Sunday, April 7, 2013

Goliad, and the Massacre of 342 Texian Soldiers on March 27, 1836

La Bahia Presidio Chapel, South on U.S. Route 183, Goliad (Goliad County, Texas)Following the Battle of the Alamo, 342 Texian soldiers held captive in Goliad, Texas were executed. Many Texian settlers panicked and ran for the U.S. border.

Today we will travel back in time to the early 1800s when much of what is considered to be the American West still belonged to Mexico. Settlers were offered land, then the land was taken away. There are varying opinions on what was right and wrong about the acquisition of land that is now called Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, but in the case of the Goliad Massacre, one thing is clear--these men were told they would be freed if they surrendered, and instead they were shot, one by one, while their leader was forced to listen to their screams from his cell, awaiting his own execution. Remember the Alamo? Remember Goliad.  

Remember the Alamo!" The battle cry many recall from their childhood history books may have temporarily inspired those who fought for the independence of those who lived and worked the land in what is now the state of Texas, but the massacre that followed in Goliad was discouraging enough to send many settlers running for their lives.

In 1836, 342 Texian soldiers led by Colonel James Fannin surrendered to the Mexican Army and were executed outside the city walls of Goliad, Texas. The pain and suffering of the family members left behind inspired the surviving Texian soldiers to fight with a fury and determination that eventually won independence for Texas from Mexico, but it also set off a temporary panic among settlers.

Mexican Revolution Bankrupts Mexico

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1824 the country was bankrupt. The area that is now Texas was sparsely populated and those few settlers who lived there were constantly harassed by Native American Indians. To combat the problem, the Mexican government encouraged settlements led by men such as Stephen Austin, and also encouraged these settlers to create militias for their own protection. By 1830, the Mexican settlers were vastly outnumbered by the settlers from the United States, who called themselves Texians.

Mexican Government Tightens Restrictions on Settlers

As the population of Texians increased, officials in the newly-formed Mexican government became concerned that Texians would soon outnumber and possibly the Mexican settlers in the area. In an effort to control the growing population of Texians they established a prohibition against further immigration, increased tariffs, re-enacted property tax laws, and ordered the settlers to comply with the federal prohibition against slavery.

In 1833, the settlers convened to propose a separate statehood for Texas. They elected Stephen Austin to carry the constitution to Mexico City. However, the moment Austin arrived he was jailed. In spite of his imprisonment, the number of immigrants moving south into Texas increased dramatically. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Santa Anna was concerned that the United States was planning to invade, so he disarmed the militias and imprisoned many of the more successful plantation owners.

Texas Declares its Independence and a War Begins

In November of 1835, Stephen Austin and other delegates appointed a 12 man ruling council and named Sam Houston commander in chief of the Texas forces. On March 2, 1836, Texas leaders declared Texas an independent republic and David G. Burnet was elected president of the provisional government established in the tiny village of Washington-on-the-Brazos. The declaration was modeled on the American Declaration of Independence.

The newly-formed Mexican government’s response was immediate. Santa Anna and 5000 soldiers headed for San Antonio while General Jose Urrea moved up the coast with an additional 900 men. In February of 1836, Urrea captured San Patricio killing 45 Texas fighters. A few days later they fought and killed another fifty Texas men. In spite of this news, the people of Refugio hesitated to evacuate.

The Alamo at night, 2007. Photo by Ben Franske. 

Late in 1835, the Texian volunteer army drove all Mexicans out of San Antonio. Houston left a skeleton force at the Alamo fortress--estimates vary, claiming between 182 and 257 Texians remained. On February 23, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and 1800 men surrounded Colonel Travis and the men defending The Alamo, including such famous men as James Bowie and David Crockett. It was a long siege, lasting until March 6, 1836, when Santa Ana and his men finally advanced. All but two of the Texians were killed at the Alamo and between 400 and 600 Mexican soldiers.

At that time the city of Goliad, Texas, which was once a Spanish mission, was a military fort and Colonel James W. Fannin, was in charge. He sent 180 men in two groups to assist in the evacuation of Refugio and these men were either captured or killed by General Urrea’s troops.

Colonel James W. Fannin

A Slow Retreat

Colonel Fannin and the remaining men were asked to assist William Barrett Travis at the Alamo. They were also ordered by General Sam Houston to retreat to Victoria. Instead, Fannin chose to remain in Goliad an additional five days. Numerous unnecessary delays slowed the troops even further giving the Mexican Army ample time to march into the area. When Fannin and his men finally started their retreat they found themselves surrounded by Mexican Army in open prairie land at Coleto Creek.

William Barrett Travis

The Battle at Coleto Creek

According to the Presidio La Bahia Website, Urrea attacked several times, but the Texians fought back fiercely. By sunset, there were 200 casualties on the Mexican side and only sixty dead or wounded Texians, but the Mexican Army had one big advantage--the Texians had no food or water. Believing--or hoping--that they would be released and sent home when the war was over, the Texians waved the white flag of surrender. They were marched back to the fort at Goliad and imprisoned.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

General Urrea Makes Promises He Cannot Keep

General Jose Urrea assured Colonel Fannin that the men would be released. Perhaps Urrea hoped this was possible, but in truth it was a promise he could not keep. In fact, when General Santa Anna learned that the Texian soldiers were held prisoner at the fort he was furious that they had not been executed at Coleto Creek and ordered their immediate execution.

This was not a random decision. Even before the revolution began Santa Anna was concerned about the amount of support the Texians would receive from the American Government. On December 30, 1835, at the request of Santa Anna, the Mexican Congress had issued a declaration that all foreigners taken in arms against the government would be treated as pirates and executed immediately.

