Susanna Dickinson

Susanna Dickinson

Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson (also spelled Susana and Susannah) (1814 – October 7, 1883) was among the two Anglo survivors of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution, where her husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, and 182 other defenders were killed by the Mexican Army. The second was her infant daughter.

Also known by the surname Dickenson, she was born in 1814 in the U.S. state of Tennessee, but little is known of her early life. On May 24, 1829, at the age of 15, she married Almaron Dickinson. Justice of the Peace Joseph W. McKean officiated the ceremony. Two years later she and her husband became Dewitt Colonists, obtaining property on the San Marcos River, where he opened a blacksmith shop and went into business with colonist George Kimbell in a hat factory. Her husband would later join with other volunteers during the Battle of Gonzales, which marked the beginning of the Texas war of independence, and he was a member of the "Old Gonzales 18". She joined her husband in San Antonio, Texas, shortly after he was assigned there.

Battle of the Alamo

Dickinson was present in the Alamo compound during the 13-day siege and subsequent Battle of the Alamo, in which her husband Almaron was a killed in action on March 6, 1836, after the assaulting Mexican forces breeched the Alamo walls. According to later accounts by Susannah Dickinson, her husband rushed into the chapel where he'd hidden her and their daughter, saying "Great God, Sue! The Mexicans are inside our walls! All is lost! If they spare you, love our child." With that he returned to his post, commanding the garrisons artillery. Susannah Dickinson's life was spared by General and President Antonio López de Santa Anna, and she would later become the most extensively quoted eyewitness source to the final and subsequent events of the Alamo defeat. During the battle, Susanna was injured in the leg or ankle by a bullet. She was found by English-speaking General Juan Almonte who said to her, "If you wish to save your life, follow me." She was escorted from her hiding place in the chapel.

Almaron and Susanna Dickinson's 15-month-old daughter Angelina Elizabeth (1834-1871) was also a survivor. According to Susanna, when she was escorted into Santa Anna's quarters, she found Angelina sitting on the general's lap. Susanna was released and sent to Gonzales, Texas, by Santa Anna. She was escorted by one or more servants with a letter dated March 7, 1836. After her arrival in Gonzales, General Sam Houston burned the town and retreated toward East Texas, beginning what became known as the Runaway Scrape.

It is Susannah Dickinson's account, along with freed former slave to Col. Travis Joe, that is most commonly believed as it relates to the death of American frontier legend Davy Crockett. Diary accounts by a former Mexican Army officer, José Enrique de la Peña, surfaced in the 1950s claiming that Crockett was captured along with a small number of other Texans, and executed immediately afterward by Mexican soldiers who threw themselves onto the captives with the bayonets and swords. However, the journals surfaced at the height of the 1950s Davey Crockett fame era, when coon skinned caps became a fad with children and both television and films were causing Crockett's fame to reach all new heights, making many historians question as to whether they were authentic, at first. The journals contradicted accounts given by Susannah Dickinson, who claimed that Crockett died some time during the battle, inside the plaza of the garrison, and that she recognized him by his peculiar attire and hat. Joe, the freed former slave of Col. William B. Travis, also claimed to have seen the body of Crockett, laying among several dead Mexican soldiers. While de la Pena's memoirs have since been authenticated, the facts included in them are in doubt, due to other inconsistent facts included in "With Santa Anna in Texas", written by de la Pena, which gives an account of the death of Col. Travis, which has since been proven to be completely inaccurate. [] [] []

usannah Dickinson's witness accounts

Susannah Dickinson reported, after the battle, the following had occurred during the siege and ultimate fight;

* There were very few casualties before the final assault. She did not know the number.

* She confirms that the legendary "line in the sand" incident, where Col. William Travis gave the defenders the choice of staying or leaving, did happen. However, she reports that it happened the day before the final assault, when it is believed to have happened on either March 3 or March 4.

* On the morning of the assault, her husband ran in to where she'd hidden, made his final statements to her and revealing that the Mexicans were inside, then returned to his duty. She never saw him again, nor did she ever see his body.

* She hid inside the chapel, and did not see the actual battle. One defender ran inside during the battle, attempting to hide, but was killed by Mexican soldiers.

* When she was discovered, a Mexican officer intervened, with her saying she believed he was a British mercenary named either Black or Almonte. She was mistaken about his ethnicity, as he was Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, who spoke perfect English, having been educated in New Orleans, Louisiana.

* Outside there was a single survivor, found hiding, who unsuccessfully begged for mercy and was killed. Joe also reported this, claiming the man's name was Warner. However no Warner is listed as being at the Alamo. The closest name in similarity to Warner is Henry Warnell, however Warnell departed the Alamo as a courier on February 28, 1836.

