At the beginning of the Texas War for Independence, the Texans seized the Presidio La Bahía at Goliad and renamed the old Spanish fort, "Fort Defiance". Colonel James W. Fannin was stationed at the fort with about 500 trained soldiers and militia.
After the fall of the Alamo, Fannin was ordered to retreat to Victoria. He hesitated for several days and by the time he began his march, General José Urrea and about 1500 Mexican troops were upon him. Fannin and his men were surrounded by the Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto. Fannin saw no way to escape without abandoning his wounded, so he agreed to surrender. Col Fannin was unaware that General Santa Anna had ordered all prisoners be executed.
The Texans were taken back to the Presidio and imprisoned in the chapel until March 27, 1836. On that Palm Sunday morning, the prisoners were marched several hundred yards from the fort and at point-blank range, the Mexican forces opened fire on the surprised men. The wounded and dying were then clubbed and stabbed and their bodies were stacked into piles and burned. The number killed was twice as many as had died at the Alamo. 28 did manage to escape by feigning death and other means.
The massacres at the Alamo and Goliad turned public opinion against Santa Anna in the United States and Europe and aroused the anger of the people of Texas. "Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!", become the rousing battle cry of the victorious Texans at the Battle of San Jacinto.
In June of 1836, General Thomas J. Rusk passed through Goliad in pursuit of the retreating Mexican army and came upon the scene of the massacre. His troops gathered the remains and buried them with military honors.
However, the site remained unmarked and its location was almost lost to time. In 1858, George Von Dohlen of Goliad piled up a bunch of rocks on what he believed to be the site. In 1930, a Boy Scout troop reported finding bones around the pile of rocks. Historians verified the authenticity of the gravesite and in 1938, a massive pink granite monument was built.
Every March, a reenactment of the occupation of the fort and the massacre of Col. Fannin and his men is held nearby during the Goliad Massacre-Fort Defiance Living History Program