I can think of many ways to tell a story, but it seems that every story involves telling how the story came to be, and those story clusters intertwine.
Linda and I celebrated our fifth honeymoon with a journey back in time. Our annual custom is to sleep in a historic hotel or bed and breakfast. With this anniversary falling on Easter weekend and because of related plans to take my offspring to see their paternal grandmother in Corpus Christi, I pointed the front bumper towards Goliad.
Friday, April 2, 2010: Linda and I got on US 183 in Austin, known locally as Ed Bluestein, and traced our familiar way through Lockhart to Luling. Normally, we go straight there to Belmont and scenic Rancho Richey Refuge. This time, though, we stayed on 183 as it trended southeast to Gonzales, where the third, successful Texas Revolution began in October of 1835. Here, we crossed the green Guadalupe just after it’s fed by the San Marcos River. Not much farther is Graham Land and Cattle Company, one of the state’s largest feed lots, which can accommodate 30,000 head.
Cuero’s fame claim is their Turkey Trot, held every autumn since 1912, and now called Turkeyfest. The bridge just south spans the deep green Guadalupe river bottomlands, where young Matilda Lockhart and three other children were kidnapped by Comanches in 1829. She was recovered, but didn’t live long after her tortured tribulation. Across the river stood Clinton, now a ghost town, but at one time the seat of DeWitt County and center of the Sutton-Taylor Feud, he longest-running interfamily war in Texas’s past. Our route south passed other small valleys and through a veritable forest of live oaks.
Second in Texas historical importance only to the Alamo, Goliad today is a town of but 2,000 souls. My earliest memory there was from the summer of 1967, when my teenage self attended Camp Aranama, then owned by the Presbyterian Church and located just outside the city. There were four camps of a dozen kids, each six with an adult counselor, divided by gender. We slept in hogans (framed canvas roofs on wooden floors), cooked our own breakfast and dinner, and enjoyed prepared lunch at a central dining hall with the other groups. I’d never before been away from home on my own, but no one heard my soft weeping the first night.
Besides the other standard camp activities, the week’s highlight was the hike. First stop was at the Big Tree, a huge old live oak whose branches curved down to the ground from on high, creating shelter underneath and plenty of climbing opportunities. From there, we campers continued to Goliad proper to see the mission and presidio, sites that continue to draw visitors to the area today.
Long about 1:00, my bride and I rolled into the impressive Goliad Courthouse Square, where the town’s best restaurants and retail outlets face the 1894 sandstone county building. For lunch, we chose the Empresario Restaurant, a long and narrow room enlivened by shiny walls and a score of Harley riders. I enjoyed fried catfish and Linda a chicken salad.
It was Good Friday, so the courthouse, museum, and chamber of commerce were closed. I stood beneath the Hanging Tree (nooseless and not on a box) for a photo. We got other shots of an old for-sale hotel, monument park, and two-storey galleries. Overall, the copiously blooming anaqua trees filled each breath with their sweet, almost narcotic, fragrance.
Then it was on to the Spanish colonial architecture. Mission Espíritu Santo was constructed in 1749, its third location. Under instruction by Franciscan friars, native people built the church, granary, convento, and priests’ quarters while learning what the civilized god required of them.
Exhibits in the museum show life before, during, and after the Spanish settled into the area. Those natives who tolerated the new culture also took care of the planting, herding, and weaving. In fact, we got to witness two volunteers demonstrate spinning and cloth-making. We took photos for some new friends from Austin we met there, and they returned the favor.
The Spanish cattle weren’t fenced, so gradually they wandered, went wild, and became the legendary Texas longhorns. Nourished by these vast grasslands, Texas’s great ranching tradition began here. Horses also turned feral and evolved into huge herds of mustangs that roamed the Rio Grande Plains.
Next, we crossed the swift San Antonio River to tour Presidio La Bahía, a fortress built to protect the mission. The gray rock, known as Goliad sandstone, was quarried nearby and still shows in adjacent roadcuts. This is likely the most fought-over spot in the state. Whereas all Texas notes rule under six national flags, this bit of earth counts nine. The green banner recalls the 1813 Gutierrez-Magee Expedition (the first Texas revolution), a red- and white-striped pennant with a single star denotes Dr. James Long’s attempt to wrest Texas from Spain in 1819, and Texians crafted the bloody arm flag when they assumed command here in late 1835.
I found the introductory video quite moving, wherein actors portrayed the terrible massacre there on Palm Sunday of 1836. We ambled the reconstructed bastions, walls, and guard huts. The chapel, still original, features a laudable fresco by the “Michelangelo of South Texas,” Antonio Garcia.