The Massacre at Goliad

On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, the Goliad Massacre began. Fannin's men were led from their prison rooms in three groups. It is believed that all of the men from the first group were killed, but in the second group of men, 24 managed to escape, and an additional four escaped from the third group. 

Dr. Jack Shackleford organized and financed the Red Rovers to fight in the Texas Revolution. The Red Rovers were executed with Colonel Fannin's men. Dr. Shackleford's son was executed by firing squad, but they kept Shackleford alive to tend to the wounded. 

After listening from his cell to the execution of his men, Colonel Fannin was also executed by a firing squad. The wounded were shot where they lay on the ground. The two physicians in Fannin's army were saved. They were forced to serve the Mexican Army and later escaped.

The "Runaway Scrape"

The men fighting alongside Sam Houston were angered by the massacre and ready to fight, but information traveled slow and in a disjointed manner in those times and the Texian settlers, believing Houston was retreating, took the news of the Goliad Massacre hard. According to Story of the Great American West, the settlers began to believe Santa Anna must be unstoppable, and they panicked. Those settlers in areas abandoned by Houston's army began a mass race, or "Runaway Scrape" for the United States border, burning their homes and crops behind them to avoid supporting the Mexican Army in any way.

Pencil drawing of David G. Burnett, illustrator unknown. 

David G. Burnett, president of the provisional government of Texas, expressed his embarrassment over Houston's retreat in letters. The volunteer army led by Houston was humiliated by insults shouted at them by the homeless and departing settlers, but they marched on, following their leader, who followed Santa Anna. Santa Anna attacked Harrisburg, hoping to seize the Texas government, but the government, too, had retreated to Galveston Island and Santa Anna entered an empty town.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Santa Anna set up camp with his 900 men on the San Jacinto River and there was a brief fight between the Mexican Army and Houston's 800 man army before Houston again retreated. The next morning, April 21, 1836, 500 reinforcements joined the Mexican Army. Santa Anna, confident that he had the situation under control, allowed his men to rest after their noon meal.

While the men slept, Houston attacked, his men moving swiftly through the grass shouting "Remember the Alamo!' The battle was over in 18 minutes, though Houston's soldiers continued to chase retreating Mexican soldiers for hours. When the fighting was done, 630 Mexican soldiers lay dead and 700 were taken prisoner. There were nine Texas soldiers killed in the fighting and 34 wounded.

Fannin Monument in Goliad, Texas. Photo by Billy Hathorn, 2008. 

Massacre Re-Enactment at the Presidio La Bahia
Each year, on March 28th and 29th, the Texas Living History Association and Presidio La Bahia re-enact the massacre at Goliad. A monument now marks the graves of Colonel Fannin and the 342 men who fought by his side. It is located two miles south of Goliad, Texas off U.S. 183, a few hundred yards from the Presidio La Bahia church.

A stunning photograph of the Goliad County Courthouse by Photographer Billy Hathorn in 2008.


  • Barker, Eugene C. and Pohl, James W. “Texas Revolution.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  • Chaitin, Peter M. The Story of the Great American West. Readers Digest Association. New York: 1977.
  • “The Battle of Coleto and the Goliad Massacre From the Republic Pension Application of Andrew A. Boyle.” Texas State Library & Archives Commission.
  • The Battle of Coleto Creek. Friends of the Fort. Presidio La Bahia Website. Retrieved April 3, 2013.


Maggid said...

My personal family history collides with all of this - these heroes were mentioned many times in family gatherings - BUT, this history was never taught - either in the schools I attended - or in the homes in which i lived. Thank you very much for doing the work - for offering me "the rest of the story.'
Great A to Z Day to YOU!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

It's an interesting situation. There was a time when people believed the Goliad soldiers were partially responsible for their demise because they surrendered. I think it's important to remember that most of these men were not military-trained. They were pioneers who were told Mexico "wanted" them to settle the land, which is what the Mexican government originally said. They wanted settlers. They moved their families, worked the land, planted crops, then were taxed into poverty. Many of the men who were captured had guns that were barely working--one of the reasons Urrea wanted to release them. He understood, but Urrea and Santa Anna also had personal issues, and Santa Anna had self-esteem issues he was furious that Urrea would make a decision counter to his own. There was no reason for any of those men to die. If they were released, they would have returned to their families. Santa Anna might even have won with that action. They probably would have gone home, packed and moved back east. It was a horrible thing to do.

I, too, have a family history with the formation of Texas. On my mother's side, my ancestors were among the first settlers in Texas. I've posted this story on this blog before, but I also have an ancestor who was hung by a lynch mob in north Texas at the start of the Civil War because he recently moved his family from Ohio to claim the land his wife inherited from that side of our Texas ancestors. David Leffler was found innocent of any wrongdoing. He was literally arrested for being from the North, but he was "fed" to the insane crowd. They gave them elderly men, one by one, to hang, to try and appease the crowd to prevent riots until the Army arrived and sent everyone home. The settlement of Texas was scary, violent times!

Sarah Cass said...

Wow, I wish I'd found this blog earlier in the A-Z challenge!! I love it! I'll be adding it to my reading for beyond the A-Z challenge...but for today I'm going to go catch up...that Freak Show post looks right up my alley for planning the next book in my series!!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Thank you, Sarah! Check out my sources on the Freak Show post, they might help you. I have other sources on that topic, too. If you decide to write about it, drop me a note at and I'll help you find sources. And...if you ever want to guest post on my blog just let me know!

Kathleen Jennette said...

I am so getting a good hit on history here! Luv it!
KaTy Did @
Life's Ride As I See It

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Excellent! Thank you!

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...