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The Ballad of Susanna (nee Wilkerson) Dickinson
Williams Herring Bellows Hannig



I came with a Good Man to Texas. My man was tender and kind.
And boldly we sought a new future, leaving our fam'lies behind.
This Good Man and Wife came to Texas, whence they would no longer roam.
This Good Man and Wife came to Texas where they would build a new home.

CHAPTER I
When born I was Susanna Wilkerson,
A sweet girl from old Tennessee.
At fifteen, I loved a young Captain -
Dashing and handsome was he.
Now his name was Almeron Dickinson.
And although my dear sister's beau,
On their wedding day,
He swept me away,
And soon off to Texas we'd go.


First overland west to new Memphis,
Then down to New Orleans to sail
To land at the mouth of the Brazos,
Following Green DeWitt's trail.
Now there where the blue Guadalupe
And Rio San Marcos both run,
We laid down our stake,
A new life to make,
And with our new daughter seemed done.


Our life in Gonzales was trying,
Defending our home from all harms.
Good citizens all,
We put out the call
For cannon to strengthen our arms.
But then came the Mexican soldiers
To strip us of our treasured pride.
Our Old Eighteen stood,
They stood for the good,
And so Come and Take It!, they cried!

Just eighteen opposing two hundred,
Though foe had no hunger for fight.
One shot from our gun,
The battle was done,
And war had begun by that night.
My Almeron buried that cannon,
And all our brave men rode to Bexar.
Then to Alamo
In San Antonio
And Travis's garrison there.

He'd left me behind unprotected,
With sweet Angelina alone.
Marauders were looting Gonzales;
Almeron hurried back home.
We fled to the family of Musquiz,
Free Masons in old San Antone.
The scouting report
Sent all to the fort,
And soon Santa Anna had shown.

You all know the stories of valor
And bravery at old Alamo.
This small band of men stood defiant.
None would be spared from the woe.
They brought me before Santa Anna,
At Babe of the Alamo's side.
Our lives he would spare,
His message to bear
That Houston must yield to the tide.

Once off on the road to Gonzales,
A scout troop of Texians rode by.
They listened with pride
Of men who had died,
Then led us, our message to ply.
Sam Houston was bound past the Brazos,
Hell-bent for the Runaway Scrape.
Sant'Anna had thought
The fight had been fought
And all that was left was escape.

They caught the proud general a-napping,
Then cowardly he skulked away.
Sam gave him his life,
And spared him the knife,
And Texas was born on that day.
Yet when all the blood-lust had settled,
This widow stood lost with her child.
With no relative
And no way to live,
So lost in the woods and the wild.

There must be a Good Man in Texas, one who is tender and kind;
Who'll care for my sweet little daughter, never to leave us behind;
A man who is strong and resourceful, Seeing me through every strife.
There must be a Good Man in Texas - one who deserves a Good Wife.

CHAPTER II
Now nothing was left of Gonzales,
Destroyed at Sam Houston's command.
I'd no way to shelter or feed us.
Nothing was left but bare land.
We went then along toward East Texas,
To Harrisburg County's new seat.
Of Houston's renown,
Now capital town
And there to the Congress entreat.


Petitions were properly offered
For those left bereft from their loss.
A dead hero's widow and daughter --
Hardly a burdensome cost.
And yet as the orators bantered,
With more care for show than for right,
We waited in vain
The funds never came.
Alone we then faced the cold night.


Now never had I learned my letters -
I never could sign my own name.
But cooking for men,
And comforting them
Were things I would do without shame.
We'd met a strong woman while traveling.
Her name was Pamelia Mann.
She offered us board,
Though naught we'd afford,
And that day our new life began.

I met there a man named John Parker,
Unsavory character he.
I hoped he would care,
Our burden to bear.
I hoped he would love only me.
But soon he was boasting to fellows,
As he sought his own fiendish ends.
And all he could see
Was strumpet in me,
A harlot to share with his friends.

We left him to go back to Houston,
Pamelia had welcomed us home.
Once there I took up with John Williams,
Thinking no more would we roam.
At age twenty-three, I'd remarry,
Though many years older was he.
At last my sweet waif
Would finally be safe,
And lovingly happy we'd be.

