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"The Goliad Survivors"

"Kentuck"

Oak from the escape site with heavy wool inlay

The Goliad Executions- by Norman Price

One of the most interesting escapes from the Goliad massacre was by a young man called "Kentuck." 

He was one of the volunteers from Kentucky, but nobody knew much about his past, or even his real name.  The boys in the camp just knew him by the nickname "Kentuck."  He was around 22 years old, a happy young man, short in stature, handsome, and fairly well educated. 

As a foggy daylight  broke on the morning of March 27th, which was Palm Sunday, there was somewhere around 425 and 445 captured Texan Soldiers being held at the Presidio La Bahia Mission near Goliad after surrendering to the Mexican army at Coleto Creek.  Mexican General Urrea wrote to Santa Anna asking for clemency for the Texians, but Santa Anna repeatedly ordered the General to comply with a new law that any prisoners taken in combat were to be considered pirates and executed.  Santa Anna also sent this order to Urrea’s second in command, Colonel Jose Portilla, who was now in charge at the Presidio, demanding that the order be carried out.  

Portilla decided it was his duty to comply, despite receiving a countermanding order from Urrea later that same day.

Santa Anna
Colonel Portilla
Gen. Urrea

The Texans were awakened and told that they would be marching to the gulf coast to be put onto ships bound for New Orleans.  But as the Texian soldiers were moved out in front of the fort, they were divided into three groups of around 150 men each, and marched out in three different directions, being north, south, and west.  At approximately one half mile away from the fort, each group was ordered to halt, and within moments, they were shot.  Less than 30 men were able to escape.  

This is a survivor's story.

To be able to fully appreciate what happened to "Kentuck," it’s important to understand his wardrobe at the time.  Everything was thick and heavy, consisting of shirt, pants, vest, a blanket overcoat and rawhide boots.

From his Mexican guards he learned the game of “Three-card Monte,” and he quickly became better at it than they were.  He won around 300 silver dollars, the total weight of which was about eighteen pounds, and for the lack of a bag in which to carry this money he distributed it in several pockets of his garments.  

Hearing the news on the night of the March 26th that they were going to be marched to Copano to be put onto a ship and taken out of Texas to New Orleans, the men were excited and relieved that their ordeal was finally about to be over.  When the morning finally dawned, they were marched out down the "Lower Road" between two files of guards.  When the order was given to halt, the Mexican file nearest the river passed through the prisoners to the other side.  

The guards, who outnumbered them two to one, were now all on one side.  The prisoners naturally turned and faced them.  It was then that the prisoners became aware that they were about to be shot.  The weak, emaciated, and half-starved men were powerless to resist.  A short distance away, they heard the rifles firing upon the other squads and the terrible screams of the wounded and dying men. "Kentuck" and his comrades were ordered to turn their backs to the guards and face the river, but many of them, including "Kentuck," refused, and continued to look straight into the eyes of the guards.  One of the men yelled out, "Boys, they are going to kill us---die with your faces to them, like men!"

When the order was given to "Fire," a few guards in the firing squad appeared to be more nervous than their victims.  Some of the Mexican soldiers hesitated, and the guard who was facing "Kentuck" didn’t fire his musket.  Nearly all of the other prisoners fell and were killed as the loud blasts and boiling clouds of powder smoke rolled out over them.

Within the smoke, "Kentuck" turned and ran as fast as he could for the trees along the river, and upon reaching them, bounded down the bank and splashed into the river before any pursuing soldiers could catch up to him. He was now getting exhausted from running in the heavy garments loaded with silver, and his boots filling with water made swimming almost impossible.  "Kentuck" came close to drowning as the current moved him downstream.

The bank (opposite side) that "Kentuck" ran down and into the river

Finally reaching the opposite bank, Kentuck pulled himself out and began running through the trees which quickly opened up into a wide open field.  His soaked clothes weighed him down, and the heavy silver in his pockets beat upon him as he tried to run in his sloshing boots. 

Even with the adrenaline that was rushing through him, he wasn’t able to move very fast at all.  Looking back over his shoulder he could see that some Mexican guards were now chasing him, and he could hear their swords clanking as they ran.  Due to his heavy load, they were able to gain ground on him quickly, but just as they were getting very close to reaching him, his luck changed.  In twisting and dodging to try to elude them, some of the silver coins jostled out of his pockets.  Seeing the coins hitting the ground, the guards stopped and scuffled over them.  This enabled "Kentuck" to gain more ground, and also gave him an idea.

As the guards began catching up to him again, he pitched out a handful of coins and the soldiers again stopped and scuffled over them.  He kept this up until all of the coins were gone.  He threw off his overcoat and then his vest, which lightened his load considerably.  And for each of these, the guards would stop to go through them.  Running in wet boots was now wearing him out, and he managed to quickly kick them off.  The guards even stopped to look in his boots.

"Kentuck" later said that he didn’t mind the loss of his money and his garments so much, but he really wished that he hadn’t lost his boots.  The prairie grass had recently burned and was sharp and easily penetrated his socks and cut his feet.  But he was running for his life, so he didn’t slow down.  His pants were now sagging and hard to run in.  He tried to get out of them while still moving forward, but being wet and sticking to his legs caused him to tangle up and fall.  But even this didn’t slow him down very much.  He rolled over and over until he got them off, and then he took off running again. 

"I had no more graft with which to bribe my pursuers," he said.  As the soldiers gained on him, "Kentuck" said he thought at last that he was a "...gone coonskin."  But he just kept running, and was finally able to reach a dense thicket of chaparral which he crawled into and hid, completely exhausted.  The Mexican guards beat around a while looking for him before eventually giving up. 

The prairie that Kentuck had to cross after getting out of the river

After catching his breath for a while, "Kentuck" pushed on, making his way in great pain through the thorny chaparral and prickly pears.  His underwear was reduced to shreds and his skin was badly cut. He continued moving through the woods and was lucky in finding another comrade who had played dead at the firing squad and also escaped the slaughter.  The two men hurried on, avoiding roads as much as possible.  The cabins they did come across had mostly been ransacked, but they were able to find enough scraps to eat and keep their strength up.  Finding the trail of Houston's army at the crossing of the San Bernard, they hurried on, arriving at the Texian camp at Foster's Plantation on the last day of March. 

They had moved quickly from Goliad to the Brazos.  Upon reaching the army, "Kentuck" and his friend were in rough shape, but they were well cared for.  After their wounds and sores were treated, and with a little rest and sleep, they were ready for duty.  They joined Houston's forces and both fought at the batlle of San Jacinto.  

DeWitt Colonist Creed Taylor told the story as it was described to him by “Kentuck.” 

Creed later said, “I remember seeing "Kentuck" the next day after the battle, and he was very much interested in a game of Monte.  Of the subsequent career of "Kentuck" I know nothing, and I regret that I did not learn his real name and more of his history.”  

Told by DeWitt Colonist Creed Taylor to James T. DeShields and related in Tall Men With Long Rifles

Sons of Dewitt Colony

TAMU.edu