Letter from Goliad, 1836

A son's final letter home before the Goliad Massacre

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by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content

Many of the men serving in the Texas Army during the Revolution were volunteers from the United States. Lured by adventure, conquest, and the promise of land, young men like John Sowers Brooks came to Texas hoping to aid the cause and make their mark on history.

John Brooks (1814–1836) was originally from Staunton, Virginia. He was a professional soldier, having enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1834. His enlistment papers describe him as a young man, 5'9" with a sandy complexion, red hair, and blue eyes. He was promoted to Corporal in 1835 but was dissatisfied with the Corps and his work as a drill instructor and soon after obtained his discharge from the Corps.

In making his plans for life after the Corps, Brooks expressed an interest in joining the Texas cause. He wrote his brother in August 1835 that "there is a strong probability of a rupture between the Mexican Government and the Province of Texas. There is then some hope, of my finding active employment in a military capacity there." By November, Brooks writes to his father that he is on his way to Texas, "bound for the port of Brazoria, for the purpose of volunteering in the 'Rebel Army' of Texas . . . in defence [sic] of the holy rights for which Texas is now contending."

Why would a young man with no ties to Texas be so willing to fight for its cause? For Brooks, he had always hoped for a military career and finding it closed to him in the United States, he hoped the Texas army would have a place for him. But conviction contributed to his actions.

"I trust I have a holier motive than mere ambition, for abandoning my native country . . . to encounter the dangers and turmoils of war in a foreign land. There is something in the cause of the Texanians [sic] that comes home to the heart of every true American . . . I hope and believe that there are many youths of our country who have inherited enough of the spirit of their fore-fathers to induce them to . . . join the holy crusade against priestly tyranny and military despotism."

Brooks arrived in Texas in late December 1835. His letters to his family during the following months were filled with details of camp life, troop movements, Texas politics, speculation, hope, despair, and philosophy. By February 1836 Brooks found himself at Goliad under the command of James Fannin where he remained through March. His last letter home, seen here, was written on March 10. In it, Brooks describes what the Texas troops were expecting.

“We have just been advised that he [Santa Anna] intended dispatching 1000 men from Béxar [San Antonio] to form a junction with the 650 at San Patricio, and then reduce this place. We have 450 men here, and 12 pieces of small artillery.”

It would not be enough to secure a victory for the Texans. Brooks was injured in the Battle of Coleto Creek on March 19–20 in which Fannin and his men surrendered and were marched back to Goliad as prisoners. Brooks was executed, along with Fannin and over 300 other soldiers, by Mexican troops on March 27.

"My prayer has been . . . to die on the field of battle, with the shout of victory in my ears; and, if it is the will of high Heaven, that that fate should meet me now, I will not murmur."

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Letter from Goliad, 1836 Artifact from Goliad, Texas
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