But soon he grew distant and sullen,
For drinking became his whole life.
No care for my dear little daughter,
None for his withering wife.
I worried when he was long absent.
We'd cower when he crossed the door.
We never could tell
When liquor's dark hell
Would drive him to beat us once more.

The devil that dwelt in that bottle
Would cause him to raise a cruel hand.
Ang'lina would hide
From his raging tide
I knew then I must make a stand.
His rage then knew no limitation.
He beat me 'til I lost all sight.
His fierce blows would doom
The child in my womb,
And rob me of my mother-right.

When next the cock crowed from the barnyard,
I took Angelina and flew.
Straight down to the court,
And there to report:
Divorce here was long overdue.
They granted my pleading petition.
To Pamelia's shelter we ran.
O, where could I find
A man who is kind?
O, where could I find a good man?

There must be a Good Man in Texas, one who is tender and kind;
Who'll care for my sweet little daughter, never to leave us behind;
A man who is strong and resourceful, Seeing me through every strife.
There must be a Good Man in Texas - one who deserves a Good Wife.

CHAPTER III
I chanced met a drayman from Georgia
Who carried fresh water to town.
His given name Francis P. Herring,
Seemingly well, fit and sound.
We married that very December,
When sweet Angelina turned four.
And finally, I thought,
The fight had been fought
And we were a family once more.


Then came a new Pres'dent for Texas
Who favored the town Waterloo.
They named it for Stephen F. Austin,
Capital city anew.
The flame that was Houston soon flickered
And people were leaving in droves.
No need for the casks
A waterman tasks,
With dwindling hearths and stoves.


Again then I witnessed a good man
Slide slowly, inexorably down.
He started to sink,
And turned to the drink,
Imag'ning his sorrows he'd drown.
John Barleycorn's ne'er a good partner.
He never will shoulder his share.
He'll spit in your eye
And leave you to die,
A widow the burden to bear.

And after near five years of marriage,
My dear Francis went to his grave.
Ang'lina was nine,
And I twenty-nine,
Again she was asked to be brave.
At least I could still earn a living,
My natural skills to apply.
Good suppers and breads
And gentlemen's beds -
Enough so that we could get by.

We witnessed the end of Republic
When Texas became a new state.
A drayman from old Pennsylvania
Asked that we join as one fate.
I married that young Peter Bellows
Before an Episcopal priest.
Ang'lina in sway
Turned thirteen that day,
And doubly gave us to feast.

My life became prosp'rous and proper.
And thus free from all sin and vice,
I went down to Buffalo Bayou,
Baptized by water in Christ.
I found Angelina a suitor,
At sixteen a bride would be she.
John Griffith she wed,
To e'er share his bed
And bring sweet grandchildren to me.

But, oh, how suspicions may haunt us,
And shadows appear from the past.
My husband took fright,
As I worked the night,
Recoiling in fear, and aghast.
His jealousy drove me to leave him,
For so had he well lost his mind.
So off to Lockhart
To make a new start
And leave sinful Houston behind.

They finally honored the mem'ry,
Brave Almeron's death to redeem.
They'd heard my demand
And deeded us land.
I turned to my once youthful dream.
Foul Bellows besieged me with slander,
And pressed forth a lib'lous divorce.
And though a bold lie,
I'd not dignify
This scurrilous act of perforce.

There must be a Good Man in Texas, one who is tender and kind;
Who'll care for my sweet little daughter, never to leave us behind;
A man who is strong and resourceful, Seeing me through every strife.
There must be a Good Man in Texas - one who deserves a Good Wife.

CHAPTER IV
I opened a small place in Lockhart,
To cook and to serve simple fare.
The blacksmith brought his younger brother,
Regular customers there.
And so I met young Joseph Hannig,
A German lad near half my age.
A fine cabineteer,
Mature for his year,
He managed to earn a fine wage.


We married in early December.
The Griffiths now had a new son,
Named Joseph to honor my husband.
Seemed now the struggle was won.
But Satan grabbed my Angelina,
Her children abandoned and tossed.
She left John behind,
And ran off to find
The gay life of youth she had lost.


Young Almeron went to his uncle
So Susie and Joseph were mine.
My husband so dear
Was full of good cheer
To head such a full fam'ly line.
We set forth to move our small fam'ly
To Austin to find a new day.
And so with strong heart
We made a fresh start.
I knew this at last was the way.

