During the Texas War of Independence, between October 2, 1835 and April 26, 1836, Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna sent General José Urrea into Texas to find the Republic of Texas Army and on March 19, 1836, near the town of Goliad, Urrea surrounded and captured over 300 men from the Texas Army commanded by James Fannin. The prisoners were marched to the town where they were held at Presidio la Bahia (Fort Defiance).
The Texians thought they would eventually be freed and General Urrea wrote to Santa Anna for clemency, however, in December the year before, the Mexican Congress passed a decree that any foreigners taken in combat were to be treated as pirates and executed. Santa Anna ordered Urrea to obey the law and execute the prisoners. Meanwhile, Urrea had left Goliad and gave command to Colonel José Nicolás de la Portilla, who received a similar order from Santa Anna to execute the prisoners, but, also received from Urrea an order countermanding the execution order.
However, on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, 303 Texians were marched out of Fort Defiance and were shot at point blank and the survivors were then clubbed to death or stabbed. The forty Texians who could not walk, remained behind at the fort and were also executed. Fannin, who was among them, was the last and was taken in the courtyard of a chapel, blindfolded, seated in a chair because of his wounded leg, and shot in the face. His body was then burned with the others.
Mexican Colonel Francisco Garay, born of Greek parentage at Jalapa about 1796, together with Francita Alavez (“Angel of Goliad”) saved about twenty men, mostly doctors and carpenters, by hiding them in his tent. He told the prisoners, “Keep still, gentlemen, you are safe; these are not my orders, nor do I execute them.”
After the war, Garay, after being cleared in an inquiry into the cause of the Mexican defeat, was promoted to general in 1841 and retired from the Mexican Army in 1859. Thereafter, he was named Mexican Consul at New York City. He died in New Orleans in 1865.
Many outside of Texas, where they continue to keep alive the memory of the Goliad Massacre, do not know of this tragic event, which is overshadowed by the siege and massacre at the Alamo, that had occurred a few weeks earlier. Many of the Texians surviving the Goliad Massacre have documented this Greek-Mexican officer’s gallantry in saving them and we should all remember Goliad and Colonel Francisco Garay.