Historical Landscape

Karankawas – Coastal people
(Gilcrease Museum)

18th Century Mission Ranchlands

South Texas Ranchero &ndash ca. 1830
(Gilcrease Museum)

General Ignacio Zaragoza – Plaza at Zaragoza Birthplace State Historical Park

Santa Ana at Tampico

Colonel James W. Fannin

One of the first oil wells in Goliad County – ca. 1925
(Market House Museum)

Goliad Heritage Day Celebration – 1994
(Market House Museum)

Goliad is located on the San Antonio River in South Texas at the intersection of U.S. Highways 183 and 59. Three ecological zones converge in this area - the Coastal Prairie, Post Oak Savannah and South Texas Brush Country. Locally, the San Antonio River is a fourth, riparian, zone. The moderate climate provides habitat for a variety of wildlife and rich grasslands for ranching.
Landscape is an important historical resource for interpretive storytelling. From the plants and animals that thrive here to modern-day roadways that follow centuries-old trade routes, a human-altered "cultural landscape" rather than a pristine natural panorama greets visitors to Goliad. Native Americans occupied the land along the San Antonio River for thousands of years. Recently, over two hundred years of ranching, cultivation, construction and other human activity have further shaped the ecosystem. Here, cultural and natural history are inextricably intertwined.

By the early 18th century, when Spanish missionaries and soldiers arrived in the mid-coastal area of Texas, the Karankawan and Coahuiltecan peoples had long occupied the area. In 1749, Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga and Nuestra Señora de Loreto de La Bahía del Espíritu Santo Presidio were relocated from the Guadalupe River to opposite banks of the San Antonio River south of present Goliad. At this site, the missionaries were able to expand the ranching enterprise begun at previous locations. By 1770, the mission's herds were said to have numbered 40,000 head. Mission Espíritu Santo is acknowledged as the state's first great cattle ranching operation.

In 1754, Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario was established four miles upstream from Mission Espíritu Santo to serve the Karankawan tribes. Its missionaries also had great success with ranching, at one time claiming 30,000 head of cattle.

Presidio La Bahía became the center of one of the most important Spanish settlements in Texas, due in large part to its strategic location on the Atascosito, La Bahía and San Antonio roads. La Bahía served as Port of Entry where tariffs were collected. The development of the community was nurtured by Captain Manuel Ramírez de la Piscina, the commander of the Presidio. He encouraged his soldiers and their families to establish ranches and stay in the area after their retirement from service. Captain Piscina also welcomed artisans, vendors and transient laborers, granting them farm lands and town lots on the right bank of the San Antonio River. This strong settlement became the eastern anchor of the Spanish defensive network that stretched across the Southwest to California. Descendants of the original settlers of the town still live in La Bahía and Goliad today.

One La Bahía native continues to receive international recognition each year. In 1829, Maria J. de Seguín, wife of Miguel Zaragoza, a sub-lieutenant serving at Presidio La Bahía, gave birth to a son, Ignacio. As an adult, he served in the Mexican army, achieving the rank of general. On May 5, 1862, Ignacio Zaragoza led his troops to victory over the troops of Napoleon III at Puebla, Mexico. The triumph of the poorly-armed and outnumbered Mexican forces over the more accomplished French troops united the Mexican people against the invaders. Cinco de Mayo became a national holiday. Today, this tradition continues in Mexico and in the U.S., where Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a national celebration of Mexican-American cultural identity.

Presidio La Bahía has been called "the most fought-over site in Texas" because of its strategic location. In the early 19th century, La Bahía was a significant revolutionary site, first as a target for armed filibusterers during Mexico's fight for independence from Spain. After Mexico gained independence, the settlement of La Bahía was renamed Goliad, an anagram for the revolutionary hero Father Miguel Hidalgo.

After independence, Mexico recognized the need to further secure its northeastern boundary by increasing settlement in the area. This was accomplished by large land grants to empresarios who were responsible for bringing in settlers. These settlers included not only groups from the interior of Mexico, but also Americans, Irish and other Europeans. Eventually, many of the new Texians and original Tejanos became dissatisfied with the central government of Mexico and finally, after much consideration, declared Texas independent.

During the Texas Revolution, Presidio La Bahía was a key military objective captured by the Texians. When General Santa Anna crossed the Rio Grande to squelch the Texian rebellion, he dispatched General José Urrea's forces to recapture La Bahía. Urrea's army found La Bahía abandoned and caught the retreating Texians nine miles east of the Presidio. The Battle of Coleto Creek, fought on March 19 and 20, 1836, was one of the most significant engagements of the Revolution and a resounding victory for the Mexican army. After Colonel James W. Fannin's surrender, the Texians were taken back to Presidio La Bahía and, despite surrendering as "prisoners of war," were executed on General Santa Anna's direct order. The Goliad "massacre" provided a rallying cry, "Remember Goliad!", for the remaining Texian army.

Shortly after the revolution, a new town of Goliad was incorporated on the north side of the river. A growing non-Hispanic population joined the Tejanos in the primary economic activity of cattle ranching and adopted many of their ranching practices. This traditional agricultural activity continues in the area to the present.

From statehood onward, the history of the area was fairly typical for Texas as a whole. The impact of the railroads in the 19th century, an increase in farming, as well as the oil discoveries in the 1920s, brought about economic change. But some things did not change greatly. Culturally, the Hispanic heritage remains quite visible. Ranching is still very much a part of the county's identity. And very importantly, much more of the past has been preserved here than in so many places where new development and growth have completely obliterated it.
From the early Spanish explorers to 20th-century wildcatters, Goliad has experienced a rich legacy preserved in its numerous historic sites.

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