Outside the parapets stands Fannin’s men’s mass grave and a statue to Francisca Alvarez, the “Angel of Goliad,” who saved many Texas soldiers’ lives. Everywhere, the wildflowers were abundant and indescribably psychedelic.
Two side trips took us east and west of Goliad. At the edge of Fannin, Texas, a pavilion, interpretive center, and granite obelisk locate the Battle of Coleto Creek. On March 19, 1836, Mexican troops surrounded the retreating Texian contingent. Here they surrendered on honorable terms before being marched back to Goliad to undergo treacherous slaughter.
Linda and I continued eastward to the edge of Coleto Creek Park and Reservoir. There we found a funky collection of decorated sheds that pass as cabins for the lake’s recreationers. Westward-ho through town again, we stopped at the ruins of Mission Rosario, which were surrounded by tall prickly poppies.
Back at the town square, it was getting to be beer-thirty, so we ducked into Ervie Jay’s for a couple cold ones, then enjoyed a marvelous dinner at the cozy Hanging Tree Restaurant: she the blackened talapia, I a California Club.
All was dark as we drove north towards our favorite B&B: the farmhouse at scenic Rancho Richey Refuge. The night revealed little of the towns along our way—Weesatche, Yorktown, Smiley, and Nixon—but not for long, as we’ll see.
Saturday morning, Linda went back to Austin, leaving me alone at RRR with no vehicle. My kids, Kristiana and Sol, collected me for our trip to Corpus Christi, where we spent Easter with my dear mom.
Monday morning, April 5: the kids left early to return to Austin jobs and school, but I acquired my late dad’s garnet-pearl Toyota pickup truck and took my time heading back. Of the many evacuation routes from the Corpus coast to points of relative safety north, an eastern one uses farm-to-market roads from Gregory to Refugio, where it joins US 183 all the way to Austin. I still hadn’t gotten my fill of Goliad, so I went that-a-way.
Bayside is a sleepy little settlement on the edge of Copano Bay (named for the pre-European natives), but close by was the “port” of Copano, an important early landing spot along the Texas Gulf Coast. Copano provided a route inland towards La Bahía and Béxar. A granite monument tells its story at Bayside’s beach. Here also is the Wood Mansion, which has faced the sea breezes since 1875. John H. Wood, who shared my September 6 birthday, came to Texas from New York in 1836 to join the Revolution. Wood had helped bury the remains of Fannin’s men before rising to affluence via ranching, military service, commerce, and politics. Half a mile from the water lies the St. Mary’s of Aransas Cemetery, dating from 1857, all that’s left of yet another formerly prosperous coastal town cleared by hurricane. The Fennessey Ranch recalls the Irish who settled the vicinity in the early 1830s. Today, the property conducts nature tours and birdwatching seminars.
Refugio was next, a town bigger than Goliad. Here happened another battle during the Texas Revolution just before Fannin’s fate in the tumble-down walls of Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission. A small Texian force under Colonel Amon B. King fought valiantly against an overwhelming number of Mexican soldiers here, surrendered, and were executed. A tall monument across the street from the Refugio County Courthouse includes a warrior holding the broken sword of defeat. The old mission is long-gone, but the modern-era parochial school built on the original Spanish site reflects the mission style. Other markers at the cemetery tell more about these men and events.
I continued north across broad prairies punctuated by clumps of trees: plenty of mottes, but no hooples. Within 40 minutes, I was again in Goliad. Just past the Presidio sits the town’s 1936 Memorial Auditorium, part of a series of Art-Deco-style structures built to commemorate Texas’s first 100 years since independence. Its etched words and bas-reliefs relate the area’s history.
On this regular business day, the Chamber of Commerce was open. There I chatted with events coordinator Debra Barker, who supplied names, brochures, and wisdom for bringing tour groups. The museum a couple doors down was still closed, so I couldn’t ask about the meteorite that landed near the Coleto battlefield in 1891. Many other mysteries and ghosts remain to be explored in Goliad.
Now I was able to witness the same roads toward Austin that we’d missed in the dark. Weesatche looks precious, Yorktown boasts a sizable Lithuanian population, a prominence stands somewhere northeast of Nopal, and Smiley’s cylindrical water tower can be seen for miles. In Nixon, I stopped at the Dairy Queen for a MooLatté.
After another pause at RRR, I was back in Austin by 6:00 p.m. As synchronicity would have it, my German Texan class that evening studied the biography of Herman Ehrenberg, a young Prussian adventurer who survived the Goliad massacre.