Orozimbo Plantation, a sprawling cotton farm in west central Brazoria County, was home to Dr. James Aeneas Phelps and his wife, who both arrived in Texas with Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists in 1822. In 1836, their mansion would serve as a prison for Antonio López de Santa Anna.
Phelps had served as a surgeon for the Texian Army at San Jacinto and observed the capture of Santa Anna, whose ruthless executions of Texians at the Alamo and Goliad prompted demands for the Mexican general’s death. But Sam Houston recognized that the notorious prisoner was worth more to Texas alive, so Santa Anna was taken to Orozimbo, where Phelps managed his care after an attempted suicide.
One wintry night, an officer of the Mexican military organized a group of riders to free Santa Anna. Everyone at the plantation was asleep, except the general, who had ostensibly received word of the plan. Just before dawn, as the riders approached the plantation, a frantic baying of hounds disrupted the early morning silence and roused the guards. The riders withdrew, abandoning the rescue.
But Orozimbo Plantation kept no dogs, and for miles around, there were no neighbors who had dogs. A servant had purportedly seen the creatures and described them as strange, wild-looking animals with frightening eyes. There were three of them, all a dingy white. Two had shaggy coats and one appeared hairless.
Months later, a passing traveler was told the description of the canines and claimed that the dogs had been the much-loved companions of a man who lived near Washington-on-the-Brazos. When the dogs’ owner left to join the fight for independence, his dogs refused to eat or return to the house. When the animals disappeared, neighbors told the story that they were looking for their master, who had been killed at Goliad.
For the next decade, settlers occasionally spotted the dogs in the forest near Orozimbo. Except for the night of Santa Anna’s attempted escape, they were always silent. The legend of the ghost dogs and their desperate search for their master added an aura of mystery to the story of Santa Anna’s imprisonment.
Residents of West Columbia caught glimpses of the dogs as they wandered silently in the woods near Orozimbo. Three ghostly dogs fitting the same description reportedly were seen by a man and his wife as recently as 1974 near the cemetery and ancient oak tree that are the last remnants of the fabled plantation.
Nearly 150 years after the event, Catherine Munson Foster wrote of the canine apparitions in the spring 1984 edition of Texas Heritage magazine. “There are those who believe, or say they believe, that the ghost dogs of Orozimbo are the same animals still standing guard, alert to give the alarm should the specter of a long-dead Santa Anna make another attempt to escape.”
Read more of Martha Deeringer’s writing at marthadeeringer.com.