Lay your hands on the cannon believed to have fired the first shot of the Texas Revolution. Clap your hands for Ruby Begonia, the racing turkey. Run your hands over the cool stone walls of the oldest Spanish fort west of the Mississippi. Perhaps nowhere is Texas’ history deeper, or richer, than along a U.S. 183 route that encompasses three county seats—Gonzales, Cuero and Goliad—and gently bends through Southeastern Texas. The route is simple enough: Drive about 32 miles from Gonzales to Cuero and about another 32 on to Goliad. It’s a pastoral tour with pastures and rolling hills. But the history along the way is as fierce as the Mexican and Texan soldiers who once spilled blood in battle. It’s as vicious as the Goliad Massacre and as wild as the black Spanish cattle that paved the way for Longhorns.
Here, history looms as large as the “Come and Take It” cannon painted on the city’s water tower. The tiny weapon mounted on wooden wheels in the Gonzales Memorial Museum may not look like much, but when you learn the history behind what some historians say was the cannon used in the Battle of Gonzales—and grab hold of its barrel—feel the goosebumps rise. In 1831, the Mexican government gave settlers a cannon for protection but ultimately demanded that it be returned. The Texans said no, and on October 2, 1835, confronted Mexican forces with the cannon and a flag saying “Come and Take It!” Accounts say that when the upstart settlers fired the cannon, the Mexican soldiers fled. That first shot for Texas independence will be relived October 3–5 during the annual Come and Take It Festival. The shot is re-enacted at the Gonzales Pioneer Village Living History Center.
Old Jail Museum and Chamber of Commerce, (830) 672-6532, www.gonzalestexas.com
Gonzales Memorial Museum, (830) 672-6350
Gonzales Pioneer Village Living History Center, (830) 672-2157, www.gonzalespioneervillage.com
Stay in Cuero—the self-proclaimed Turkey Capital of the World—for any length of time, and soon you’ll be talking turkeys. Make that lots of turkeys, as in the thousands that farmers once herded to town en route to packing plants. A century ago, visitors flocked to Cuero to see as many as 20,000 turkeys paraded through Cuero. The turkey drives are gone, but thousands of spectators still gather annually (October 10-12 this year) for Turkeyfest and the Great Gobbler Gallop. Cuero’s turkey, Ruby Begonia, races Paycheck, his archrival from Worthington, Minnesota, for the Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph. (And now you know why the Cuero High School football team is called the Gobblers.) But turkeys aren’t the only attraction: Cuero and DeWitt County—which the state Legislature declared the Wildflower Capital of Texas in 1999—show off their blooming beauty from April 1-30 during the Wildflower Celebration.
Head south of town to visit the Presidio La Bahía—the oldest Spanish fort west of the Mississippi River and the only fully restored Spanish presidio in Texas—and the accompanying Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. Franciscan priests established the original Mission Espíritu Santo in 1722 at Matagorda Bay, near Presidio La Bahía (the Bay), which was built in 1721 near what is now called Lavaca Bay. After two moves, both forts were relocated to opposite banks of the San Antonio River.
It was in the presidio’s chapel, on December 20, 1835, that the first Declaration of Texas Independence was formally declared. And it was here, near the fort, that Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered the execution of Col. James Walker Fannin and 341 of his men on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836. An onsite monument honors the victims of the Goliad Massacre, some of whom are buried on the grounds. The presidio’s chapel is an active church and retains its original walls and groin-vaulted ceiling.
Goliad County Chamber of Commerce, (361) 645-3563, www.goliadcc.org
Presidio La Bahía, (361) 645-3752, www.presidiolabahia.org
Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, (361) 645-3405, www.tpwd.state.tx.us
Camille Wheeler of Austin has started hitting the road for Texas Co-op Power.