A Natural Tribute to the Fallen

Fannin Monument ~ Goliad, Texas

Thanks to Hollywood and assorted writers of historical fiction, “Remember the Alamo” has become one of America’s best-known battle cries. But before the Alamo, there was James W. Fannin, a few hundred fighters for Texas independence, and the infamous Goliad Massacre: a pivotal event leading to the establishment of the Republic of Texas.

Events leading to the massacre of over four hundred men and Colonel Fannin were complicated; a brief explanation can be found here. After the executions, the bodies were burned and their remains left exposed until June 3, 1836, when Gen. Thomas J. Rusk gathered them and provided burial in a common grave.

The grave remained unmarked until about 1858, when a Goliad merchant, George von Dohlen, placed a pile of rocks on what was believed to be the site. Decades later, some Goliad Boy Scouts found charred bone fragments nearby and, in 1930, University of Texas anthropologist J. E. Pearce began an investigation. With its authenticity as the Fannin burial site verified by historians Clarence R. Wharton and Harbert Davenport, money was allocated in Texas’s centennial year — 1936 — for the construction of the monument shown above.

The monument’s sculptor, French-born Raoul Josset, moved to the United States in 1933. Many of his works in this country are dedicated to individuals who helped to shape the State of Texas: a bronze and granite tribute to Captain Amon King, hero of the Battle of Refugio; an eight-foot bronze of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence; and a bronze angel guarding the crypt at Monument Hill, where remains of Texans killed in the Mier-Sommerville expedition are interred.

When I visited the Fannin Monument this spring, all was peaceful. The years-old explanatory sign, rusting but undamaged, still brought a smile. Nature herself is being allowed to decorate the gravesite, year after year.

Blooming among this year’s crop of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and Engelmann’s daisies was an uncountable number of huisache daisies (Amblyolepsis setigera). A Texas endemic found primarily in the central part of the state, I’d last seen them during the Great Wildflower Explosion of 2019.

One of the flower’s most appealing characteristics is the range of colors it displays as it begins to fade. Clear yellow blooms become tinged with orange, and green ‘nerves’ in the ray flowers (akin to those seen in the four-nerve daisy, or Tetraneuris linearifolia) become more obvious.

Eventually, the colors darken even more, occasionally turning a deep, reddish-orange.

Even as they age, the flowers’ beauty endures: not unlike a grateful state’s memories of the men who lie beneath them.

Comments always are welcome.

40 thoughts on “A Natural Tribute to the Fallen

  1. I’ve been thinking of putting up a sign like the one you show, saying something like “This is a wild-life habitat: don’t disturb”, in our “wildflower area so as the city won’t compel us to mow it.

    1. I know people who’ve done exactly that. In some places, the flower lovers have been able to fend off even county mowers. Given the presence of Wildseed Farms in your area, and the number of active native plant promoters, you should be able to manage it.

    1. I got there just at the right time to see the spring flowers, and there will be others that emerge through the summer and fall. I’m especially fond of the September/October blooms, but first we have to get through summer.

  2. Beautiful tribute to the flowers and the men who gave their lives for their state / country. One doesn’t have to agree with the cause to appreciate and honor the sacrifice.

    1. Texas history has become increasingly fascinating to me as I learn more about it. ‘Six flags over Texas’ is more than an amusement park name: the influence of the French, Spanish, and various native tribes still lingers, as do the traditions of 19th immigrants — the Germans, Polesm and Czechs. Even more recently, Italians, Vietnamese, and Cajuns have left their mark. One thing that drew them here was the freedom to create a better life; it’s a value we still cling to.

    1. There’s so much to learn. Like you, I knew nothing but the very broadest outlines of Texas history before moving here. I didn’t even know that the ‘yellow rose of Texas’ wasn’t just a flower, or that the song became associated with Emily D. West, a free African-American woman from Connecticut who worked as a housekeeper for Colonel James Morgan in New Washington — today’s Morgan’s Point. After Santa Anna arrived at New Washington, he looted and burned the settlement before taking leave with Emily in tow. She almost certainly wasn’t with him in his tent before the Battle of San Jacinto, but it makes for a great story.

