As the nine flags flying in front of Presidio La Bahía indicate, for much of its history, the fort was the site of struggle. Founded in 1721 as the first of what Spain envisioned as a chain of forts that would protect the Texas coast, the presidio, together with Mission Espíritu Santo, was moved at least twice in the next 28 years in an effort to find the optimal location. In succeeding years, soldiers from several revolutions were garrisoned within the fort's high stone walls as various factions fought for control of the area.
The presidio's tumultuous history culminated in the most infamous massacre in Texas history, an event that took place near the end of the Texas Revolution. On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, Mexican soldiers marched some 330 Texian prisoners, under the leadership of Colonel James Fannin, out of the presidio. (Fannin had commanded the fort until shortly before his surrender to General José Urrea at the Battle of Coleto, a week earlier.) Rumors raced through the Texian lines that the prisoners were about to be released. Under a shroud of fog, they were directed to leave in groups, headed in different directions. Here's how Samuel T. Brown, a Georgia volunteer who survived the bloody incident, described the scene in a letter to his uncle:
"...About a half mile from the fort we were ordered to halt; the guard on the right then passed to the left, and instantly fired upon the prisoners, nearly all of whom fell, and the few survivors tried to escape by flight in the prairie and concealing in the weeds. The firing continued and about the same time I heard other firing towards the fort and cries of distress."
Presidio La Bahía is on US 183, approximately 1 1/2 miles south of Goliad. Hours: Daily 9-4:45. Admission: \$3, \$2.50 age 60 and older, \$1 ages 6-11, free age 5 and younger. School and group rates available by prior arrangement. Most areas wheelchair accessible. Write to Presidio La Bahía, Box 57, Goliad 77963; 361/645-3752.
A portion of the old Officers Quarters has been converted to lodging. Known as The Quarters, the 2-bedroom suite (includes living room, kitchenette, and bath) rents for \$150 a night. Contact the presidio for reservations.
Mission Espíritu Santo, in Goliad State Historical Park, just north of Presidio La Bahía and across US 183, opens daily during daylight hours. The mission chapel was restored in the 1930s, along with the granary, which now houses a museum; a workshop area, where the Indians made pottery and did cooking, spinning, and weaving; and a schoolroom. The park also offers camping, hiking, a swimming pool (open in the summer), and fishing in the San Antonio River. Park entrance fee: \$2 per day per person age 13 and older, free age 12 and younger. Camping fees: \$10-\$12 per night. (Some campsites wheelchair accessible.) There is no additional charge for admission to the mission. Group rates available by prior arrangement. Buildings partially wheelchair accessible. For a listing of events, write to Goliad State Historical Park, 108 Park Rd. 6, Goliad 77963-3206; 645-3405. Call 512/389-8900 for campsite reservations.
The 2 1/2-acre Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site is near the presidio entrance. A small home (now a museum), an amphitheater, and a monument commemorate General Ignacio Zaragoza, the leader of the Mexican army that defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The victory is celebrated every year as Cinco de Mayo. The museum, staffed by volunteers, occasionally opens to the public. Contact Goliad State Historical Park.
The Fannin Memorial, visible from the presidio walls, is just southeast of the presidio, off US 183. Remains of Col. James Fannin and his men were interred here on June 3, 1836. Partially wheelchair accessible. Contact the Goliad Chamber of Commerce.
Fannin Battleground State Historical Park, 9 miles east of Goliad on US 59, is the site of the Battle of Coleto, where Fannin and his men surrendered to Mexican forces. A one-room exhibit describes the battle, and a monument marks the supposed site of the surrender. A gazebo is available for picnics. Hours: Daily 8-5. Admission: \$1 per person. Wheelchair accessible. Contact Goliad State Historical Park.
The ruins of Mission Rosario are 4 miles southwest of Goliad off US 59. Enclosed by a fence (and locked gate), the ruins include a portion of the original walls. Group tours available by prior arrangement. Cost: \$2 per person. Not wheelchair accessible. Contact Goliad State Historical Park.