I sold off the land from the headright
And other lots I had acquired.
So Joseph could take
Our meager grub-stake
And purchase all items required.
The Capital's land was inviting,
The birth of a bustling town.
And right at its core,
Our furniture store -
A business of local renown.

With Joseph at work in the business
And I at the house with the fry,
I finally knew true contentment,
Holding my head proudly high.
The children were such a great comfort,
My soul took to flight on the wind.
And here in this place,
I found God's own grace -
Redemption from all of my sin.

Dear Joseph was always in motion.
The furniture business grew.
He then was the new undertaker -
Clients would ne'er be too few.
Knights Templar and Masons and Firemen -
Just some of his wide retinue.
An entrepreneur
Whose judgment was sure
Found others to share his broad view.

A fine house he built me on Pine Street
'Tween Neches and Red River lay.
The home would resound
With children all 'round,
And I in the midst of the fray.
They still came to eat my fine cooking,
And rest through the heat of the day.
The visitors come
I know not where from,
But all remain welcome to stay.

How long was that road I had traveled -
Each turn and each bump and each spill.
The sorrow, the grief,
The final belief
That all that had been was God's will.
This messenger carried the message.
That battle seemed so long ago.
Eternal the fame
Attached to my name:
Messenger of the Alamo.



I found me a Good Man in Lockhart, one who deserved a Good Wife.
He needed a clear-headed woman, so we could build a new life.
A woman of means and resources, one who'd borne her share of strife,
And so this one Good Man in Texas married this Good Texas Wife.
There was such a Good Man in Texas, one who had found a Good Wife.

refrain sheet music

A Timeline for Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson Williams Herring Bellows Hannig & Texas

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In February, 2014, Donaly Brice and I were invited to be the program for the Annual Meeting of the Friends of the O. Henry and Susanna Dickinson Museums held in the historic Maloney Room of the Main Building of St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, celebrating the (approximately) 200th birthday of Susanna. Donaly brought fresh and revealing historical information to the assemblage, and I, armed only with my simple four-sting banjo, premiered this piece.

My Lockhart friend Rebecca Hawener sits on the Board of the Museum Friends, and introduced me to this fascinating historical subject. My thanks to her and outgoing President Terri Schexnayder for creating this opportunity.

I am indebted to my friend and mentor, Donaly Brice (Texas state archivist, author, and historian), who has assisted mightily in my research and growth. I am further indebted to Bill McNeal and Randy & Julia Sulsar, who were responsible for my finding Lockhart.

Through my deceased songwriter friend Steven Fromholz, Texas Poet Laureate and writer of Texas Trilogy, I learned the power of verse in the telling of a tale. From my friend Bobby Bridger, author/composer of the epic Ballad of the West, I have drawn the inspiration (and courage) to tackle lyrical works of larger dimension and gravitas. From my friend Craig Toungate and his post-Alamo In the Shadow of Giants, I have learned the importance of keeping personal humanity in history. Thanks to the brilliant C. P. Vaughn for his portrait of me.

And finally, I thank my dear Ruth Royal Roecker who bears the strain of hearing all my verse fresh from the pen.

Fletcher Clark, 2014

Bibliography

Misc. Historical Materials & Documents
Donaly E. Brice, Senior Research Assistant, Texas State Archives

Susanna Dickinson: Messenger of the the Alamo
C. Richard King (Austin: Shoal Creek Publishers, Inc., 1976)

Women in Early Texas
ed. Evelyn M. Carrington (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Company, 1975)

Texian Macabre: The Melancholy Tale of a Hanging in Early Houston
Stephen L. Hardin (Abilene: Statehouse Press, McMurry University, 2007)

Women and Children of the Alamo
Crystal Sasse Ragsdale (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994)

DICKINSON, SUSANNA WILKERSON, in The Handbook of Texas Online
Margaret Swett Henson (Denton: Texas State Historical Association/NTSU, 2014)

Susanna Dickinson
TAMU online (Denton: Texas A & M University, 2014)

Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson: Alamo Widow and Survivor
Wallace L. McKeehan (Gonzales: Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, 2009)


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