Goliad's Presidio La Bahia
History of Spanish Frontier Fort
Presidio La Bahia, located 1.5 miles south of Goliad on Highway 183 and designated a National Historic Landmark, is considered one of the country's finest examples of a Spanish frontier fort. It's the most fought-over fort in Texas history, having witnessed action in six national revolutions or wars for independence. Spanish, Mexican and Texan soldiers all garrisoned its fortified walls.
Presidio La Bahia is the site where Goliad history began. The location of the fort had been an occupied site long before Spain arrived in the New World. The Spanish arrived here in 1749 and named the Indian village they encountered Santa Dorotea. As permanent settlement by Spain began, the town of La Bahia (The Bay) grew up around the protection of the fort. This town was the original Goliad, and it became the second largest populated settlement in Spanish Texas.
The establishment of the Royal Presidio La Bahia in the year 1721 was a direct response to encroachment by the French in the Spanish Province of Texas. First founded on the banks of the Garcitas Creek near present day Lavaca Bay, it was erected upon the remains of the ill-fated French Fort St. Louis built by La Salle. This location proved unsuitable and in 1726 it was abandoned and the fort relocated to an inland position near its present location.
The Royal Presidio La Bahia, though an inland frontier fort, became the only fort responsible for the defense of the coastal area and eastern province of Texas.
Soldiers from Presidio La Bahia assisted the Spanish army fighting the British along the Gulf Coast during the American Revolution. This action gives Goliad the distinction of being one of the only communities west of the Mississippi River to have participated in the American Revolution.
On Oct. 9, 1835, a group of Texas citizens, led by Capt. George Collingsworth, entered Goliad and attacked the Mexican garrison stationed at the Presidio, taking possession of the fort.
The first Declaration of Texas Independence was formally declared at the Presidio La Bahia on Dec. 20, 1835, signed by 92 citizens and distributed throughout other municipalities in Texas. Along with it flew the first Flag of Texas Independence.
The darkest day in Texas history, the Goliad Massacre, took place at the Presidio La Bahia on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, when Col. James Fannin and 341 men under his command were executed a week after their capture at the Battle of Coleto, under orders of the Mexican Gen. Santa Anna. As the grim news reached the United States, volunteers began streaming in to fight for Texas in the Texas Revolution.
"Remember Goliad!" became a battle cry of the Texas Revolution.
But once Texas won its independence from Mexico, the Presidio La Bahia gradually fell into ruin. It wasn't restored until the 1960s, but now stands as a lasting memorial along with its sister shrines, the Alamo and San Jacinto. Today it is considered one of the most authentic restoration projects in the United States.
Today, a granite monument rises above the burial site of those killed in the Goliad Massacre, just a few hundred yards from the old fort's walls.
For students of history, a visit to the Presidio La Bahia is a must. But for someone less interested in history, but wanting a day away from the city, the fort can be a draw, too. The Quarters, a two-bedroom suite with sitting room, kitchenette and shower, provides a unique night away from home.
In the evening, after the staff leaves and darkness falls, the Presidio takes on an ambience of peace and tranquility. Many say spirits lurk in the shadows and will occasionally make themselves known to believers. Others say the ghostly music that plays upon the evening air is nothing more than one’s imagination.
Adjacent to the Presidio La Bahia is the birthplace of Mexican Gen. Igancio Zaragoza. The Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site is not just a state historic site, but is considered an international historic site. On May 5, 1862, Gen. Zaragoza commanded a Mexican army that threw back a French force attacking the Mexican city of Puebla. That victory is celebrated every May 5 as Cinco de Mayo.
Across the San Antonio River from the Presidio La Bahia is Goliad State Park, whose centerpiece is the mission the fort was built to protect, Mission Espiritu Santo.
Source: Goliad County Chamber of Commerce and Friends of the Fort
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