* She saw the body of Davy Crockett between the chapel and the barracks building.

* She saw the body of Jim Bowie with two dead Mexican soldiers lying beside him.

* She was taken to a house where she'd previously lived, and from there could see the pyres of the dead being burned.

* The next day she was taken before Santa Anna, and Almonte, or Black, convinced Santa Anna to release her rather than imprison her.

* She was sent east with Joe, and on the way to Gonzales, Texas she was intercepted by a party including Deaf Smith.

* At some point after the battle, she has no recollections, only that she wept for days.

Enrique Esparza, the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza, who was 8 years old at the time of the battle and spared when it was over, confirmed some of the things Susannah Dickinson stated. According to Enrique, who was inside the Alamo during the entire battle, Crockett was often seen during the siege talking with the soldiers, and giving both commands and encouragement. He reported that he heard a lot of men talking about Bowie and Travis, but does not recall having actually seen either of them. He stated that Crockett was killed shortly after the Mexican Army breached the walls, in front of the chapel doors. He also stated that on March 3rd, Travis gave the garrison a choice to either stay and fight, or leave. Enrique also added that Crockett negotiated with Santa Anna during a brief truce that lasted three days, starting seven days into the siege. According to Enrique, it was after this period that the defenders were called together, and offered a choice to stay or go. He added that the fighting was over before daylight, after the final assault began. His father, Gregorio, was the only Alamo defender allowed a burial, his body having been found by two uncles, who were granted special permission, sparing him from being cremated.

Francisco Antonio Ruiz, the Mayor of San Antonio, was not inside the Alamo, but gave several accounts of what happened after the battle. He stated that Crockett's body was found on the west side of the garrison, supporting Susannah Dickinson's claim as to where he lay. Ruiz stated that Travis' body was found on a gun carriage on the north wall. He stated that Bowie's body was found in one of the rooms on the south side. Ruiz also stated that Santa Anna wanted to personally see the bodies of Crockett, Travis and Bowie. Ruiz counted 182 defender bodies burned. In addition to those accounts, Ruiz completely contradicted Mexican accounts of their own losses during the battle. It has long been known that the Mexican officers, in an effort to make the battle look more in their favor, falsely set the defender numbers at over 600, while setting their own losses at 200. Many historians have agreed that the Mexican losses probably were in the area of 400 to 500. However, Ruiz, who was ordered by Santa Anna to take charge of disposing of the dead Mexican soldiers, claimed that the Mexican Army lost an estimated 1,600 troops. Many dispute this, saying that while the Mexicans may very well have lost around 800, 1,600 may be too high. []

Joe confirmed several statements of Susannah Dickinson, and added much more detail in some aspects due to his having been outside the chapel when the final assault began. Joe stated that he witnessed Col. Travis stand up on the wall when the assault began, firing down into the attackers. He witnessed Travis shot, stating that he then killed a Mexican soldier that was climbing over the wall by way of a ladder mounted from the outside. He then saw Travis fall, and withdrew into hiding. As soon as the Mexicans breached the walls, the defenders withdrew to the barracks, where they fought until it was over. After the battle, while being escorted out, he witnessed a single defender being found alive among the dead defenders, whom he identified as Warner, who was then killed.

After the Alamo

Illiterate, Susannah Dickinson left no written accounts of what happened in the Alamo, but did give several spoken accounts, with them always matching what she'd previously told. She remarried not long afterward to a man last named Williams, in 1837, but divorced almost immediately afterward on the grounds of cruelty. She married a third time in 1838, last name Herring, with that husband dying due to alcoholism. Dickinson married her fourth husband in 1847, last name Bellows, but the couple divorced in 1857 allegedly due to her having an affair. In 1858 she married for the fifth and final time, to J. W. Hannig, a cabinet maker, and with whom she would remain for the rest of her life. Dickinson died in 1883 and was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas, with the following inscription:

"Sacred to the Memory of Susan A. Wife of J. W. Hannig Died Oct. 7, 1883 Aged 68 Years."

The marble marker was placed there by Hannig. The marble slab was later added by the state on March 2, 1949. Her fifth husband Hannig was buried beside her after he died in 1890. A cenotaph honoring Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson was placed in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.

External links

* [ McArdle Collection Texas State Library and Archive]
* [ Susanna Dickinson]
* [ Battle of the Alamo, Texas Online]
* [ Almaron Dickinson]
* [ Susannah Dickinson]
* [ Susannah Wilkerson Dickinson]
* [ First Hand Alamo Accounts]
* [ Alamo Survivors, Including Couriers]

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