Let me start this post by saying that I’m a Yankee. (We’ll lay aside my paternal Tennessee roots for the moment – I was born and raised in New Jersey.) For the most part, my Texas friends have overlooked that … at least I think they have. I’m sure most of them would agree that I have a way of looking at things that is decidedly not “Texan”, despite having lived there for 10 years as a younger man and finding myself carrying a Texas driver’s license now. I don’t have the appreciation for the state they do. The whole “things are bigger and better in Texas” thing wasn’t bred into me as it was with them and it sure didn’t take after moving there a month into my sophomore year of high school.
Growing up, I was fascinated by history. In fact, I had a double minor at North Texas State – history and political science. I have always been fascinated by early U.S. history, specifically colonial America up through the Revolutionary War and into the early 19th century. And I was fortunate enough as a kid to live within a stone’s throw of many places that played critical roles in our country’s birth. The “nerd” in me loved going to Ringwood Manor and seeing part of the actual chain … forged in northwest New Jersey … that was stretched across the Hudson River to keep the British from sailing upstream to Albany. I visited Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown and walked the woods where his troops suffered in the freezing cold, being so hungry that they ate leather! Visiting Independence Hall, I could imagine watching the debates between John Adams and Edward Rutledge. I spent weekends walking New York City by myself, taking in all the history. Boston is one of my two favorite cities in the country (San Francisco being the other). Any time I went to a Red Sox game … and I’ve been to more games at Fenway than I can count … I’d combine it with a visit to some Revolutionary War point of interest. I remember sitting in the Green Dragon Bar, the oldest tavern in Boston. I told my traveling companion, “Just think, we could be sitting in the same place where a drunk Samuel Adams exclaimed to his buddies, ‘Let’s dump their bloody tea into the Harbor!'” (I was so disappointed to discover later on that the bar had been relocated from it’s original site.) :o(
I’m recounting all of this so you can get a sense of how steeped in Revolutionary War history I am, something that was probably bred into me as a kid. So when I moved to Texas at 15, I left a big part of me behind. And moved to a place where it just didn’t seem like they cared all that much about anything were I came from. Everything was about “Texas”. Texas history was a required class for graduation. It was alright, but I couldn’t understand how it seemed to supercede American history … I mean, it’s a state! I remember visiting the Alamo as a young adult. Maybe it was the situation I was in, going there with my first wife and spending most of the time arguing about some inane thing. While there, she had some “issue” and we wound up staying maybe an hour, tops. Hard to take everything in when you were wondering whether the cannon still worked and if she could be positioned in front of them! :o)
Getting back to today, though … shortly after I arrived here at Lake Texana, a good friend from high school replied to one of my Facebook posts. Greg said, “You know, you’re staying right where a lot of the Texas Revolution was fought!” What really got me though, was that he specifically mentioned how having grown up near all the Revolutionary War sites, here was a chance to see places that were part of Texas’ revolution. That sold it for me! I got out my Texas book from AAA and started reading up on nearby towns. The closest one to me was Goliad, so Frank and I decided to head out there this past week. As an aside, Greg … if you’re reading this, I wish you would have said something a few months ago. There were a helluva lot more places that were right next to Corpus Christi State Park in Mathis. I think they’re too far away for me to backtrack now. I guess they’ll have to be saved for another winter stay along the gulf. :o)
Our first stop was at the site of the Battle of Coleto Creek, about 10 miles east of Goliad. It’s out in the middle of nowhere … Frank and I were the only ones there and no one else came during our 30 minute stay. There’s a single obelisk in the middle of a field with other monuments around a circular drive.
Coleto Creek was a decisive defeat for the Texians, a defeat which lead to the Goliad Massacre a week later. Colonel James Fannin was leading a small army of about 400 men to Victoria under orders from General Sam Houston when they had to engage the Mexican Army under General Jose de Urrea.
Sitting in the middle of a wide open plain, I asked Frank, “Why wold Fannin choose this place to fight a battle? (Not being a military tactitian, Frank just wagged his tail and wondered how close we were to dinner.) It wasn’t until we got home and I had a chance to go back online that I discovered the reason why Fannin fought here. Simply put, I think he was on par with Frank when it came to military tactics! While he had been given orders to leave his encampment in Golidad and head for Victoria, he instead waited a whole day. He then left without proper supplies, with excess gear and at a leisurely pace. He held the Mexican army in disdain and was convinced they wouldn’t follow him to Victoria. Wrong! He was forced to fight there when the Mexican army caught up with him.
