That seems to be the majority opinion, at least, of a small group of ex-Refugians who responded to a Pipelines by Putt column published in October which posed the question, “For what is the town best known?”
The group of RHS classmates of the 1960s focused on the 1836 “Battle of Refugio,” and decided the battle should be given the town’s top billing in promoting the community.
The group commented without knowledge of plans currently underway by the Refugio Historical Commission to mark the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Refugio with weeklong activities from March 11-16, 2011.
The commission also plans to dedicate the Kings Park Statue, conduct re-enactments of the battle, and host a wine festival.
The Kings Park statue was erected in 1936 to honor the men who died in the Battle of Refugio but the statue was never dedicated.
“The artist was of Russian descent and fairly well known,” said Bart Wales, museum curator. “He was a declared communist but he might be considered a socialist by today’s standards. That didn’t set well with the citizens so they never dedicated it. Then they planted trees around the statue to hide it.”
William Ward and Amon Butler King are the two officers who engaged in an ill-fated dispute over command of the Texians in Refugio. The Alamo had fallen on March 6.
James “Boogie” Thurmond, Robert “Bob” Montgomery, Bill Winsor, Bill Lawson and David Nelson live in different areas of the state but most agreed, through e-mail correspondence, that the battle is the town’s claim to fame.
“I never liked the Nolan Ryan birth place sign on Highway 77, because, even though Ryan is an honorable person and a Baseball Hall-of-Famer, he did not add anything to Refugio traditions, history or culture,” Thurmond said. “He just happened to be born there. I would have preferred a sign with Welcome to Refugio – site of an 1836 Battle for Texas Independence.”
Thurmond said more publicity is needed than signs.
“There needs to be some substance – some meat – to the claim for what Refugio is known for,” Thurmond said. “And this could be accomplished by providing more information on the battle, e.g., signs at the museum or near Our Lady of Refuge explaining the battle with maps, etc. I have visited enough historical battlefields to know that signage makes all the difference in the world.”
Bob Montgomery agrees with Thurmond with a different take on the signs.
“As to the signs, I would think something along the lines of a dispute between two Texian officers caused the deaths of hundreds would be a fitting tribute to Ward and King,” Montgomery said.
“A sad state of affairs for Texians.”
Bill Winsor said the battle is historically “far more impacting than the other options cited or any I could imagine.”
“Interestingly, the battle of Refugio was not much more than a skirmish, but King’s and Ward’s egos and unwillingness to retreat at the appropriate time ultimately delayed Fannin’s retreat which caused negative hinge factors for the Texas Republic troops,” Winsor said. “Namely, the battle of Coleto and ultimately the Goliad Massacre. Both of these losses could likely have been prevented if King, Ward and Fannin had behaved like commanding officers.”
Hobart Huson chronicled the battle in finite detail, as he was prone to do, never mentioning that Nolan Ryan was born in Refugio in either of his volumes, Winsor says.
“So I rest my case,” Winsor said.
Bill Lawson says “historically, the Battle of Refugio is one of those critical turning points that cannot be ignored, good or bad.”
“No way for Nolan Ryan,” Lawson said. “From what I understand, he was born at the Refugio Memorial Hospital but his family moved before he was one year old – and he eventually grew up in Alvin, I think. “But if Mr. Pate is thinking of something more like a list, I have to think that the impact of oil, especially the Tom O’Connor field, has to be right up there in importance to Refugio and the county.”
The prominence and contribution of the real cowboys – the Hispanic and black cowboys who are often overlooked in many history chronicles – is a big part of Refugio history, Lawson added.
“Louise O’Connor’s “Cryin’ For Daylight” is a great presentation of the impact of cattle and cattlemen/cowboys in the Coastal Bend, with many references to Refugio,” Lawson said.
Lawson included oil and cattle to the list. But at the top of most’s list is Refugio’s part in the Texas Revolution.
“And then there are always those Bobcats. Something in the water there in Refugio,” Lawson said.
At the top of David Nelson’s list is Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission, which was replaced by Refugio’s most prominent landmark, Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church.
“For me, Refugio is best known for what it was intended to be when it was founded, a place of refuge, spiritual ministry and education,” Nelson said.
According to Nelson, the mission was the beginning of the culture that lives today.
“This historic church with its parochial school was an important part of our history and our heritage,” Nelson said. “I believe its influence was instrumental in providing the foundation for the outstanding education facilities which we all enjoyed. While the oil and the ranches provided the financial resources we needed to build our facilities and attract our educators, it was a culture that started almost 200 years earlier which remains today.”
Thurmond’s list of notable Refugio history includes: where the last Spanish mission was established in Texas in 1795; where the Irish impresarios settled; where Sam Houston was elected delegate to the 1835 Independence Convention; and where one of the most productive oil fields in the world is located – the Tom O’Connor Oil Field.
The commission will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in the museum to continue making plans for the anniversary celebration.