The History of Presidio La Bahia: This is by no means a complete history of the Presidio and chapel, but you will get the basics.
The Presidio La Bahia and Our Lady of Loreto Chapel were constructed in 1722 on the original site of LaSalle’s doomed Fort St. Louis in what is now Port Lavaca. Port Lavaca is close to the midway point on the Texas Gulf Coastline. Moved from their original location once already, they were finally brought to their current location in 1749 by Escandon. The Presidio La Bahia is the oldest standing fort west of the Mississippi. Its original purpose was to guard the interests of the Spanish Crown against Native American and French attackers. The chapel of Our Lady of Loreto was included in the current structure to serve the religious needs of the soldiers stationed there. La Bahia never served as a mission. It did not need to, for you can look across the San Antonio river to the northwest and see the Mission Espiritu Santo, now on the grounds of Goliad State Park.
The Presidio and the chapel were used by settlers and soldiers as first Spain, and then Mexico, colonized the area.
The Texas Revolution:
In December of 1835 the Texans took control of the fort under George Collingsworth with Ben Milam in attendance. A premature Declaration of Independence was signed at this time. A formal Declaration was drafted and signed a few weeks later at a different location.
Col. James Walker Fannin
Raised by his maternal grandfather in Marion, GA, Fannin was a former student of the US Military Academy at West Point. He and his wife settled in Velasco, TX in 1834. Fannin was accustomed to dealing with professional soldiers, not a volunteer militia. This lack of experience caused much respect to be lost between him and his troops, the majority of whom were volunteers. In February of 1836 he took control of La Bahia and renamed it “Fort Defiance”. But Santa Anna was marching into Texas with a superior force, and had sent his brother-in-law, Urrea, to take Goliad and the surrounding area. Sam Houston ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria and raize the presidio to prevent the Mexican forces from fortifying their supplies. Fannin had sent several of his troops off to aid Refugio and on scouting missions. Unbeknownst to him, most had been captured or killed by Urrea’s force.
Fannin’s tenure as a military commander is marked with indecision. It caused him to fail to aid Travis at the Alamo, and it caused him and his troops to be captured. He delayed his retreat until Urrea had taken the town of Goliad to the northwest. During their retreat to Victoria they were plagued with mechanical difficulties and eventually Fannin decided to make camp in the open prairie. A few more miles would have provided him and his men with the safety of trees and the convenience of water from Coleto Creek. It was here that Urrea caught them. The Battle of Coleto ended on March 20, 1836 with Fannin’s surrender. Fannin and his men were marched back to the Presidio and imprisoned, detained as prisoners of war (or so they thought). Analysis of official documents indicates that they surrendered their fate to the whim of the government of Mexico, and Santa Anna was not known for mercy. Fannin and several dozen of his men had been wounded in battle, but most were in perfect condition. On Palm Sunday (March 27, 1836) the wounded were ushered into the quadrangle of the Presidio and the uninjured were marched into a nearby field. Those who were uninjured thought they were being marched to Mexico City. The wounded probably thought they were being let out for excercise. Then, without warning, on the orders of Santa Anna himself, the Mexican troops opened fire. Fannin was reportedly forced to watch as the wounded were cut down like chattel. The men in the field were caught in a crossfire.
When the Mexican troops ran out of ammunition, they began stabbing anyone who appeared to be alive with bayonets. Fannin knew his time was up so he requested that he be shot in the chest, that his watch be returned to his family and that he be given a Christian burial. The Mexican forces did not honor any of his requests. His watch was stolen by a Mexican officer and Fannin, along with approximately 320 of his men, were left to the vultures.
Fannin’s watch was recovered by a Texan at the Battle of San Jacinto and his last wish was honored then. Texan forces returned to Goliad and buried Fannin and his troops in a mass grave to the east of the Presidio, a short distance from where the uninjured were murdered. The numbers are vague, but approximately 35 of Fannin’s troops escaped the Presidio with their lives. Many of them owed their lives to a woman whose true identity remains vague, but she is known as the “Angel of Goliad”. Our best guess is that she was the wife of Colonel Alavez and that she had begged him for their lives.
March 27, 1836 is known as the blackest day in Texas history. The loss of life at the Goliad Massacre is greater than that of the Alamo, and at the Alamo, they knew they would probably die.
