Presidio Commander Francisco García

Presidio La Bahía (Goliad, Texas), of which Francisco García was the commander in the early 1820s

Presidio La Bahía (Goliad, Texas), of which Francisco García was the commander in the early 1820s

Captain Francisco García was the military commander of Presidio La Bahía (present-day Goliad, Texas) from 1821 to 1823. He is thus the commandant who parleys with Napoleon outside La Bahía in Napoleon in America. In 1821, American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía while García and his men slept.

Major Ross’s sweetheart

Francisco García arrived as a Spanish soldier at San Antonio de Béxar in February 1811. Sometime after 1813 he married a local woman, Gertrudis Barrera. She had been the sweetheart of American Major Reuben Ross, who briefly commanded the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, an early filibustering foray into Spanish Texas. On April 1, 1813, the filibusters succeeded in capturing San Antonio. On June 16, Spanish Colonel Ignacio Elizondo camped near San Antonio with a large force and demanded the surrender of the town.

Ross ordered the drums to be beat for parade but no Mexicans appeared; they all shut themselves up. This was a mystery to Ross. It was soon unraveled by the girl [Gertrudis] to whom he was attached, who came to him and told him that the Mexicans had all determined to join the enemy and make a massacre of all the Americans. She loved Ross and implored him to retreat; he told her he would do so. Whether thro’ treachery or through imprudence she communicated this intention to her father who was in Elisondo’s army. Ross on receiving these tidings from the girl, immediately called a council of officers and expressed his conviction that they were betrayed & would all be murdered; he advised a retreat; this was opposed by every man present in the council; they resolved they would not fly but remain & abide their fate. That night Ross himself left town and made safe his Retreat. The next morning the Americans elected another commander; they chose Col. [Henry] Perry. (1)

Francisco García and Gertrudis had one child, a daughter named Pilar.

Commandant of La Bahía

In May 1819, Antonio Martínez, the Spanish governor of Texas, sent Captain García to investigate accusations regarding Juan Manuel Zambrano, the military commander at La Bahía, a town of about 600 people located 100 miles southeast of San Antonio. Zambrano had been using his position to operate an extensive contraband operation that involved the exchange of livestock for goods.

Instead of uprooting the vices of the citizens of La Bahía, he led them into illicit trade, and…he abused his license to supply mules to the troops who were afoot by charging them a higher price than the animals were worth. (2)

In April 1821, García took over command of the Presidial Company of La Bahía. At the time there were only three presidial companies in Texas: two in San Antonio (about 136 soldiers), and the one in La Bahía (64 soldiers). Two years later, some Mexican commissioners reported that the condition of the men was “deplorable,” most “being naked and several among them unarmed.” (3)

In August 1821, Stephen Austin described La Bahía as follows:

This place is beautifully situated on an eminence, immediately on the bank of the St. Antonio River. The surrounding country is rolling prairie, land rather sandy but produces well, might all be watered from the River. Town in a state of ruin, owing to the shock it recd in the revolution and subsequent Indian depredations. The Inhabitants have a few cattle and horses & raise some corn. There is however a very considerable trade through this town from Natchitoches to the coast and money is tolerably plenty.

The Spaniards live poorly, have but little furniture or rather none at all in their houses – no knives, eat with forks and spoons and their fingers. (4)

Captain García’s correspondence with Governor Martínez reveals the sorts of things that concerned a commander on Mexico’s northern frontier: lack of supplies; lack of ammunition; the need for money to pay the troops; expeditions to neighbouring outposts; desertions; drought; Indian attacks; cargoes of pottery and pigs.

García was not the most diligent of commandants. He did not get along with La Bahía’s alcalde (mayor), whom he accused of usurping his authority and of refusing to provide support for the pursuit of Indians.

Asleep on the job

García got into trouble when American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía on October 4, 1821, with a force of only 52 men.

He found the task of easy execution; for the garrison was greatly exposed by the want of proper vigilance and discipline which had followed the relaxation of war. After a forced march during the night of thirty miles, [Long] arrived at La Bahia a little before the dawn of day. ‘Who comes there?’ cried the drowsy sentinel. The only reply was a strong hand upon his shoulder. The sentinel was made [an] easy and unresisting prisoner; and before any alarm could be given, the Americans rushed into the fort, put the garrison to flight and took quiet possession of their quarters. Not a gun was fired; and the only damage resulting was the breaking of the soldiers’ morning slumbers, and the transient alarm occasioned to the women and children. (5)

Four days later, a force from San Antonio retook the town. Long and his men were sent as prisoners to Monterrey and then to Mexico City, where Long was killed in mysterious circumstances as described in my post about Ben Milam.