  3. This flower reminds me of a jawbreaker. Do you remember those? We spent so much time racing back and forth to a mirror, checking to see what color the candy ball had become, that it’s a wonder we enjoyed them at all! I didn’t know all the facts you uncovered about the folks who shaped Texas into a state, so thank you for educating me. Sad that so many had to die.

    1. I certainly do remember jawbreakers. I never liked them for some reason; I was more a rootbeer barrel and orange slice kid. If you’re feeling especially nostalgic, though, you still can get those jawbreakers today. I just had a fun five minutes browsing through candies I’d completely forgotten.

      In many ways, history is as much a matter of conflict as of achievement and development. Whether it was the Spanish vs. the French, the Mexicans vs. Americans, or various tribes against them all — and against each other — the story of Texas is complicated and fascinating.

  4. A little bit of searching failed to turn up a photo of the monument as attractive as your wildflower-bedecked one. You might do well to pitch a story about the monument to Texas Highways.

    If I remember right, the first huisache daisies I ever saw were at the Fannin memorial during our first visit there more than a decade ago.

    1. There’s no question I was there at the right time. The Indian paintbrush were fading, but there was a nice mix of other flowers. As a matter of fact, that was the day the anacua trees were in full bloom, and as fragrant as anything I’ve encountered. Despite the freeze, the big mountain laurel by the Presidio survived, as well; there weren’t any blooms, but there’s always next year.

      I hadn’t looked at other photos of the monument, but it was interesting to see what worked and what didn’t. Less successful images had a variety of causes: too close, too far away, too much extra ‘stuff’ like the cannon and flagpole. I took a lot of photos from a variety of perspectives, and I’m glad I did, because plenty of them just didn’t make it.

  5. It’s always interesting, Linda, when you show a flower in its different stages. And what a great treasure that the keepers of the memorial decided to let wild flowers grow instead of having mowed lawns. –Curt

    1. Increasingly, the message about allowing flowers to go to seed has been permeating even officialdom’s consciousness. The bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are fading along the roadsides now, but the state still won’t mow until the coneflowers, beebalms, and such have completed their cycle. I can’t remember when last year’s mowing took place — it varies — but around here it was late into the fall.

      When I first saw huisache daisies in 2018, they were so near their end I had a hard time figuring out what they were. It was only this year that I managed to ID them. Once I started finding fields filled with them in various stages, it was much easier.

      1. The new trail I have cut up the mountain behind our place allows me to watch our local flowers go through their cycles. Before, I tended to stay out when the poison oaks and burrs and ticks were in their glory, i.e. late spring through mid-fall. Now, I can hike through with impunity, more or less.
        When I hiked down the PCT form mid June to mid September 3 years ago, I really enjoyed the changes. –Curt

  6. I love the idea of ‘The Great Wildflower Explosion’ – wish one would happen here! I think the flowers make a great contribution to the memorial.

    1. There’s nothing hyperbolic about the name, either. The year 2018 was extraordinary for the number and brilliance of its flowers. It takes a certain mental discipline to stop comparing this year with that one; we certainly have more than enough to share, even though we’re somewhat wistful about favorites that didn’t get a chance to bloom because of the freeze.

      You’re right that the flowers add a good bit to this scene. People who visit the memorial in August — especially if it’s been a little droughty and even the grass is brown — get a somewhat different impression.

  7. The monument is very Art Deco in style, in keeping with its time period. The “business end” of the flower reminds me of those starburst light fixtures so popular in midcentury modern interior design.

    1. Raoul Josset’s first commission in Texas was called Spirit of the Centennial, and it was placed in Dallas’s Fair Park in 1936. You like Art Deco? How about this?

