforcements but realized that it was not likely the garrison could survive a 2,000-man army.  Knowledge of certain death is one thing, stress and depression are another matter.  Travis became increasingly frustrated with the lack of support from fellow Texians.  He condemned Fannin for not coming to aid him: “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”

On 5 March, the twelfth day of the siege, General Santa Anna announced his plan for an assault on the following day.  Mexican officers were stunned: the walls of the Alamo were crumbling, the rebels had sent no column to confront them, and it was only a matter of time before the garrison’s food stores would run out.  At that time, these officers believed, the garrison would surrender without further bloodshed.  These were reasonable objections to a costly assault, but Santa Anna ignored them.

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Observing the two thousand Mexican soldiers streaming into Bexar, Crockett reportedly observed, “We’re going to need a few more men.”

Almeron Dickinson now served as captain of the artillery. Susanna recounted that her husband hid her and Angelina in the anteroom of the chapel building.  Santa Anna’s assault began at 5 am on Sunday, 13 March 1836.  Eighteen-hundred soldiers attacked from four different directions.  Dickinson’s gunners stood by their cannon.  As soon as the Mexicans had advanced within range, concentrated cannon and well-aimed rifle fire decimated the leading ranks.  After a short halt in progress, the Mexicans surged forward past the outer defenses.  Travis, standing on the north bastion (at about the same position as the present-day post office), was among the first to die.

Susanna Dickinson later testified that as resistance failed, Almeron rushed to his wife and said to her, “Great God, Sue!  The Mexicans are inside our walls!  All is lost!  If they spare you, love our child.”  He then returned to his duties and was never seen again.

The Mexican army overwhelmed the Texian defenders, forcing them to withdraw into the courtyard and into the dark rooms of the long barracks.  It was within these confines that some of the bloodiest hand-to-hand combat took place.  Jim Bowie, too ravaged by fever to rise from his bed, found no sympathy from the attacking Mexicans.

Ruthless combat lasted no more than 90-minutes (some estimate less than that); the chapel was the last to fall.  It is believed that no more than seven defenders survived the assault, and those were soon executed out-of-hand.  David Crockett is believed to have been in this final group of heroes. In any case, by 8 am every Texian was dead.  The official list of dead includes 189 men, but on-going research may increase the final tally to 260.  Of the Mexican dead, about six-hundred.

After the battle, Colonel Juan Almonte led the noncombatant women, children, and slaves out of the Alamo to the home of Ramón Músquiz.  The next day, the women were brought before General Santa Ana, who treated them with gallantry.  He pledged them safe passage through the lines and provided each with a blanket and two-dollars in silver coin.  Turning to Susanna Dickinson, he offered to take Angelina to Mexico City to be properly educated, but Susanna refused his offer.  Santa Anna then presented her with a letter that she was to deliver to Sam Houston demanding his immediate surrender.  Then, to assure her safe passage, Santa Anna assigned one of his officers to accompany her back to the Texian settlement.  William Travis’ slave Joe, who had also been spared, accompanied her back to Gonzalez.

Upon her arrival back in Gonzalez, Susanna shared the news of the fall of the Alamo. Anticipating the approach of the Mexican Army, Sam Houston ordered Texian families to immediately evacuate their settlements and head toward safety in Louisiana.  Susanna and Angelina joined the long struggle eastward in the rain, mud, and extreme cold in what became known as the Runaway Scrape.

Although illiterate, Susanna shared with others her life’s experiences.  With regard to what actually happened at the Alamo, she offered the following testimony:

  1. Before the final assault, there were very few battle casualties among the Texians.
  2. She confirmed the “line in the sand” incident where Travis gave defenders the choice of leaving the Alamo or defending it to the death.  Susanna claimed that this event actually occurred on 12 March (not earlier, as previously recounted).
  3. She did not see the body of her husband after the fall of the Alamo.
  4. Susanna did not see the actual battle. She said that in the final moments, one defender ran into the Chapel for safety, but was killed by Mexican soldiers.
  5. At the time of her discovery (and that of the other women and children), a Mexican officer intervened to protect these ladies from harm or depredation.
  6. She reported that one survivor of the battle was found hiding and identified him as a man named Warner.  Warner apparently begged for his life but was executed.  Note: There is no one named Warner on the list of Texian casualties, but Travis’ slave Joe verified this incident.
  7. At the request of Mexican officers, Susanna identified the bodies of the Alamo’s leaders.
  8. Susanna saw and identified the bodies of David Crockett and Jim Bowie.  Crockett’s body was lying between the Chapel and the long barrack.  Bowie’s body was found beside two dead Mexican soldiers.
  9. From the Músquiz home, Susanna could observe (and smell) the pyres of the dead being destroyed.
  10. When Santa Anna released her, Susanna and Angelina received an officer escort and a servant partway back to Gonzalez.
  11. Following the battle, she wept for several days.
  12. After traveling half-way to Gonzalez, Susanna and her escort encountered Deaf Smith, who took her the rest of the way to Gonzalez.

