Craddock: This Indian maiden was a real ‘angel’

Angelina

Angelina, or "Little Angel," as portrayed in a bronze sculpture that stands in Lufkin.

Texas has 254 counties. However, only one of them is named for a woman. That would be Angelina, where Lufkin is the county seat, right here in East Texas.

Truth is, we know very little about Angelina, the woman. Nevertheless, she must have been a remarkable person because she played a major role in the development of the East Texas Piney Woods. You could even call her Texas’ first advocate for women’s rights.

Born sometime before the year 1685, she was a Native-American maiden who was said to have been of remarkable beauty. She was a member of the Hasinai, a Caddoan tribe that lived on the Neches and Angelina rivers.

She was first encountered by Franciscan padres, early Spanish missionaries who had made their way to East Texas.

‘Little Angel’

The padres established Mission San Francisco de los Tejas on the banks of the Neches. That’s where Angelina proved to be such an asset to the missionaries who named her Angelina (“Little Angel” in Spanish).

Angelina was more than happy to help spread the Catholic faith among the many native Americans who resided in the thick forests of deep East Texas.

She also was something rare — a woman who had major influence in tribal affairs.

The missionaries convinced Angelina to move to Mission San Francisco de los Tejas. Thanks to her leadership, the village there came to be called Angelina’s village. The nearby stream soon was known as Angelina’s river.

But before 1700 the mission was closed and the padres made plans to return to Mexico … with Angelina. Here the story takes a couple of twists. Depending on which version you want to believe, Angelina (a) went willingly, or (b) basically was kidnapped by the missionaries.

Angelina wound up in Mexico but vowed to return to her East Texas home one day.

That day came several years later. She was welcomed home by the Hasinai, many of whom had remained converted to Christianity. In 1716 the Spanish returned, too, to reopen their missions on their Neches River.

Frenchman rescued

About that time French explorers arrived in East Texas. Angelina became an interpreter for the French and, according to some historians, is credited with saving the life of French Lt. Francois Simars de Bellisle, who had been captured by unfriendly Indians.

The final written account we have of Angelina came in 1721. She is said to have died several years later.

Angelina deserves her place in East Texas history. Today’s she is remembered with a county, a river and a national forest that are all named for the “Little Angel.” And so, that is the story of Angelina.

But hold on. For those of you who think there must be two Texas counties named for a female, think again. Victoria County, an original Texas county created in 1836 was named for Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria of Mexico — definitely a male.

Victoria County is rich in Texas history. After all, Spanish explorers settled in the Victoria area as early as 1528.

Thanks to Guadalupe Victoria, his county contributed volunteers, supplies and arms to the Texas War of Independence against Mexican dictator Santa Anna.

— Van “Volunteer” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net

Today's Bible verse

“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

— Galatians 4:6

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