The Babe of the Alamo: Angelina Dickinson
By Donna Ingham
I suppose almost everybody knows about the Battle of the Alamo. And what most people know for sure is that there were no survivors among the defenders of the Alamo. None of the Texas soldiers who fought there lived to tell the tale. But there were survivors among the Texans at the Alamo, and one of them was a little girl-I mean a really little girl named Angelina Elizabeth Dickinson. Back in March of 1836 she wasn't quite a year and a half old. And she didn't know anything about war or the reasons for war. She just knew how to be a baby and do what babies do. And that made her adorable to the men on both sides.
Well, to her daddy, of course. He was a young officer in the Texas army, Almeron Dickinson, and he'd brought his wife, Susanna, and his daughter with him to the Alamo. And he carried Angelina with him everywhere he went-even when he went to a meeting with Col. William Barret Travis.
So there she was crawling around, playing on the floor, doing what babies do, and Col. Travis himself could not resist her baby charms. In the midst of all his concerns about being way outmanned by the Mexican army and about having none of the reinforcements he had asked for and hoped for, he picked Angelina up and lifted her onto his lap. Then he took a hammered gold ring with a black cat's eye stone off his finger, tied it through with a string he found in his pocket, and slipped it over Angelina's head like a necklace. "If my boy was here," he said, "I'd give this to him. But I won't be needing it anymore, so you keep it for me."
She already had a wooden doll whittled for her by Davy Crockett, that funny man from Tennessee who made her laugh when he'd tickle her with the tail hanging from his fur skin cap-sometimes coon skin, sometimes fox skin-and he made her bounce on her little fat legs when he played his hoe down fiddle. Oh, she got attention from everyone. That's what babies do.
If she remembered anything about the battle going on around her on March 6,1836, it was probably the noise: the sounds of gunfire and cannon fire and men shouting orders-and men crying out in pain. She might remember being held close by her mother, Susanna, as they huddled in a small room where gunpowder had been stored. She might even remember the left-over smell of that gunpowder. And then there was the silence, when the noise was all over and everything was quiet again after the Mexicans had overrun the old mission.
She might remember being carried by her mother from that small room into a larger one where a man wearing a fancy military uniform and white gloves reached out for her. And she did what babies do: she went to him and sat on his lap and played with all the medals hanging off his jacket. When he spoke to her, the words were soft and musical. "Hermosa," he said, "muy hermosa." Later her mother would tell her that he was calling her beautiful, very beautiful. And later her mother would tell her that this man wanted to take Angelina-only he called her Angelina-back to Mexico with him. "I want this child," he said. "I will give her the best Mexico has to offer: clothes and jewels and education."
But her mother said, "No, never!" For this man, of course, was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the man who had ordered "no quarter," who had said there would be no survivors among those who fought against him, including Susanna's husband and Angelina's father, Almeron.
So Santa Anna gave them safe passage away from the Alamo and made Susanna his messenger. "Go," he said, "and tell all the Texans that the Alamo has fallen, and tell Sam Houston that any further resistance will be useless."
As they rode from the Alamo to Sam Houston's camp, Susanna and Angelina encountered other Texans, one of whom was Erastus "Deaf" Smith, and it was Smith who reached out for Angelina this time. And she did what babies do: she went to him and cuddled down against the soft deerskin of his jacket and went back to sleep. Once they reached Sam Houston's camp, Smith continued to hold Angelina and rock her as she slept and as Susanna poured out her story of those thirteen days at the Alamo and of the brave defenders who died there.
And from that story came the rallying cry, "Remember the Alamo!" that took the Texans into battle at San Jacinto: the battle they won, the battle in which they captured Santa Anna, the battle that assured Texas its independence from Mexico and its beginnings as a new republic.
And Angelina? Oh, she would remember the Alamo too, no doubt-or at least some of the men there whose lives she touched with her innocence-every time she looked at that hammered gold ring with the black cat's eye stone or that crudely-carved wooden doll, or anytime she saw brightly-ribboned medals hanging on a military uniform.
And we remember her as the Babe of the Alamo.
Note: "Babe of the Alamo" is on Texas (& Texanized) Myths & Legends released by Wordshop Press in 2001, ISBN 0-9671618-3-5. The tape is available at Austin Barnes & Noble stores or by mail order from Wordshop Publishing, 1025 Coventry Road, Spicewood, TX 78669, for $12.