Revisting a massacre, honoring the dead at Presidio La Bahia
VICTORIA, Texas — One hundred and seventy-eight years ago, Jose Nicolas de la Portilla faced a difficult decision at the Presidio La Bahia.
The Mexican army lieutenant colonel had to decide between an order of peace from his direct superior, Gen. Jose de Urrea, or an order of violence from Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who oversaw the entire command.
"He was in a dubious position," said Amy Hatmaker, University of Houston-Victoria adjunct history professor.
Historians will gather at the Presidio La Bahia, also known as Fort Defiance, on Saturday and Sunday to witness the re-enactment of Portilla's subsequent actions, which led to the massacre of 342 soldiers during the Texas Revolution.
There will be a recreation of the fort's occupation by Col. James W. Fannin Jr. and the massacre Saturday. In the evening, a candlelight tour will follow.
A second massacre re-enactment Sunday will be followed by a memorial service and pilgrimage to the Fannin Memorial.
Before the slaughter, Texas soldiers were held prisoner inside La Bahia and had no idea of what was coming their way, Hatmaker said.
Hatmaker, who will be teaching a Texas history course starting next fall, said while Santa Anna has been demonized for his brutal actions, the general was in his rights.
"If you read it from the Mexican side, the Mexicans weren't all that wrong in their actions," Hatmaker said.
The colonists had struck an agreement with the Spanish government to get the land grants in Texas, but because they were sparsely populated and widely spread, there was no feasible way for the Mexican government, which was still under Spanish control, to enforce that, Hatmaker said.
"Santa Anna was in his rights in trying to squash it all," Hatmaker said. "I think his mindset going into it was, 'If we go in and do this, then it will demoralize the others, and then they'll fall in line and become good Mexican citizens.'"
Presidio La Bahia Director Newton M. Warzecha said the event's main mission is education.
"We're trying to educate the public — not only the young folks but the old ones as well," Warzecha said.
Warzecha said a bagpipe performance will be part of the ceremony Sunday.
"This is one of the most historical sites in the state," Warzecha said. "There's not a lot of places where you can see a re-enactment like this."
Warzecha, who described Santa Anna as a "despicable man," said it's important to remember what has happened in the past in order to prepare for the future.
"There is a rich history here in Texas," Warzecha said. "And here in Goliad, our displays are designed to show that."