History goes hands-on

Presidio La Bahia Director Scott McMahon practices "cording," a way to make rope sans tools, during the Presidio's "Wayback Wednesday" program June 30. (Photo by Thomas Leffler)

Finding a hands-on guide to history is a rare opportunity. The Goliad community, particularly students, ditched the textbooks this summer to experience “living history” at Presidio La Bahia.

The Presidio, a Goliad landmark for centuries, is used as the hub for “Wayback Wednesdays,” a summer program put on by Presidio Director Scott McMahon. The 2021 edition has focused on the Texas Revolution, with different themed Wednesdays through June and July.

Different themes includes the weapons of Texian solders posted to the Presidio (also known as Ft. Defiance), as well as the clothing of the Kentucky Mustangs.

“The program is designed with schoolkids in mind, and the hope is that by bringing this stuff to life during living history, it would be more exciting than just reading it in the book,” McMahon said. “It gives people a hands-on experience. I had kids this morning that were picking up, handling things. I was showing them how to use flint and steel like how you would (previously) start a fire. It’s very hands-on, more a tangential-type program, you can really get a better feel for what it was like at the time.”

McMahon, usually found in full period garb during the Wednesday sessions, has more than just himself to rely on for interpreting history. History enthusiasts from across the area join the Presidio to teach their specialties.

“It’s great ... I’ve had people in Victoria, I’ve had people from out towards Oakville, I’ve had people from down in Sinton,” McMahon said. “People just come out and set up and talk about whatever they’re interested in. The focus is on the Presidio, but whatever period of history they’re interested in. It’s kind of neat to bring in other people and get a little support from outside the walls of the Presidio.

The final Wednesday of June focused on the fighting surrounding the Mexican War of Independence in 1812-13. The precursor to the Texas battles for freedom 20 years later, the famous expedition by Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara and Augustus Magee crossed through Goliad with a force of around 300 men.

“The idea that Texas would be an independent republic has been around for a long time,” McMahon said. “The idea starts with the Mexican War for Independence, that whole tribe being independent from Spain ... (Gutierrez and Magee began) to formulate a plan to liberate Texas from Spanish rule.”

A coalition “straight out of a movie,” McMahon noted, were housed at the Presidio during this time period. Along with area participants were several Native American tribes from eastern Texas, including Cherokee and Apache representatives.

“These guys came down here and fought Spanish troops in Nacogdoches ... fought all the way to La Bahia,” McMahon said. “Some of those Spanish soldiers deserted and joined up with those guys, so in late 1812 it would’ve been a wild looking army here.”

McMahon’s wares include numerous clothing items from the time period and other essentials. No farming tools were noted, something McMahon said matches up with the time frame. Ranching was not a pastime of the early 19th century, with area cattle herders trading their cows for corn and other crops during that period.

“You think of everybody (then) being really self-sufficient, when I look at (land reports of the period), I’m not sure they were quite that way ... it might’ve been in a time of drought, that’s why they weren’t growing anything, but when you start looking at the guys who were here and the first-hand accounts, it paints a little different picture from what you would expect.”

For more about the Presidio and the Wayback Wednesday program, going through the remainder of July, call 361-645-3752 or visit www.presidiolabahia.org.

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

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