Saturday, November 12, 2011

Passport to Texas History: Goliad

Example of a guard tower.

Another stop on our quest to complete the Passport to Texas History was Goliad. Goliad is home to the Presidio La Bahia as well as other historical sites.  We actually visited Goliad in March of this year, but were not aware of the Passport program at the time (I found out a week later!) Presidio La Bahia was built on this site in 1749. The presidio was involved in a number of incidents during the Texas Revolution, beginning with its capture by the Texians in October 9, 1835. The first Declaration of Texas Independence was signed here, although it was a bit premature.
Shortly after the battle of the Alamo, Sam Houston ordered the Texian Army to leave the Presidio. But as they left the fort, they were attacked and involved in the Battle of Coleto Creek. They were defeated, and Col Fannin and approximately 350 soldiers were captured by the Mexican army and returned to the Presidio as prisoners. A week later, on Palm Sunday, the men were massacred by the Mexican army. The medical staff of this Texian force was spared so they could be used to treat the Mexican soldiers wounded in the battle at the Alamo, but the rest of the soldiers (341 men), and Col. Fannin were separated into groups and shot
The older kids read the information about the Massacre at Goliad. MT looked at the pictures and understood that something horrible happened here. He found it very sad.

The bust of the 'Angel of Goliad'. An incredible reminder that sometimes doing the right thing is very, very difficult and dangerous.
A few escaped, thanks to a woman known as the wife (but probably a mistress) of Captain Alvarez of the Mexican army. She pleaded with Mexican officers to spare the lives of the men, and helped a few escape. She became known as the Angel of Goliad and later, abandoned by Captain Alvarez, settled on the King Ranch to live out her life protected by the King family. A beautiful bronze statue is on the grounds outside the Presidio and is surrounded by benches labeled with the names of her descendants, many of which appear to live in the area near Goliad.

I love watching these guys grow up! FRitW and MT had lots of questions for Kirk.

The doors to the chapel.

The Presidio was restored in the 1960’s, but the church within the Presidio has been in constant use since 1779. While we toured the grounds, we watched as people set up a reception for a wedding to be held at the church that night.
The well in the courtyard with one of the guard towers in the distance.

Maggie loved the unusual keyholes and copper decorations on each door

One of the most interesting things we learned on this trip, was that many of the citizens really struggled with deciding where their loyalty should lay. These people were Mexican born, but most were in disagreement with the current government by General Santa Ana. They desired a change in government, but not necessarily independence from Mexico. The massacre may have played a large part in swaying citizens toward supporting complete independence from the Mexican government.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Passport to Texas History: The Alamo

This is what we recognize as The Alamo
We’ve been to the Alamo several times in recent years, so on this trip we cheated: we entered, got our Passports stamped and skipped the tour. We do not usually travel on weekends, so we aren’t used to weekend crowds, and the Alamo was crowded! Having recently toured the site and being aware of its history, we opted to avoid the crowds today. So the photos in this post are from past visits.
This informational sign shows what the building actually looked like at the time of the battle. The facade had never been completed.

The first time we visited the Alamo, we were in for a surprise. First, the iconic shape of the Alamo? the recognizable arched shape that has come represent the Alamo? We found out that it was added later, to help it be more interesting as a tourist attraction. Second, that same building – the iconically shaped one? It was not the main site of the battle, instead it is where the survivors were found. The main part of the battle itself was fought where a busy street now exists, and a few hotels and shops are built on top of it too.
These two photos are taken from the approximate position of the original front wall. This would be the location that the soldiers held during the battle of the Alamo. The 'Alamo' that we think of (seen clearly above) would not have been visible to the attacking soldiers.

But the story of the Alamo is obviously a vital part of the Texas Revolution. Most people are familiar with the cry, “Remember the Alamo”, whereas non-Texans may not be as familiar with the other historical sites related to the Texas Revolution.  In December 1835, Texians captured the Alamo, forcing the Mexican troops occupying the fort to surrender. But in February, 1836 they were attacked by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana and history was made.
I know, it may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but we were disappointed the first time we toured the Alamo at the touristy nature of this historical site. The second time we came, we researched the battle before arriving and came armed with copies of old maps from textbooks. That visit was a lot more interesting!

The Alamo was the beginning of the end of the Revolution. Approximately 189 Texians (including 32 men from Gonzales that came as reinforcements) held off more than 1500 of Santa Ana’s soldiers for 13 days. All 189 soldiers died in the conflict, but those 13 days ignited a fire in the Texians and gave them time to gather, correct some blunders, and eventually win the Revolution. There were about 30 survivors of The Battle of the Alamo, but most if not all were non-combatants – mostly women and children.  


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Passport to Texas History: The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

The church at Mission San Jose. Services are still held here regularly and had just let out moments before.

