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The Road to Freedom

The Texas Independence Trail Region brings Texas’ valiant struggle to life. 

By Julie Catalano

From the opening shots in Gonzales to the final battle cry at San Jacinto, the Texas Independence Trail Region embodies a defining — and defiant — moment in Texas history, when converging factors fueled a rising insurgency against Mexico, who initially welcomed Americans to Texas after winning independence from Spain in 1821. By 1835, the increasingly autocratic Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna demanded submission from the Texans in the areas of religion, government, taxes and trade, and Texans wanted self-government.  

The Texas Independence Trail Region illustrates that rousing story across 28 counties stretching from Bexar County (San Antonio) to modern Harris, south to Goliad, and north to Washington County. Here are a few highlights:

Gonzales Memorial Museum, Gonzales 

Known as the Lexington of Texas (for one of the battles that began the American Revolution), Gonzales is the site of the first skirmish of the Texas Revolution on October 2, 1835. Uneasy about the growing Texas uprising, the Mexican government demanded the return of a small cannon they had lent the town to defend against the Comanches. The Texans instead displayed a banner taunting “Come and Take It” and the Texans prevailed. The cannon that started it all is on prominent display at the town’s art deco museum complex along with period weaponry, uniforms and artifacts. In the fall, the city holds a Come and Take It Celebration with parade, carnival and battle reenactment. www.gonzales.texas.gov

Presidio La Bahía, Goliad 

Regarded as the world’s best example of a Spanish frontier fort, the 18th century restored presidio is a National Historic Landmark. The complex of rock construction connected by an eight-foot-high rock wall contains the museum (originally officers’ quarters), Our Lady of Loreto Chapel (the only completely original structure and in continuous use since the 1700s), and the enlisted men’s barracks. The Battle of Goliad on October 10, 1835, was the second skirmish of the Texas Revolution with the victorious Texans occupying the presidio. The final battle of the Goliad campaign — the Battle of Coleto on March 19-20, 1836 — was a Mexican victory with a devastating aftermath: 300 soldiers from the Texian army of the Republic of Texas and their commander James Fannin were executed in the Goliad Massacre at Presidio La Bahía on March 27, 1836. More than 30,000 visit the presidio each year, at least 5,000 of those for the Annual Goliad Massacre Living History Program, this year on March 28-29, 2020. Reenactors and living historians from across the state gather to recreate the last days of Colonel Fannin’s command. www.presidiolabahia.org

Fannin Battleground State Historic Site, Fannin 

About 10 miles east of Goliad, this site honors the revolutionary soldiers who fought the Battle of Coleto in 1836 and were executed at the Goliad Massacre at Presidio La Bahía. The 14-acre landscaped grounds feature a commemorative stone obelisk, interpretive exhibit and group pavilion. www.thc.texas.gov

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, San Antonio 

In 2015, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated the group of five Spanish colonial missions a World Heritage Site. Missions San Jose, San Juan, Espada and Concepción are on park grounds; Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) is in downtown San Antonio. The grounds of Mission Concepción, the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S., was the site of the Battle of Concepción, October 28, 1835 — the first major armed conflict of the Texas Revolution. The four park missions are considered archeological sites and active Catholic parishes with regular services (Mission Concepción is currently closed for a months-long dome restoration). Free guided tours are weather- and staff- dependent. www.nps.gov/saan

The Alamo, San Antonio 

About five miles north of the Missions National Historical Park is the site of the Battle of the Alamo, a disastrous defeat for the Texian army. Emboldened by their victory at Mission Concepción, the rebels attacked and took the Mexican-held San Antonio at the end of 1835, using the mission as their fort. About two months later, Mexican president/dictator General Antonio López de Santa Anna led more than 1,500 troops to overtake the 100 or so defenders inside the mission’s walls. The 13-day siege lasted from February 23 to March 6, 1836. Now more than 2.5 million visitors a year walk the serene mission/fort and hallowed grounds in the heart of downtown that honor the fallen heroes of the Alamo, with hundreds of artifacts and documents kept by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Alamo’s caretakers since 1905. www.thealamo.org

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, Washington County 

Revered as the Birthplace of Texas, the state’s Declaration of Independence was signed here on March 2, 1836, bravely marking the beginnings of the new nation of the Republic of Texas while the war with Mexico was still ongoing. Highlights of the expansive and picturesque grounds along the Brazos River include the Star of the Republic Museum, Independence Hall and the Barrington Living History Farm, home of the last president of the Republic where visitors can watch interpreters in period clothing carry out the duties of a working farm. www.visitbrenhamtexas.com

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, La Porte  

The decisive 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto was fought here by Texian troops led by General Sam Houston on April 21, 1836. With the defeat of the Mexican Army of Santa Anna, the now famous battle cry of “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” rings through the ages as the victorious end of the revolution. At today’s 1,200-acre park, the 567-foot San Jacinto Monument is the country’s tallest war memorial with an observation floor at 480 feet. At its base, the San Jacinto Museum of History houses more than 30,000 artifacts. On April 17-20, 2020, the San Jacinto Day Festival features music, games, food, children’s activities and a living history “Timeline of the Texas Revolution” with demonstrations of major events at Gonzales, the Alamo, Goliad and more, culminating in the iconic Battle of San Jacinto where Texas finally won its hard-fought independence. www.sanjacinto-museum.org 

Epilogue – The Texas Annexation

Just nine years later, Texas was annexed by the United States, becoming the 28th state on December 29, 1845 and a contributing factor in the Mexican-American war from 1846-1848. The Treaties of Velasco — two documents in the aftermath of the Battle of San Jacinto between Antonio López de Santa Anna and the Republic of Texas — were never recognized or ratified by the Mexican government. Only with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (official title: the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement) that ended the Mexican-American war did Mexico forfeit all claims to Texas and acknowledge the Rio Grande River as the U.S.-Mexico border. 

 For more information, visit www.texasindependencetrail.com; Texas Historical Commission, www.thc.texas.gov; Texas State Historical Association, www.tshaonline.org 


Battles for the Republic 

Travel in the footsteps of the rebels at visitor-friendly sites perfect for day or weekend trips. Those italicized have a spot on the Texas Independence Trail Region, part of the Texas Heritage Trails Program from the Texas Historical Commission, dedicated to preserving the state’s cultural and historical resources. (source: www.american-historama.org)

October 2, 1835 | Battle of Gonzales | Gonzales | Texan Victory
October 10, 1835 | Battle of Goliad | Goliad | Texan Victory
October 28, 1835 | Battle of Concepcion | San Antonio de Bexar  | Texan Victory 
November 4–5, 1835 | Battle of Lipantitlan | San Patricio |  Texan Victory
November 26, 1835 | Grass Fight | San Antonio de Bexar |  Texan Victory
February 27, 1836 | Battle of San Patricio | San Patricio |  Mexican Victory
February 23 – March 6, 1836 | Battle of the Alamo |  San Antonio de Bexar |      Mexican Victory
March 2, 1836 | Battle of Agua Dulce | Agua Dulce |  Mexican Victory
March 14, 1836 | Battle of Refugio | Refugio | Mexican Victory
March 19–20, 1836 | Battle of Coleto | Goliad | Mexican Victory
April 21, 1836 | Battle of San Jacinto | Near modern La Porte |  Texan Victory