Come to Goliad and watch me die

Joe Southern

One week from now I will be dead and many of my friends with me.

We will be slaughtered by some other friends while hundreds of people look on and snap pictures with their cell phones.

OK, we won’t really be dead (at least I hope not). Next weekend, March 25-26, is the annual reenactment of the Goliad Massacre. As many of you know, I am a colonel in the Texas Army, a group that reenacts the battles and events of the Texas Revolution in 1835-36.

We will spend the weekend encamped at Presidio La Bahia in Goliad where we will reenact battles and demonstrate camp life as it was at the time 187 years ago. We will be dressed in period garb, firing blanks out of cannons and muzzleloaders, and doing our best to entertain and educate the people who come to watch.

Of all the reenactments we do, this is the biggest and best. It’s heartfelt and authentic in that we do most everything at the spot where the real events happened. Presidio La Bahia has been rebuilt (the church is original and has been continually used as such) and adds and air of authenticity that is lacking at all the other historic sites of the time, including the Alamo.

We don’t do the Fannin battle at its site, as that is several miles away. Nor do we march to any of the exact spots where Fannin’s men were massacred for pretty much the same reason.

Our interpretation of events, however, have a reasonable degree of accuracy. At least it’s as accurate as you can get with a few dozen people – mostly fat old men with gray beards and tidy outfits – playing the parts of about 300 young men who would have been filthy and emaciated. We generally have better representation on the Mexican side at this event. It’s located much closer to San Antonio where the largest Mexican soldado (soldier) groups are from (and also because they get to win this go-round).

Saturday will feature three battle reenactments during the day and the very popular candlelight tours at night (requires an additional ticket and always sell out, so come early). This year my wife, Sandy, will be making her debut as a tour guide. I will be reprising my role as one of the wounded housed in the church.

I do this with extreme reverence, not only out of respect for what happened, but also because Sandy’s fourth-great uncle was one of those crammed in there and eventually massacred.

Sunday morning is a much more solemn occasion, as most of the survivors are marched out of the presidio and down the road to an open field where we are stopped and shot to death. From there, everyone returns to the presidio where the execution of James Fannin is acted out.

If you don’t want to make the trek to Goliad but still want to see some cool reenactments, mark your calendar for April 15 and plan to attend the Runaway Scrape event in Richmond at George Ranch Historical Park. Not only is this one closer to home, but it is in a more intimate setting and we usually burn a lot of gunpowder during the two demonstrations we do.

Another event that gets a lot of attention locally is the San Jacinto Celebration, which will be held April 22 at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. This used to be a huge event with over 100 reenactors performing before thousands of spectators. Since COVID, the Texas Historical Commission has been muscling out the Texas Army and paring down the reenactment portion. Even though this was the primary draw to the site, the Texas Army and San Jacinto Volunteers are not a part of it this year. I still may go as an individual volunteer for the THC just because I love doing it so much.

Each year since I enlisted in the Texas Army I have been trying to improve my interpretation by acquiring more gear and altering my appearance. This year I’ve been growing mutton chops and letting my hair grow longer so I better look the part.

I hope you will come out and join us at some or all of these events. It’s a fun way to learn history and spend a day outdoors and engaging in something unique to Texas. If you do, feel free to come up and say hello. I promise I won’t shoot you. I’ll save that for my other friends.

Joe Southern is the managing editor of the Wharton Journal-Spectator and the East Bernard Express. He can be reached at

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