In the weeks following the Battle of the Alamo, 342 Texian soldiers held captive in Goliad, Texas were executed on the orders of General Santa Anna.
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.
The 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 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.
The Mexican Government Tightens Restrictions on Settlers
The increasing immigration from the United States concerned the Mexican government. In an effort to control over 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, but when he arrived, Austin was jailed. At the same time, the number of American immigrants into Texas increased dramatically and Santa Anna was concerned that the United States was planning to invade, so he disarmed the militias and imprisoned many plantation owners.
Texas Declares its Independence and a War Begins
The Texians signed their Declaration of Independence at Goliad in 1835, and 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. At that time the city of Goliad, Texas, which was once a Spanish mission, was used as 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 Fannin’s 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 soon found themselves surrounded by Mexican Army in open prairie land at Coleto Creek.
The Battle at Coleto Creek
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 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, General Santa Anna was concerned about the amount of support the Texians would receive from the American Government and on December 30, 1835, at the request of Santa Anna, the Mexican Congress 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. After his men were executed, Colonel Fannin was executed by a firing squad, and 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.
Massacre Re-Enactment at the Presidio La Bahia
Each year, on March 28th and 29th, the Crossroads of 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.
- Barker, Eugene C. and Pohl, James W. “Texas Revolution.” The Handbook of Texas Online.
- “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.