Other survivors of the battle included Enrique Esparza (the son of an Alamo defender named Gregorio Esparza).  Both Enrique and Travis’ slave “Joe” validated the portions of Susanna’s testimony for which they had first-hand knowledge.

After the battle, Susanna —a widow— had no further means of support, she petitioned the Texas Congress for financial assistance, but without an economy to sustain the new republic, her petition (along with other surviving family members) was denied. By the end of 1837, she married a man named John Williams.  Due to his physical abuse, she divorced him within a year, the first divorce granted in what eventually became Harris County.

In 1838, the Republic of Texas awarded her a land bounty of 640 acres, given similarly to all surviving family members of the Texas Revolution.  The land grant gave Susanna the ability to support herself as a laundress and the keeper of a boarding house.  In later years she and Angelina were awarded another 1,920 acres as descendants of a member of the Texas Republican Army.

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Susanna Dickinson c.1865 from public domain Credit to Texas State Library

In December 1838, Susanna married Francis P. Herring. Herring drank himself to death in 1843. Her fourth husband was Peter Bellows, whom she married in 1847.  Bellows divorced Susanna shortly afterward, accusing her with abandonment and prostitution. Susanna did not appear in court to defend his claim because she had already moved to Lockhart, Texas where she operated a successful boarding house.

During these years, Susanna was well-known by Baptist minister Rufus C. Burleson.  In his memoirs, Burleson praised Susanna for helping to nurse victims of a cholera epidemic in Houston.  He said of her, “She was nominally Episcopalian, a bundle of untamed passions, devoted in her love, and bitter in her hate.”

Susanna met her fifth and final husband after moving to Lockhart.  Joseph W. Hannig was an immigrant from Germany, a blacksmith, and a skilled carpenter. Susanna sold her land in the old DeWitt colony and used the proceeds to help Hannig establish various business interests in Austin.  Hannig was a prodigious businessman; he operated a furniture-making factory, an undertaking parlor, and a mill.  He expanded these interests to San Antonio.

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Believed to be Angelina c.1859 Taken from the public domain

Angelina Dickinson, aged 17 and with the blessing of her mother married John Maynard Griffith, a farmer from Montgomery County. Although they had three children together, the marriage ended in divorce.  Leaving two of her children with her mother and another with an uncle, Angelina drifted to New Orleans and became a courtesan.  Before the Civil War, she became a frequent associate with Jim Britton, from Galveston.  Britton was a railroad man from Tennessee who served in the Confederacy as a military officer.  Historians believe that Angelina eventually married Oscar Holmes in 1864, with whom she had a fourth child, but when she died in Galveston in 1869 from uterine hemorrhaging, she was known as Em Britton.

Susanna died in 1883 and was buried in Austin, Texas.

Sources:

  1. Barr, A. Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835.  Austin, University of Texas Press, 1990.
  2. Handbook of Texas Online, The Siege of Béxar, 2010.
  3. Tinkle, L.13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo.  College Station, Texas A&M University Press (1985)
  4. Hardin, S. L. Texian Iliad. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1994.

Endnotes:

[1] This slogan was first used in 480 BC during the Battle of Thermopylae by King Leonidas signifying his last stand in defiance of the Persian Army.  It was used in 1778 at Fort Morris, Province of Georgia, during the American Revolution.

[2] Brother in law to General Santa Anna.

[3] San Antonio de Valero Mission was established in 1716, named in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua and the Duke of Valero, a Spanish Viceroy.  Not long after construction, a hurricane destroyed most of the existing buildings and the mission moved to its present site in 1724. The cornerstone of the chapel was laid on 8 May 1744.  By 1835, the mission was in a state of disrepair.

[4] Born in New York in 1787, Smith suffered a childhood disease that left him deaf.  He moved to Texas in 1822, settling near San Antonio, where he married a Mexican widow.  Smith served as a messenger for Travis and Houston and it was Smith who accompanied Susanna and Angelina Dickinson from the Alamo after the battle.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Dickinson’s of the Alamo

  1. Kid says:

    I knew about 2% of this story before reading your excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Jim Bowie: The Man Behind the Legend | Old West Tales

  3. Pingback: Mexican Texas | Old West Tales

  4. Pingback: At San Jacinto, 1836 | Old West Tales

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