There was a small building with exhibits on the northest side of the circle. Inside, it had a map that reconstructed the position of Fannin’s men compared to the Mexicans, which had surrounded the Texians in order to keep them from reaching cover that was only 400 yards away. Only 400 yards! The map was based on where cannonballs and other artifacts were found by archeologists. Going back outside, all you could hear was the wind … it was easy to superimpose that map on the field in front of me and then close my eyes, imagining what was going on back then. I was glad we had the place to ourselves. After heading over to look at the obelisk and walking around a little more, we headed out for Goliad.
Golidad itself is a pretty neat little town. Like a lot of small towns, there’s a square with the City Hall smack dab in the middle. The “Hanging Tree” is right outside, where many a criminal met his Maker. Sorry to say, but I couldn’t get a good shot of the tree, or the branch that was just the right
height off the ground to take care of business. I did manage to take a photo of one of the buildings on the square and some of the monuments around the courthouse, but that was about it.
South of town stands the Presidio La Bahia, one of the Mexican forts, across from the Mission de Zuniga. The Presidio was built on the site of de la Salle’s western-most fort – the same de la Salle that explored much of the Mississippi valley for the French. Something I learned was that the fort was actually used by the Spanish to defend the Gulf of Mexico from the British during the Revolution War, making it the only Texas site to have been involved in the birth of America! There’s a tie-in to the Revolutionary War that I didn’t even know existed! End of digression … :o)
The Presidio was captured by the Mexican army after Fannin left and his men … including the wounded, were marched back from the battle site 10 miles away. They were housed in the chapel … by one account, there were so many men they had to remain standing! A week later, they were marched out to a nearby hill and executed one by one. Urrea had pleaded with General Santa Anna to treat the prisoners honorably, but Santa Anna wouldn’t hear it – he was under orders from the Mexican government to treat any captured Texians as pirates, not soldiers.
The men who coudn’t march were murdered in the chapel. Fannin was executed last. He made three requests: that his belongings be returned to his family; that he be shot in the heart like a soldier; and that he be given a Christian burial. His belongings were taken; he was shot in the face; his body was burned and along with the rest of the massacre victims, his remains were left unburied, to be desecrated by the coyotes and birds!
After La Bahia was recaptured by the Texians, General Rusk ordered the remains of the men … which by this point had been lying scattered for almost two months … to be given a military burial. A monument stands over the burial site just behind the Presidio, which was reconstructed within the last 50 years. Once again, Frank and I were the only ones there. Greg referred to it in a Facebook post as “hallowed ground”. I can certainly understand that now that I’ve been there.
The cruelty of the massacres at the Alamo and at La Bahia didnt have the impact General Santa Anna had hoped for. It crystallized the resolve of the Texians. “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” became a war cry. Only about three weeks later, Santa Anna’s army was defeated in the final battle of the Texas Revolution – the Battle of San Jacinto. The site is located on San Jacinto River, east of downtown Houston. Frank and I may take a ride over there one morning before we leave Lake Texana … and if it works out not to be too far, we may just head back west towards Mathis and take in some of those other historic sites near Mathis, too.
All in all, I walked away from this experience with a different sense of Texas history. I have a better appreciation how Texans would look at these places the same way that I revere certain Revolutionary War battle sites. And that’s a good thing – any time you can find a common ground with people who have a different history from you is a good thing, right? I’m a better person for the experience.
I couldn’t figure out how to place these photos in the body of the post. Here is a shot of the Presidio la Bahia, along with a close up of one of the reconstructed statues.
Please forgive me, but I have to include a link back to our youcaring.com page. If you’ve enjoyed following along on our journey, we’d greatly appreciate you helping us get into some new digs – I don’t know how long this tent is going to hold up once we leave Lake Texana at the end of March. If you’re not able to at this time, don’t sweat it – your continued support through reading the blog is certainly appreciated!