History of Hauntings at the Presidio La Bahia
Information found in Ghosts Along the Texas Coast by Docia Schultz-Williams
Haunting Phenomena reported in the presidio includes:
Cold spots in the living quarters, sounds of babies crying near the chapel, sounds of a woman’s choir also near the chapel, a short friar appears in front of the chapel doors and wanders the quadrangle, a woman in white appears in front of the chapel and searches the unmarked graves, a soprano voice has been heard singing in the museum and organ music too, a woman in black has been spotted by the candle offerings inside the chapel, passersby in automobiles have reported seeing a ghostly form in their vehicle as they cross the nearby San Antonio river, the lights have been seen burning late at night, and strange mumbling voices have been heard outside the chapel.
Although the most violent activity in the presidio’s history occurred in the quadrangle, the majority of the activity appears to be concentrated in the small courtyard infront of the church which is separated from the quadrangle by a wall. How fortunate for us that our quarters opened directly onto this courtyard!
Inspection of the visitors log also indicates that the ghosts like to bang on the walls and doors of the guest/living quarters.
La Bahia Report
Present were: Katie and Dean Phillips, Pete Haviland, Carolyn Phinny and Joe Perez
We arrived at 1:00 pm on January 1, 2000, giddy as school kids at the thought of having the run of such a significant structure for the night. The museum and grounds had been closed all day for the New Year’s holiday and would not reopen until 9 the next morning. We took EMF readings of the entire grounds and found nothing abnormal since most of the readings fell into the .1-.2 milligauss range with nothing above .7. Pete reported the smell of death in the southeast corner. During a short trip to the grocery store for supplies we set up EVP. Before the sun set completely we took a short drive to the site where Col. Fannin and the other victims of the Goliad Massacre were buried to pay our respects.
After sunset we set up EVP again on the grounds. Although the chapel was locked, we were able to set a microphone inside the large and old lock. As the microphone was being placed inside, Joe was taking video and apparently has a voice saying, “Doesn’t fit.” Some of the sounds caught on tape are furniture being moved inside the church, and the lock being actuated. At 11pm Pete and Dean were outside, and as they looked out of the chapel courtyard into the quadrangle they noticed a strange, thick mist gathering in the southeast corner of the quadrangle (where Pete had smelled death earlier). Dean reported a sense of something building, and that in about 30 minutes, something would happen. At 11:30 all team members were in the chapel courtyard again gathering EVP equipment when Pete happened to look into the quadrangle. Katie felt a need to NOT look into the quadrangle. Suddenly Pete froze and just stared. We returned to the quarters and Pete was visibly affected by something he didn’t want to discuss. Dean, Katie and Joe entered the quadrangle to retrieve the IR video camera, and Katie had the distinct impression that there were bodies on the ground. When they returned, Pete informed them that what he had seen was the aftermath of the Goliad Massacre. He gave details on some of what he’d seen, such as, “some of them weren’t old enough to shave!” All of the bodies had been decaying for a few days.
At about 1 am we all tried to get some sleep. Dean and Katie slept in the first room, which has a door that leads to the courtyard. Not 5 minutes after they laid down, the door began banging. The wind was blowing that night, but this was a solid wood door (very heavy) with very little play (less than 1/4 inch). Dean continued to try to sleep, Katie went to the other bedroom where Pete, Carolyn and Joe were discussing the evening’s findings. She informed them about the door in her room. A few minutes later Pete felt the bed rise underneath him (it is important to note here that there is a cross scratched into the wall behind the headboard, and a rumor that someone is buried underneath it). We were exhausted at this point and needed some sleep. We were done with the investigation, but the ghosts weren’t done. When we heard the sound of horse hooves approaching the door from the living room to the courtyard we determined that there was only one way any of us was going to get any rest. The door in Dean and Katie’s room had calmed down, but as Joe approached it, it banged again. At 2am all 5 paranormal investigators were sound asleep… in their cars.
Other experiences that night included strange mumblings in the guest quarters and a humanoid shadow moving behind the well in the quadrangle.
This haunting is both intelligent and residual. The banging on Katie & Dean’s door was in response to the living, the voice heard on Joe’s tape was commenting on activity as it was happening, and past reports indicate that the friar that was seen becomes aggressive which indicates intelligent interaction with the living. The vision that Pete saw, the horse hooves in the courtyard, and some of the EVP captured that night indicate that there is also a residual haunting in effect. This means that so much emotional energy has been expended that when the conditions are right, the events play over again for those who can perceive them. There is no intelligence behind those aspects of the haunting.
Lone Star Spirits would like to thank the director and staff of the Presidio La Bahia for allowing us to absorb such an important piece of Texas history. La Bahia is not maintained by any agency of the State of Texas and receives all of its funding from sales, admissions, use fees, and private donations. We encourage everyone reading this account to pay a visit to the presidio and help them in their mission to preserve this state treasure for all of the children of Texas, so they will always “Remember Goliad!”
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