On November 2, 1821, Gaspar López, Commandant General of Mexico’s Eastern Interior Provinces, wrote to Governor Martínez:

Long and his adventurers having empowered themselves in a scandalous way, of a fortified post in that province, is an act which deserves the attention of Govnt. and as it does not appear from the documents referred to that Your E. has taken any measures for the formal investigation of that incident, it is of absolute necessity that the Military Commander of the Bahia, Dn. Fraco. Garcia, be removed from the Command, Your E. ordering that the corresponding summary be immediately formed alleging against him the corresponding charges which will notoriously result for his not having kept the coast covered by the detachment with which he was provided; and the state of abandonment in which the place was found the night of the surprise, for there is no proof of its having been guarded by one single sentinel. (6)

After the reprimand

Francisco García was fired from his post in December. One month later he was granted a pardon and resumed his duties. His job was not an enviable one. In the spring of 1822, Comanche Indians raided La Bahía, stole the horses of the garrison cavalry and carried away five prisoners. That October, Karankawa Indians attacked four of Stephen Austin’s colonists who were guarding a cargo of supplies that had just been landed at the mouth of the Colorado River. The cargo was looted and only one of the guards escaped. Francisco García wrote to Commandant General López that he did not have sufficient force to punish this outrage; that the colonists badly needed the stolen supplies for survival; and that if this act went unpunished, it would encourage the Indians to take similar action in future. On November 8, the Karankawas struck again, seizing two wagons carrying provisions and merchandise. According to García, the Indians were retaliating for an attack the American settlers had made against them. He told López:

This and several other such incidents are the cause of the Indian hostility in order to escape the threats of the Americans. In such a situation peace is impossible. (7)

Francisco García remained in command at La Bahía until the beginning of April 1823. He was dismissed because he and the La Bahía ayuntamiento (town council) proclaimed their undying loyalty to Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, who had just been kicked out of office. The residents of La Bahía responded to this official slap in the face by electing García as their representative to the new junta gubernativa (governing council) at San Antonio. Garcia, who was opposed to Mexico’s liberal constitutionalists, asked to be excused from the post. José Antonio Navarro (nephew of José Francisco Ruiz) was chosen as his replacement.

Francisco García remained in the La Bahía area as a rancher. In 1829, La Bahía was renamed Goliad. The name is thought to be an anagram of Hidalgo (omitting the silent “H”), in honour of Miguel Hidalgo, the father of the Mexican War of Independence. Francisco García died of cholera in Goliad in 1834.

In 1835, after the start of the Texas Revolution, García’s wife Gertrudis, their daughter Pilar and Pilar’s husband Manuel Sabariego (they married in 1833) fled south and settled in Matamoros. Many years later, they tried through the courts to recover the land they had abandoned in Texas. In the 1860s they succeeded in regaining at least half of their property in Goliad. (8) In 1887, however, the US Supreme Court found against Pilar’s attempt to recover a tract of land in San Antonio that Francisco García had bought in 1819. (9) The defendant in that case was Mary Maverick, a prominent Texas pioneer and diarist.

You might also enjoy:

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Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

The charmingly deceptive Baron de Bastrop

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

Felipe de la Garza, the general who captured Iturbide

  1. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 1 (Austin, 1920), p. 282. Perry defeated Elizondo’s troops, but on August 18, 1813, the filibusters and Mexican republicans were defeated by Spanish royalist forces at the Battle of Medina.
  2. Virginia H. Taylor, translator and editor, “Calendar of the Letters of Antonio Martinez, Last Spanish Governor of Texas, 1817-1822,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (April 1957), p. 536.
  3. Gary Clayton Anderson, The Indian Southwest, 1580-1830: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention (Norman, OK, 1999), p. 256.
  4. “Journal of Stephen F. Austin on his First Trip to Texas, 1821,” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Vol. 7, No. 4 (April, 1904), p. 298.
  5. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 2 (Austin, 1922), p. 115.
  6. The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 1, pp. 51-52.
  7. Joseph Carl McElhannon, “Imperial Mexico and Texas, 1821-1823,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2 (October 1949), pp. 123-124.
  8. George W. Paschal, Reports of Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Texas, during the Tyler and Austin Sessions 1867 and part of the Galveston session, 1868, Vol. 30 (St. Louis, MO, 1882), pp. 549-563.
  9. Stephen K. Williams, ed., Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1887, in 123, 124, 125, 126 US, Book 31 (Rochester, NY, 1887), pp. 430-445.

2 commments on “Presidio Commander Francisco García”

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It is of absolute necessity that...Garcia be removed from the Command...for his not having kept the coast covered by the detachment with which he was provided; and the state of abandonment in which the place was found the night of the surprise, for there is no proof of its having been guarded by one single sentinel.

Gaspar López