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After spending the night in the Quarters at Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, I’m sitting on the northwest bastion of the presidio, sipping coffee and staring down the muzzle of one of Colonel James Fannin’s cannons. Across the courtyard, the sun rises behind the eighteenth-century Our Lady of Loreto chapel, and I think, in my typical Anglo way, “I own this fort.” After all, who but the owner could have this history-rich structure all to herself from the five o’clock closing time until the gates reopen at nine in the morning? Nine flags have flown over the Spanish presidio since it was built in 1749, making it the most fought-over fort in Texas history. But the site is infamous for the Goliad massacre, when Colonel Fannin and 341 of his men were executed on Santa Anna’s orders on Palm Sunday, 1836.
Until twenty years ago, the two-bedroom apartment where Richard and I spent the night served as the quarters of the chapel’s priest. Then, six years ago, the diocese of Victoria Catholic Church, the real owner of the presidio, began to rent it out to intrepid travelers, those unafraid of the ghosts of Colonel Fannin and his men. The apartment is appropriately monastic, with three-foot-thick stone walls and simple but comfy furnishings enlivened by a few jolts of color from Talavera dishes in the kitchen and bright Mexican bedspreads. Goliad offers a couple of passable eateries, but we rustled up our meals in the apartment’s well-equipped kitchen.
Our Lady of Loreto Chapel, one of the oldest churches in America, has been in almost continuous use since the late 1700’s (services, some complete with mariachi music piped through loudspeakers, are held there every Sunday evening at five). But the fort itself had disintegrated into little more than a short rock wall when, in the sixties, local rancher and historian Kathryn Stoner O’Connor provided funds for its restoration. A small museum in the presidio features exhibits on its violent history and restoration. Two glass cases are filled with rows and rows of tiny artifacts (buttons, a thimble, jewelry, arrowheads, iron crosses, coins, metal hardware, shards of pottery) excavated in the area. Each little relic speaks to a life lived—and possibly lost—here long, long ago. S.B.