      You’re right about those light fixtures. I’ve not thought about them in forever, and don’t regret their passing.

    1. I just included a link to Josset’s first commission in Texas for another reader, and it shows the influence of the time even more. Both the monument and the flowers are striking, but in combination, the sum certainly exceeds the total of the parts.

  8. The Goliad monument has a stark, simple beauty and your photo of it with the wildflowers captures it perfectly. The scene is a fitting memorial to the event it recalls.

    1. I’ve seen another of Josset’s sculptures — the one of LaSalle near Indianola — and it has the same dignified air. Here, the star and the chains are especially nice touches, and the balance between the figures is perfect. For some reason, I always think of Sisyphus when I see it.

  9. my niece and her husband bought a small run down place in Goliad. he’s been fixing it up and they plan to move there within a year. I’ve never been to Goliad myself. I like the monument, the carving very art deco. the flowers are nice too.

    1. I really like Goliad. It can seem a little shabby to people just passing through, but I’ve found it a friendly and welcoming town. It’s certainly a place I’d be willing to move to. Of course, it’s right in the middle of a lot of interesting Texas history, and that’s another plus.

      Josset did the statue of LaSalle in Indianola, and it’s just as attractive — but Goliad has better flowers, even away from the monument.

  10. We have a few of those signs in the medians of some highways so the wildflowers do not get mowed until they are spent in autumn. The green lines in the ray flowers are quite attractive. Aging can be lovely.
    The wide shot of the memorial and flowers is a somber yet beautiful image. I think the sky is a better match too than a clear blue sky would have been.

    1. I’d never noticed those green lines until I saw them in the photos. It’s another reminder that the camera not only records what we see, it reveals what we haven’t seen.

      The photo of the monument’s even nicer when enlarged. I agree with you about the sky. That day went back and forth between full sunshine and the sort of cloudiness you see here, and all of the photos I took in full sun seemed to hide the details of the sculpture and the flowers.

      By the way, I meant to tell you that those Kimtech wipes are a life-saver. They not only clear off a fogged lens in an early, humid morning, they’re great for things like my iPad screen, too. I liked them so much I bought an extra box to tuck away.

      1. Oh, I am glad to hear that they are working out for you. I always worry that something I recommend will turn out to be a disappointment. So thanks for letting me know.

  11. I love that they don’t mow so the wildflowers can reseed. How beautiful — that first photo is particularly spectacular with those wonderful colors and interesting sky and the close-ups, as always, spot on!

    1. Mowing can be as efficient a way to eliminate wildflowers as overuse of herbicides: at least some people are becoming more aware of that. Now and then I meet someone who’s worried about the butterflies and bees, but still thinks a half acre of Bermuda grass makes the best lawn. It’s a mystery.

      I sure was lucky to arrive at the memorial when the flowers were in bloom. It was a sight to see, and the scent of the flowers was delicious.

  12. Growing up we would always stop in Goliad to visit the mission. I was unaware of the massacre of Goliad, though. So much to learn.

    1. There sure is a lot to learn. Here’s something else you may not know; it’s possible to stay at the Presidio — the fort where all that action took place. I stayed there for a few days, and wrote about it here. When you reserve the place, you have it all to yourself. When they lock the gates at night and the tourists leave, you can roam the ramparts and imagine what it was like so many years ago. Can you imagine Forest’s reaction to all that? Talk about an educational experience!

    1. The tourists love the Alamo, but this spot is hallowed. There is another statue nearby of a woman known as the “Angel of Goliad” — Francita Alavez — who rescued a number of men during the massacre. You can see a photo of the statue here.

    1. Aren’t they great? I spent a year not knowing what they were, because I found them at the very end of their bloom. They were even more bedraggled than any of these, and I couldn’t find a photo of them in that state! Someday, someone is going to publish a field guide that provides IDs for fading flowers, seedheads, and seeds. Flowers are nice, but they aren’t the whole story.

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