More Than Expected at Goliad
Over the past three years we have been conducting a program to remove Chinese tallow trees from Galveston Island State Park. The purpose was to eradicate these invasive plants in order to restore the coastal prairie. It worked! There is now approximately 350 acres of coastal prairie restored in the park. And so you are thinking, WOW! So what? Well let me tell you WHAT!
In documents used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in their management programs the following statement is made about the Coastal Prairie: “The Coastal Prairie of Texas is similar in many ways to the tall grass prairie of the Great Plains. It is estimated that, in pre-settlement times, there were nine million acres of Coastal Prairie, of which 6.5 million acres were in Texas. Today less than one percent of the Coastal Prairie remains”.
The Gulf coastal prairie is a seriously threatened habitat. And that is one of the many reasons Galveston Island State Park is such a important asset in the Texas parks system. Of the 2,000 acres in the park, about half of it is coastal prairie. The coastal prairie is threatened because it is ideally suited to be converted to rice fields, improved pasture, sites for homes and other built structures.
The coastal prairie of Texas is where the legendary Texas Longhorn developed itself. It is said to be the only breed that developed on it’s own – no selective breeding etc.
Spaniards brought cattle to the new world. They proliferated on the coastal prairies of Texas. It is a classic example of survival of the fittest that could flourish in the harsh and unforgiving environment of coastal Texas. The longhorn was the main player in the cattle drives that made the breed a household word and that conveyed legendary status on the Texas cowboy.
In the eighteen hundreds, large numbers of these wild longhorns roamed the coastal plain of Texas. They were rounded up and trail herded north along “trails” first blazed by Jesse Chisholm and Charles Goodnight. However, before Chisholm or Goodnight entered the world, or the cattle business, there was a “cattle trail” that had been used for almost a hundred years to get cattle from the coastal prairie of Texas to consumers in the East -- the Opelousas Trail. The Opelousas Trail began in La Bahia (later Goliad) in Texas and ended in New Orleans. It was along or parallel to the Old Spanish Trail. The first recorded cattle drive along the Opelousas Trail occurred when “Francisco Garcia left San Antonio in 1779 with 2,000 steers bound for New Orleans” (Beaumont Enterprise, 1975).
I became aware of this while searching for materials about coastal prairie restoration where I learned of Francisco Garcia. That bit of information I had previously picked up coupled with my “CCC Builders of Parks” undertaking --- Goliad State Park .seemed a good next stop.
“Remember Goliad” was a much used phrase during the Texas Revolution. There are many things that would cause one to “Remember Goliad”. It was the site where Colonel Fannin and his troops were slaughtered. It was where, a few years earlier, General Ignacio Zaragoza was born. Zaragoza, the hero of Cinco de Mayo at the Battle of Puebla, served as an inspiration to the Mexican people to overthrow the French control of Mexico and the Emperor Maximilian.
It is also the final location of Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga, which was moved to this site in 1749. The charter for Espiritu Santo encompassed about one million acres. The Mission’s northern boundary was around present day Seguin. Its other boundaries were the Guadalupe River on the East and the San Antonio River on the West and it extended to the confluence of these two rivers, close to the Gulf of Mexico. Before King, Kennedy or XIT, Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga was established as the first “Mega Ranch” in Texas.
The Mission was abandoned in 1830 and unoccupied for 100 years. In this time it had fallen into a very dilapidated condition. In the 1930’s a citizen of Goliad (County Judge James A. White) was able to get the WPA to restore a small portion of the mission. He was unable to get continued funding for that program, so to continue the task he sought involvement of the CCC. In this he was successful. The way this was brought about, the way restoration plans were developed and the makeup of the CCC crew, who were involved in the actual “hands on” restoration work, is a story in itself. But that is for another time!
So here we have this one million acre “Mega Ranch” located on this rich coastal prairie rangeland, just bursting at the seams with longhorn cattle. What they needed were consumers. Fortunately there was an event taking place at that time in the northeastern part of North America that played into this.
While the British were fighting the American colonists in the Northeast, a Spanish army in 1779 under the command of Bernardo Galvez waged a campaign against the British along the Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi – thus creating a second front in the war of independence. He defeated the British in battles at Manchac, Baton Rouge & Natchez. In 1780 he defeated the British in battles at Mobile & Pensacola.
In order to feed his troops, Galvez sent his emissary, Francisco Garcia, to the Governor of Texas (Domingo Cabello) with a letter that requested and authorized the first cattle drive out of Texas. Garcia arrived in San Antonia de Bexar on 20 June 1779. By August two thousand head of cattle were gathered – a major proportion of them coming from Mission Espiritu Santo. They were then driven along the Opelousas Trail to Louisiana for Galvez’s troops. Between 1779 and 1782, over nine thousand head of Texas cattle were trailed overland to the Spanish troops in the East. And if you wish to know more about this “second front” that Galvez and his forces created against the British while they were also engaged in the battling the Thirteen Colonies on another front, you should read the book written by Professor Robert H. Thonhoff, “TheTexas Connection With The American Revolution”. I was made aware of this book by Ms. Beth Ellis, Interpretative Officer, Goliad State Park.
I went to Goliad State Park to learn about Francisco Garcia and the first cattle drive out of Texas. Being made aware of the book authored by Professor Thonhoff gave me more than I expected at Goliad.