The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park was another new site for our family. We visited Mission San Jose, where the visitors center is housed. We watched a film explaining what a Mission is, how they operated, and why they were established. We learned that the Missions were not exactly churches, but protective villages with a church at the center of life. The priests had the job of converting the natives to Catholicism, teaching them the Spanish language and customs, and making them Spanish citizens. They also had to be inventors, creating water powered mills, irrigation canals, and other tools to help provide food and water for the people living in their care.
Approaching the mill

We aren’t completely sure why the Missions were on the Texas Revolution trail, but our guess is that it helped to define who the people fighting for Independence were. Many of the Texians were Native Indians that had become Spanish citizens through the work of the missions, while others were Tejanos, citizens of Mexico living in the Tejas region of Mexico.
Inside the mill

The San Jose Mission was used as barracks at some point during the revolution and the soldiers used much of the statuary for target practice, obviously resulting in a lot of damage. But apparently no battles were fought here.
We added a Junior Ranger Badge to our collection (This is a National Park)

Something we found interesting about the Missions was that in their time, they were painted in bright colors. Now they are mostly gray stone structures, but a portion of the brightly painted surface is still visible. This demonstrates the blending of the Spanish culture (the typical Mission construction and the introduction of the Catholic faith) with the influence of the people they were trying to convert (the bright paint colors made from native plants). The priests also combined some of the images of the native’s gods into their statuary of the saints to help the people assimilate.
The preserved wall of the church

Artist's rendition of what the church must have looked like.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Passport to Texas History: Gonzales

We are filling our passports! Our Passports to Texas History. This year in honor of the 175th anniversary of the Texas Revolution, the Texas Historical Commission has created a treasure hunt of sorts. As you visit each of the seven highlighted historical sites with ties to the Revolution, you can collect a special stamp in your Passport. Once you collect the seven stamps and mail your passport in, the Historical Commission will send you a Commemorative gift.

We spent a weekend in the San Antonio area recently and managed to obtain 4 of our stamps. Two of the locations were new to us. We had previously been to The Alamo and Goliad’s Presidio La Bahia, but Gonzales and The San Antonio Missions were new sites for our family.

This post will share our visit to Gonzales, Texas and the Gonzales Memorial Museum.

Our first stop was the Old Jail Museum and Chamber of Commerce. This is where we were to go to receive our stamp.  This site wasn’t specifically related to the revolution, but acts as a visitor's center for the area. Since we were here, we went ahead and toured the Jail. I can’t say that any of us found it a completely pleasant experience. The general consensus was that it was an uncomfortable, yet fascinating place to visit. The jailer and his family (oh yes, small children included!) lived in the jail with the inmates and the gallows (last used in 1921 – but restored recently) was in plain sight of the majority of the inmates. That would have acted as quite a deterrent, don’t you think?

The Gallows

These cells looked out on the gallows. MT wouldn't go anywhere without me, so he isn't in the picture. It was very quiet, very confining, and very uncomfortable walking through these cells.

Once we toured the jail and learned a little about Gonzales and its role in the revolution we headed to the Gonzales Memorial Museum to see the actual “Come and Take It” cannon. Hmm…What is the “Come and Take It” cannon you ask? Well, we found out and I’d be happy to tell you about it!
It wasn't a very large cannon.
The citizens of Gonzales had a cannon, issued by the Mexican government, intended for their use to protect themselves against hostile forces (i.e. the Comanche and Tonkawa Indians, NOT their own government). In late 1835, the Mexican army sent 6 soldiers to request the return of their cannon. Gonzales residents took the six men captive and refused to relinquish the cannon. They buried the cannon in a peach orchard to protect it from capture.
The "Come and Take It" Cannon and behind and to the right - a replica of the cannon. (we thought that was kinda funny!)
The "Come and Take It" Flag is right below the Texas Flag.

The Mexican army next sent 150 men to reinforce their ‘request’ for the cannon. This time 18 men from Gonzales managed to keep the soldiers from crossing the Guadalupe river long enough for the cannon to be dug up, mounted on cart wheels, and carted across the river in a surprise attack on the encamped soldiers. They attacked, waving a flag they had quickly created – now dubbed the “Come and Take It Flag”. They did not have any cannon balls, but had gathered metal and fired that, killing one soldier and scaring the remaining ones away. This was considered to be the first shot in the Texan Revolution and was fired on October 2nd, 1835.
Kirk giving an impromptu lesson on weaponry in the museum.

WW II era uniforms

The museum contains what is believed to be the actual “Come and Take It” cannon, as well as an amazing collection of weaponry that spans the early 1800’s to World War II.

Due to limited time in Gonzales, we skipped the Pioneer Village and some of the other historic sites. We plan to visit those on another trip.