Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Revered Places in Texas History: Goliad and San Jacinto

The history of Texas is bloodied by the lives lost in the battles of Goliad and San Jacinto. We visited both of these silent battlefields – our first stops along our 10,000 mile grand tour of the US and Canada.

To me Goliad meant only a small town name on the red line of Highway 59 on the Texas map. Ed recognized the significance of the town right away. When we lived in Texas from August of 2001 to April of 2007, Ed studied assorted books on Texas history so he suggested we stop.

“The darkest day in Texas history, the Goliad Massacre, took place on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, when Col. James Walker Fannin and 341 men under his command were executed a week after their capture at the Battle of Coleto Creek, under orders of the Mexican dictator, General Santa Anna.” I read in a hushed voice to Ed from the “Presidio La Bahía” brochure as we began our visit.

Presidio La Bahía: A National Historic Landmark

In history, the Presidio was a fort garrisoned by Spanish soldiers for the protection of the missions and nearby settlements. In Goliad, Presidio La Bahía is “considered to be the world’s finest example of a Spanish frontier fort” and earned designation as a National Historic Landmark. The Spanish of the Province of Texas established the Presidio in response to the encroachment of the French. Over time, it became the most fought after fort in Texas history, having been part of six national revolutions and wars for independence. Spanish, Mexican and Texas soldiers all felt the forcible changes of governmental order in Texas. The Presidio was restored in the 1960s under the Catholic Diocese of Victoria. It is this authentic restoration and lasting memorial that we visited.

We walked through the officer’s quarters where remnants of uniforms hung and dinner ware set preserved in glass encasements. We peered through the gun portals of the fort’s thick stone walls to now peaceful grassy fields. I stood sentry in the guard tower for a photo. And, then we touched the deadly a canon once used to kill approaching enemies. Today, it points over a field of yellow Texas wildflowers. We stood at the water well, a central feature of the internal grounds. I imagined unlocking the gate with a specially forged key in the shape of a Christian crucifix, then pushing on the heavy wooden door to walk along a path once leading to the San Antonio River. A bell from the chapel in the quadrangle called us to prayer.

Our Lady of Loreto Chapel: One of the Oldest Churches in America

In Our Lady of Loreto Chapel, I left an offering and lit a large candle in honor of the soldiers. Fannin’s men were held here during part of their captivity before the massacre. Flags representing the men’s states and countries hung in one of the chapel rooms –a tribute to these fallen men. From the front pew, we studied the fresco of Mary and stature of Our Lady of Loreto. In the quiet of this revered place, the snap of our matches echoed as we lit votive candles - one each by Ed and me, our meditations silent and private. We genuflected and exited to explore more of this historic site.

Zaragoza Birthplace: Official Site for Cinco de Mayo

The building which is the birthplace of Ignacio Sequín Zaragoza stands outside the walls of Presidio La Bahia. He grew-up to become a military hero. He is the Mexican general who on May 5, 1862, led the outnumbered militia of farmers and merchants in Mexico’s battle for independence against the French army. It is in his honor that Cinco de Mayo is a national Mexican holiday. In tribute, his statue stands on a grassy elevation overlooking the surrounding area of Goliad, a city recognized as the official site of Cinco de Mayo. The sculpture captures Zaragoza with a stately stance and commanding expression showing a man of courage, leadership and intellect.

Fannin Monument: A Distressing Loss in the Texas Revolution

Texas wild flowers cover the landscape surrounding the Fannin Monument as if honoring the dead blanketing the site where bodies laid at the battle’s end. This monument commemorates Colonel James W. Fannin and the men under his command in the Battle of Coleto – one of the most disastrous defeats in the struggle for Texas independence. These men surrendered and were imprisoned. Held only one week as prisoners of war, these are the men executed in the Goliad Massacre.

Mission Espíritu Santo: What Would the Franciscans Think?

The Franciscan priests who established the Mission Espiritu Santo in 1722 would be surprised today to learn that their settlement is now Goliad State Park. The Mission was originally established as a self-contained settlement on the frontier of New Spain by the Catholic Church to Christianize and civilize the Indians. It included a church, residence for the priests, quarters for the Indians, workshops for spinning cloth and making clay pots, forge, and granary. Land surrounding the Mission supported live stock and crops. The San Antonio River created a natural boundary.

Today, some 44 RV sites provide electric and water for modern day settlers who come for a weekend visit in houses on wheels, linked to satellites for cell phones, Internet and TV. Closeness to the river and woods are no longer linked to survival. River access to the San Antonio River and Aranama Nature Trail are purely recreational for wildlife viewing and enjoyment of the subtropical woodlands and wild flowers. Religious conversion is gone. The Mission Espíritu Santo – an icon to the Spanish colonial era - hosted a local talent show during our weekend stay. The chapel’s baptismal font looked unused but votive candles still burned for prayerful intensions. A coin box collects the offerings. The confessional box – well, I’m not sure how the sinful would make a private confession and be absolved confidentially of their sins. And, exhibits of mission life fill the priest’s residence and granary.

What would the Franciscans think if they could see their Mission today? Surely they’d be surprised. For me, I am awed by these historical sites, the battlegrounds and fragments of past cultures that weave, connect and built the country we live in today. That is why our next stop would be San Jacinto.

San Jacinto Monument: A National Historic Landmark

We could see the San Jacinto Monument for miles on our highway approach. At its baser, we struggled with our cameras to capture its entire height within the lens. The 570-foot Monument stands taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. – a deliberate goal in its planned construction. On top sets a Texas star designed so that five points can be visible from any viewpoint. We circled the base and found this claim to be true. Because the structure is constructed of reinforced concrete faced with Texas fossilized buff limestone, the indentations of shells add interesting texture to the surfaces.

If you read all the text in the display cases housed in the San Jacinto Museum of History located in the base of the Monument shaft, you’ll find historical artifacts documenting colonization and this battle for independence. It’s almost more than can be absorbed in a short visit. I squinted to read the hand written letters by Spanish priests documenting progress in the New World. I found newspaper clippings reporting accounts of the fight for independence. There were guns and uniforms as you would expect too – all give testament to this historic place.

The San Jacinto Monument marks the site of the final battle for Texas independence from Mexico. Here Sam Houston’s small Texas army defeated the superior forces of Mexican General Santa Anna in just minutes on April 21, 1836. At this battlefield on that day in April, the fall of the Alamo on March 6th was a recent memory. They did “Remember the Alamo”. More men had been lost at Goliad on March 27th. Revenge and the drive to win came alive here. The battle was won at San Jacinto, this revered historic place.

Route #1: Pharr, Texas to Goliad State Park, Goliad, Texas

Texas Route 281 North to Route 59 East, US 183/77ASouth

Route #2: Goliad, Texas to San Jacinto Monument near Deer Park, Texas

Texas Route 59, I-610, I-10 East, Texas 225, Texas 134

April 4, 5 & 6, 2008

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