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Bonus Nerd Trip: Dickinson Hannig Museum

Bonus Nerd Trip: Dickinson Hannig Museum

By on Jun 1, 2013 in Historic Persons | 7 comments

Dickinson Hannig House, Austin

Dickinson Hannig House, Austin

Everything is big in Texas. And, in Texas history, nothing may be bigger than the Alamo (or should it be “The” Alamo?) so, the story of Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson offers some interesting insight into the legend and legacy of that famed siege.

Susanna Dickinson Hannig

Susanna Dickinson Hannig

Susanna had quite a life, including five husbands, Indian skirmishes, living in a “boarding house” and running a regular boarding house, as well as being  a celebrity as the only “Anglo” adult to survive the battle.

Known as the “Messenger of the Alamo,” she carried a warning to Sam Houston from General Santa Anna himself, who interviewed her when the siege was over and who allegedly wanted to take the  young widow and her baby to Mexico.  Susanna is one of the most widely quoted eyewitnesses to the historic battle, including her account of seeing the body of the legendary Davy Crockett (According to the Alamo’s website, there’s actually some mystery surrounding Crockett’s death). 

The Dickinson Hannig Museum in Austin was Susanna’s home with  her fifth husband Joseph Hannig, a German immigrant 20 years her junior who gained fame and fortune as a furniture and coffin maker who apparently had a good business/marketing strategy in that he would come pick up the body for you!   The house/museum, like its next door neighbor the O. Henry house/museum, was moved to its current location from a few blocks away and like the O. Henry museum, it’s free.

Joseph Hannig

Joseph Hannig

My friend Rebecca and I had just finished our visit with O. Henry, when we stopped in at the Dickinson Hannig museum, which includes some amazing pieces such as a bed Joseph made and an 1800s Bible.

Dickinson Hannig museum, Austin

Dickinson Hannig museum, Austin

Susanna Dickinson's Bible

19th Century Bible

An enthusiastic guide regaled us with the history of German immigrants in Texas and eagerly shared his passion for Texas history, lore and legend. He also wanted to know if we were from Texas. We explained that Rebecca had lived in Austin for several years and that I was visiting from the East Coast.

Beautiful dresser crafted by Joseph Hannig

Beautiful dresser crafted by Joseph Hannig

From that point on, he was done with me. Done.

Seriously, after that, he talked nearly exclusively to Rebecca. It was weird.

Maybe a non-Texan could not fully appreciate the importance of all the things he had to tell us. Hey, I may not live in Texas, but I have visited the Alamo. And, for the record, my friend Rebecca is not originally from Texas either.

However, you don’t need to be from Texas to appreciate the story of Susanna Dickinson, who “embodied the Texas womanhood of her era,” according to a museum display.

Here are some highlights and there are many more rich details to discover:

1814ish Susanna Wilkerson born in Tennessee

Age 14 or 15, elopes with Almeron Dickinson, a Pennsylvania artillery officer

1831 The couple moves to Gonzales, Texas – a colony in Mexico

1834 Daughter Angelina born (Angelina would later be known as the “Babe of the Alamo”)

The Alamo

The Alamo

1835 Almeron signs up for the Texas army, leaving Susanna to defend their home (Susanna and Angelina join him in San Antonio when their home is looted)

Feb 1836 Family moves into to the Alamo for safety

March  6, 1836 – The Battle of the Alamo ends (13-day siege)

After the War of Texas Independence, the new government denied Susanna’s petition for aid, including back pay for her husband and compensations for his land. A widow at age 22, Susanna could not read or write, so her options were limited.

In late 1837, she married again, but divorced her abusive husband just a few months later. Her third husband passed away after nearly six years of marriage, and in 1857 she divorced another after accusations she had an affair.  She married Joseph a year later.

Alamo courtyard with cool tree!

Alamo courtyard with cool tree!

According to our guide, Susanna ran a boarding house at one point in her life  and was accused of taking up residence in a brothel. You have to live somewhere!

Susanna spoke frequently about the Alamo, and, according to our tour, her testimony helped others to receive benefits, which she also received at some point.

Although I had visited the Alamo, I did not appreciate Susanna’s  story until we visited this small museum in Austin. When you “Remember the Alamo,” remember the woman who survived the battle and then battled to make her way on the harsh frontier. To borrow a Texas saying,  “It is sometimes said that life in the early days of Texas was an adventure for men and dogs, but hell on women and horses. 

Next post: The Official O. Henry World Championship Pun-Off! And don’t forget our “On the Map” page for additional information about the Dickinson Hannig Museum

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    7 Comments

  1. Thanks History Tourist! The guide thing was bizarre, but we both noticed it! I have been enjoying your recent posts.

  2. Strange to be snubbed by the guide! That doesn’t look like an interesting little museum though.

    • We took the snubbing to be funny. It’s like he would start to say something about Texas and then realize that I probably wouldn’t know what he was talking about (which did happen), and then he’d just tell my friend. The museum is very small, but we thought it was worth visiting, especially because it was free. I enjoy reading your Wine & History adventures!
      Sharon

      • Oops! I had meant to say that it DOES look like an interesting museum! Thank you – I enjoy reading about your adventures too!

  3. Did she provide any verification that Crockett, among others, survived the battle and were executed?

    • From what I read, she reported where she saw Crockett’s body (between the chapel and the barracks), so she cannot verify the execution story. Here’s a link I found on the Alamo’s site:
      http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr24

      The Alamo’s site also said that details of Crockett’s death are a bit of a mystery.

      Other things I read suggested that Susanna story changed somewhat as the years went on, which is probably understandable after so many years.

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