The small town of Goliad offers a number of attractions for Texas history buffs. The Chamber of Commerce, at the corner of S. Market and Franklin, shares space with the Market House Museum, which is operated by the Goliad Co. Historical Commission. The museum houses a number of displays relating to early life in Goliad County. Nearby Fannin Plaza, a park near the courthouse square, features an 1885 monument to Col. Fannin and his men and a pair of cannons from the Texas Revolution. The 1894 Goliad County Courthouse, 1 block south of the plaza, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A giant oak on the courthouse lawn is called the Hanging Tree; several men were hanged there during the 1857 Cart War.
Goliad is marking the 250th anniversary of Presidio La Bahía and Mission Espíritu Santo at their present sites with a year-long celebration. The theme, "250 Years of Texas Ranching," honors the area's ranching heritage and the various cultures involved. The celebration will culminate with a special anniversary event on Oct. 23, which will include a colorful festival on the town square from 8-4, and evening events at the presidio and the mission. (Contact the Goliad Chamber of Commerce.) In addition, many of the following annual events will also be expanded.
Battle of Coleto Reenactment (March 20, 1999). Costumed volunteers portray the historic battle that took place on what is now the Fannin Battleground. Contact Goliad State Historical Park.
Goliad Massacre-Fort Defiance Living History Program (14th annual event, Mar. 27-28, 1999). A re-creation of the capture of Fannin and his men by Mexican forces and their imprisonment at Presidio La Bahía (Fannin called it Fort Defiance when he commanded it) takes place Sat 9-5. Candlelight tours of the fort will be conducted 7-9 Sat. night. A reenactment of the Goliad Massacre begins Sun. at 10 a.m., followed by a memorial service that begins in Our Lady of Loreto Chapel and ends with a pilgrim-age to the Fannin Memorial. Contact Presidio La Bahía.
Cinco de Mayo Celebration (Apr. 30-May 1 and May 5, 1999). Sponsored by the General Zaragoza Society, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., and others, this year's event features a large sculpture exhibition, Goliad: A Cultural Convergence at both the presidio and the mission. Other activities will take place in Goliad, at Goliad State Historical Park, and at other area historic sites. Highlights include a queen's coronation, parade, street dance, Ballet Folklórico performances, and a reenactment of the Battle of Puebla. Official ceremonies take place May 5 at the Zaragoza Birthplace. Write to the General Zaragoza Society, 433 North St., Goliad 77963 (645-3663), or contact the Goliad Chamber of Commerce.
From Thanksgiving Day through Jan. 10, Goliad State Historical Park sponsors an annual lighting display that involves the outlining of Mission Espíritu Santo and park headquarters with more than 14,000 Christmas lights and luminarias.
Christmas in Goliad (Dec. 3-4, 1999) features arts and crafts, continuous entertainment, a lighted parade, Breakfast with Santa, and Santa's arrival with his "rein-steer" (a Texas Longhorn pulls the sleigh). The weekend concludes at dusk on Sat. with Las Posadas. The traditional trek begins in Goliad and ends with a ceremony at the presidio. Contact the Goliad Chamber of Commerce.
For the 1880s Wild West Extravaganza (held in early February), reenactors at Presidio La Bahía re-create the Texas frontier of the 1880s. Contact the presidio.
Now in its 3rd printing, Kathryn S. O'Connor's Presidio La Bahía (2nd ed., Armstrong Printers, 1984) is available through the presidio. For current cost and ordering information, contact the presidio. Look for the following books in your library or bookstore: Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution by Stephen L. Hardin (Univ. of Texas Press, 1994); Spanish Texas, 1519-1821 by Donald E. Chipman (Univ. of Texas Press, 1992); Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag by Andrés Tijerina (Texas A&M Univ. Press, 1994); and The Texas Connection with the American Revolution by Robert H. Thonhoff (Eakin Press, 1981).
From the March 1999 issue.