A Lesson in Texas History – Goliad

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The small town of Goliad, Texas, has one of the richest histories in the state. It’s known as The Second Alamo. 

Here, in the mid-1700’s, the Spanish relocated a fort (presidio in Spanish) and a mission that were originally located along the Texas coastline. The presidio and mission were actually moved twice over the course of 30 years as the Spanish attempted to entice the native people to join their settlements and, of course, be indoctrinated into Catholicism. This is the final site of Presidio la Bahìa and Mission Espiritu Santo. This location, not far from the coast and along the San Antonio river, was the perfect spot to defend New Spain from potential English and French invasions and provide a trade route with other missions being built along the same river farther north in what would become the city of San Antonio.

This mission was hugely successful, becoming a very profitable cattle ranch of 40,000 free-roaming cattle as well as raising horses and growing grains, fruits and vegetables. The mission itself closed in the late 1700’s as the town of Goliad began to grow, and the mission land was portioned off to Mexican and Texas colonists, called Texians. As a matter of fact, with the mission closed settlers were encouraged to use stones and bricks from the old mission to build their homes. People would load carts full of stone from the mission walls and drive away.

Mission Espiritu Santo.
Mission Espiritu Santo.
The reredos in the church at Mission Espiritu Santo.

Presidio la Bahìa (pronounced Bah-EE-ah) survived major battles and occupations during the Mexican War for Independence from Spain. Originally a Spanish stronghold, then Mexican, then Texian, the fort was renamed Fort Defiance by Texians.

The nine different flags that have flown over the fort are described below.

By the time of independence from Spain in 1821, the region was so large and so sparsely populated that the Mexican government eased immigration restrictions to allow for colonists from America and elsewhere to settle Mexican Texas. Mexico thought these colonists would help defend the territory from invading Indians and the United States, which was very interested in annexing the Texas region. Colonists from so many different countries settled this region … Mexico, of course, France, all of Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. One of the most famous settlers was Stephen Austin, who led 300 colonists into Texas to build a settlement in what is now San Felipe, Texas (we stayed at that historic state park back in November). Many of this melting pot of settlers did not agree with the government of Mexico, which was under the continuous rule of President Lopez de Santa Ana (who held 11 terms as President over the course of 22 years). Santa Ana was a general and president who changed his alliances to whatever served his own interests. Author Enrique Krauze in his book Mexico: Biography of Power, said that Santa Ana “loomed over his time like a melodramatic colossus, the uncrowned monarch.” He even singlehandedly repealed the Mexican Constitution and wrote a new one called The Seven Laws. Mexican Texas was only given one seat in the Texas legislature which met hundreds of miles away further angering the colonists.

In 1835, Santa Ana ordered troops to enter Texas to quell any uprisings. Hearing this, Stephen Austin called for towns to form militias in defense. Sensing a high level of discord, Santa Ana sent troops to the town of Gonzalez, just east of San Antonio, to capture their only cannon in hopes of maintaining control. Gonzalez residents removed the cannon from town and hid it, then hoisted a now-famous flag daring Mexico to “Come and Take It.” After a small skirmish, Mexico retreated, but the Revolution had begun.

Replica of the “Come and Take It” flag from Gonzalez, Texas, hanging at Presidio la Bahìa.

In early 1836, 1500 Mexican troops laid siege on Mission San Antonio (now known as The Alamo), which had only about 100 Texas troops within its walls. Despite calling for reinforcements, only another 100 more were able to get to the mission. It took 13 days, but the Mexican soldiers overtook the mission killing everyone except 5 or 6 men who surrendered. They were immediately executed … Santa Ana did not like prisoners of war.

A few months later, Mexican forces turned their troops toward Fort Defiance (Presidio la Bahìa), which had about 350 Texas troops under the command of Colonel Fannin. Although Fannin was ordered to evacuate his troops from the fort, he dragged his feet and just as they were preparing to leave, the Mexican army arrived. The few hundred Texas troops skirmished with the Mexicans for a couple of days, but when Mexico’s heavy artillery arrived, Colonel Fannin brokered a surrender with Mexican General Urrea. Santa Ana, however, would have no prisoners of war and ordered their execution. Being a good soldier who didn’t defy an order, Urrea divided the captives into three groups, marched them out three different gates of the fort and executed all 350 troops on the spot. Colonel Fannin was the last to be executed. As commander, he requested of General Urrea that he be shot in the chest, that his watch be sent to his family and that he be given a Christian burial. They shot him in the face, pilfered his belongings and burned his body with most of the other soldiers. Some dead soldiers were left where they fell as a message to Texians.

Presidio la Bahìa / Fort Defiance.
Close-up of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, which you can barely make out near the bell tower in the preceding picture.
Within the walls of the presidio.
Ready to defend the fort.

While these two examples of overwhelming victories by Mexico might lead one to wonder how it’s possible that Texas won the war. Rest assured, the tides turned and with some luck and the capture of a Mexican courier who had papers detailing the plans of the Mexican army, Mexico was defeated and Texas gained its independence as the new Republic of Texas. Santa Ana returned to Mexico a disgraced general.

In 1845 the United States voted to annex Texas as the 28th state. 

By the early 1900’s, not much was left of Mission Espiritu Santo’s walls. In the 1930’s the WPA stepped in to begin rebuilding the church, and after WWII the CCC finished the project. 

In the 1960s, local rancher, Texas-Mexico history scholar and philanthropist Kathryn O’Connor donated $1 million to restore the presidio. It was essentially rebuilt from the ground up to look exactly as it had originally. The project took five years and was finished in 1968. Architect Raiford Stripling orchestrated both projects.

The town of Goliad is now a very cute little town of only about 2,300 people. It’s 30 minutes from the city of Victoria, Texas, just over an hour from Corpus Christi and less than 2 hours from San Antonio. They’ve got a very nice historic town square, great southwestern architecture, and well-cared-for homes.

Historic Goliad.
Goliad Court House in the middle of the historic square.

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