Saturday, February 7, 2009

Historic Goliad

written Saturday, February 07, 2009
Rockport, TX

There aren’t many places in Texas with as much history as Goliad. A week ago last Tuesday Dar and I trekked to this little town located about an hour north northwest from Rockport. We thought we’d spend a few hours exploring Goliad’s historic sites and still have enough time to sneak over to Victoria, about 30 miles to the east, for a short shopping excursion.

Well, our desired “early” start wasn’t as early as hoped. We got the wheels rolling about 9am and arrived in the Goliad area a little after 10. The first stop was Presidio La Bahia.

During the early days of American history this part of the continent belonged to Spain. The Spanish believed the only way to keep this distant land under the Spanish flag was to populate it with Spanish people. But in the 17th and 18th century there were few Spanish who were up for relocation — not to mention an uncertain and dangerous existence in a far-off land. So the Spanish leaders did the next best thing: turn the native people, American Indians, into Spaniards by teaching them the language, religion, and customs. That was the genesis of all the missions that were established throughout current day Mexico and much of the American Southwest from Texas to California.

During the late 1600’s and through the 1700’s the Spanish established 33 missions throughout Texas. Last January we visited 5 of these missions in San Antonio, including Mission San Antonio de Valero — The Alamo. In order to protect the missions in this rough and wild country, and as a symbol of Spanish authority and power in the region, a series of presidios were also established. A “presidio” is a Spanish military fort.

Near present-day Goliad, along the banks of the San Antonio River, Mission Nuestra Senora Del Espiritu Santo De Zuniga (these guys really put a lot of effort into naming something) was finally established in 1749 after two earlier locations proved unsuitable. The Presidio La Bahia (fortress by the bay) was built on a hilltop on the opposite side of the river.

Presidio La Bahia is considered the world’s finest remaining example of a Spanish frontier fort. But for Texans, the real historical significance of the fort was earned during the fight for Texas Independence from Mexico in 1835 and 1836. The first Texas Declaration of Independence was signed here and the darkest day in Texas history took place here when 340 Texan freedom fighters were massacred on March 27, 1836 — twice the loss of life than at the famous battle of the Alamo.

The fort fell into disrepair in subsequent years and was rebuilt in the 1960’s. But the Presidio’s chapel is notable for having been in continuous use since the mid 1700’s. It’s a marvelous example of frontier construction.

Just across the river is Goliad State Park and the location of the Mission Espiritu Santo that the Presidio protected. It had fallen into almost total ruin after Texas Independence but was rebuilt by the WPA during the 1930’s. Very little is original but great pains were taken to make the reconstruction historically accurate. I could imagine daily life during the mission’s days as I walked around the grounds and reconstructed buildings… certainly a different set of priorities and a slower pace of life than we have today.

And then there’s the town of Goliad itself, just up the road a short way. The most notable thing here is the town square, the 1890’s era courthouse, and the famous “Hanging Tree”, where frontier justice was carried out with quick precision — after a fair trial of course.

We found a park bench near the Hanging Tree and wiled away a good part of the afternoon reading the histories of the historic old courthouse square buildings and talking to residents as they passed by on their afternoon walks. We found Goliad to be a very comfortable and enjoyable town.

The planned shopping trip into Victoria would have to wait for another day.

We have a bunch of pictures from our Goliad exploration in our Online Photo Gallery.