Goliad State Park & Historic Site
Goliad state park is part of a much larger story of Texas history.
Located about 45 minutes southeast of San Antonio, Goliad, TX tells the stories of Spanish, Mexican, and American cultures
And the park itself is home to one of the amazing mission structures you’ll find in this part of Texas.
To fully immerse yourself in the historical journey, Goliad state park is made up of 4 unique places that all serve to tell the story of Spain’s occupation of this land, the mission systems, and the Texas revolution from Mexico.
At the park itself you’ll discover: Mission Espiritu Santo; learn about Ignacio Zaragoza, and visit his birthplace; across the street, there’s the El Camino Real visitors center; and on the other side of town the Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario.
One of the important aspects of the missions in the presidios that were built to protect them. And while not part of the Texas parks system, Presidio La Bahia is just down the street and across the San Antonio River from the Espiritu Santo mission and is a must-visit to learn even more.
The Karankawa, the Tameek, and the Aranama tribes were indigenous to this section of Texas.
So imagine their confusion when the French landed on Matagorda bay, and the subsequent Spanish expeditions to the area followed.
The idea of the Spanish mission system in Texas was to convert these natives to Christianity and the Spanish way of life, but also to set up presidios to protect the land from the French.
Now That’s an absolutely quick version, so I highly recommend you learn more about the Spanish’s influence and partnership for good and bad with the natives living here.
The gem of Goliad state park is definitely the Mission Nuestra Senora Del Espiritu Santo.
While this mission and the presidio were originally located closer to the Gulf Coast, it was moved to this site in 1749. The presidio was strategically placed on the other side of the San Antonio River just down the road.
While the building itself is quite striking framed under the blue sky, it wasn’t always this way.
After Spain lost interest in funding the missions, they were left in neglect and disrepair.
Once the mission was unoccupied, the stones were stolen and used to build homes and other structures in town.
From 1935 to 1941 the civilian conservation corps were called upon to restore this building to its original glory, and by 1970 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were able to rebuild the chapel and exhibits in the granary.
The map of the grounds showcases different structures of mission life.
There are plenty of sections that were never rebuilt but you can still get a sense of the flow of the people moving around the property.
The mission itself is defined by the rock wall that borders the grounds, but just on the outside of the wall, there is a trail that will wind through the dense foliage.
The Aranama trail is point two five miles and loops just above the San Antonio river
One of the coolest things about this trail was the stone quarry. This is where the stones would have come to build the mission and it’s pretty sizeable.
There is also a hike and bike trail that’s 2.5 miles. You can take it into town, or hike on up to the presidio.
The park itself features the same accommodations you’ll find at a regular state park.
The campsites are spacious, and on the last visit, there were plenty of RV’ers kicking back and enjoy the view.
If you’re interested in paddling, stay at the Jacales camping area, and drop in on the San Antonio River.
There are sites here for RV’s and tent campers, but if you’re only here for the day admission is $4 for adults and free for kids 12 and under.
Recommend a full day here at Goliad state park and historic site.
Ignacio Zaragoza and Cinco de Mayo
Your foes are the first soldiers of the world, but you are the first sons of Mexico
Down the street and directly in front of the presidio is an unassuming stucco building next to the parking lot.
As you approach, you’ll realize it is the second site of the park.
This building tells the story of Ignacio Zaragoza. He was born at the presidio in 1829 during Mexico’s fight for independence with Spain and ultimately grew up to be a general in Mexico’s army to help win its independence from France on May 5th, 1862. In Spanish, you’ll say it as Cinco De Mayo. LINK: Learn more about the Battle of Puebla.
Inside the building, the bright colors give an extensive history of his way of life, and a timeline of events that shaped Mexico’s history.
In 1992 the Texas legislature made Goliad the official site for Cinco de mayo.
Just down the sidewalk from here there’s an amphitheater and a statue dedicated to Zaragoza.
Presidio La Bahia
The presidio la Bahia is considered one of the finest examples of a Spanish frontier fort.
According to its website, it has participated in six national revolutions and wars for independence.
Spanish Mexican and Texas soldiers all used its fortified walls for protection.
Inside you’ll see a hallway dedicated to the story of this presidio, the gift shop, and a small theater to learn more about this historic building. Seek out the artifacts that have been found on the property and learn more about the daily lives of the residents.
But once you step out into the courtyard you’ll be immersed in the vastness of what lies inside these walls. Visit the barracks and walk upon each corner of the presidio to read more about the strategic location.
A must-visit, while you’re here, is the church.
This chapel is one of the oldest churches in America and is still an active parish, it has been used since the 1700s.
Fannin’s men were held here as captives before they faced their untimely massacre from Santa Anna.
Admire the fresco done by Antonio Garcia behind the altar, and check out the statue of Our lady of Loreto done by Lincoln Borglum.
Because it’s not part of the Texas parks site you do have to pay separate admission, but there’s plenty to see here at the presidio and just outside its walls.
Fellow citizens … We urge as many as can possibly leave their homes to repair to Gonzales immediately, “armed and equipped for war even to the knife.” …If Texas will now act promptly, she will soon be redeemed from that worse than Egyptian bondage which now cramps her resources and retards her prosperity.
— J.W. Fannin. Jr
In 1836 344 men, including an ill-prepared colonel named James Walker Fannin, were captured during the battle of Coleto Creek, and ordered to be executed at the behest of Santa Anna.
Fannin was part of the remaining 40 wounded soldiers who were taken to the presidio. He watched his men be executed and was saved for last.
Stephen Hardin’s book Texian Iliad recounts the circumstances behind his death:
Fannin made three requests: He wanted his possessions to be sent to his family, to save his face, and to have a proper Christian burial.
The Mexican soldiers ultimately stole his belongings, Fannin was indeed shot in the face, and there was no burial.
He was burned along with the other soldiers that died before him.
Outside the walls of the presidio, you’ll learn about the Angel of Goliad. Francita Alvarez rescued 20 soldiers that had escaped by pretending to be dead, and the majority of them went on to defeat Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto.
But here is where you’ll see the Fannin memorial.
For those soldiers who were massacred and burned. A reminder of the bloodshed that was constant during the Texas revolution.
El Camino Real Visitor’s Center
The missions were all linked to the historic El Camino Real trail system.
At the El Camino real visitors center learn more about the trail in this cabin built by the civilian conservation corps.
Each room features information about why the trail is important, and how it laid the groundwork for the mission system in Texas.
In the main area check out amazing photos and learn more about the CCC’s work to restore the Spanish structures throughout the park.
This is a very fun, interactive exhibit that talks a great deal about the trail, but also various excavations, and work at the various parks. There are a lot of hands-on exhibits to play with and learn more about.
Admission is included with your entrance to Goliad SP, HS.
Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario
Hop in your car and take a short drive to the outskirts of Goliad to visit Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario.
The Franciscans built this mission for the Karankawa tribe around 1754, but the natives were used to wandering the lands, and not staying in one place too long, so the mission was proved ineffective, and ultimately was just used for livestock which was another large aspect of the mission systems.
This mission was closed in 1792, but its legacy lives on. View it from a distance and learn more about the inhabitants and see what it may have looked like in its original form.
The missions, the el Camino real, and the presidios all serve as chapters in Texas’ storied history.
These parks and churches offer a great way to learn about the different flags that fly over Texas, and Goliad is an important reminder of it all.
So next time you’re looking for some history travel on down to Goliad state park and historic site and learn all about what it stands for.