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Escaped the Goliad Massacre in 1836


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John Van Bibber's Gravestone:
Evergreen Cemetery
Victoria (Victoria County)
Victoria County
Texas, USA
Plot: Lot 29 #6

Rounded at the top, the stone depicts clasped hands above a draped shield with the words: Sacred to the memory of. Below in large bold raised letters is the name, John Van Bibber. Underneath the name is carved, "a Texas Veteran. Born March 12, 1797 at Point Pleasant, Mason Co., West Va. Died in Victoria, Texas Feb. 22, 1884."

Also at the gravesite is a foot marker with a small star and wreath erected by the State of Texas in 1962. It states: "Served in the Texas War for Independence. Escaped the Goliad Massacre in 1836." The James W. Fannin Society, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Mrs. Ben T. Jordan, Chairman, furnished historical documentation for the marker.

"John Van Bibber served in the War for Texas Independence as a member of Captain B.L. Lawrence's Company of Tennessee volunteers that were organized at Nacogdoches in December, 1835 for fighting at San Antonio, but he did not arrive in time for the surrender of Bexar. His name appears on the rolls of Captain B. H. Duval, Colonel James W. Fannin's Command, as being in this company from December 25, 1835 to February 29, 1836 and has the notation in the "Remarks" column that he escaped the massacre. This escape can be explained by the fact that he was absent on sick leave at the battle on Coleto Creek, March 19, 1836. An unmarried man, he operated a grocery store, made a trip to California during the gold rush and it is said that he had some success."

Additional John Van Bibber Documents:

Muster Rolls of the Texas Revolution, ed. Daughters of the Republic of Texas (Lubbock: Craftsman Printers, Inc. 1986), 35.0
Republic of Texas Poll Lists for 1846, Victoria County, n.p.l.
Federal Census Records:
1860 Victoria County, Texas p. 36 dwelling #270, b. Va., Real Estate Broker, Personal Estate $5,000.00
1870 Victoria County, Texas p. 12, dwelling #90, b. Va., No occupation shown, Value of Real Estate $3000.00
1880 Victoria County, Texas p. 135, dwelling # 6, b. Va., father, mother, b. in Va., single, no occupation, age 83.

Victor Marion Rose, a Victoria newspaper editor, poet, and historian who knew John Van Bibber, mentions him in his collection of historical facts regarding the Settlement of Victoria, Texas. The first mention was 06 August 1840 when John aided Capt. J.O. Wheeler in escaping from the Comanche Indians in the Indian Raid on Victoria. "Capt. J.O. Wheeler was pursued by the Indians into the town of Victoria. . . and but for the fleetness of his horse, "Old Robin," and a prompt diversion created in his favor by Mr. John Van Bibber, must have been killed."

The next mention is when "a number of our citizens took the "gold fever," and went to California%u2014among whom were. . .John Van Bibber [and others]." Rose's mentions John again in 1883 because of his assets%u2014"John Van Bibber, $11,940."

Finally, Rose wrote a brief character sketch of John Van Bibber at the close of his book:

John Van Bibber was probably a native of Virginia, though it is thought he came to Texas immediately from the state of Kentucky, which removal was possibly early as the year 1835, as he was a member of the ill-starred Fannin's regiment; and escaped the Goliad massacre only by reason of his being absent on "sick leave." He located in Victoria, and opened a grocery store opposite the "Ingram house," soon after the retreat of the Mexican army; in which business he continued probably as late as the year 1847, when he went to California, as did P. Rose, the Lansing family; Wash Trayson, and others in Victoria, about that time, in search of the %u2018golden fleece." He returned about the year 1850; having augmented somewhat his future.

When the Comanches pursued J.O. Wheeler into Victoria, in 1840, Mr. Van Bibber ran to his rescue, which had the effect of turning his most determined pursuer, and doubtless saved his life, as the savage was fast gaining upon him. Mr. Van Bibber never married; and has pursued the "even tenor of his way," a familiar object on the streets of Victoria for over a half century. He is yet living, though past four score years of age, and in happy possession of all his faculties. A brother, from California, visited him in the winter of 1883, whom he had not met for over forty years. The changes that he has witnessed in Victoria alone would fill a volume, and prove of exciting interest to the reader. Alas, that none of our early pioneers were commentators, as well as actors in the drama of life! Mr. Van Bibber died in Victoria February, 1884."
A petition made by John Van Bibber to the Republic of Texas stating that he emigrated to Texas in the year 1835 and joined the Division of the Army under the command of Colonel Fannin at Goliad early in the month of January, 1836 under the command of Captain Thomas under whom he served until the 12th of February when he was discharged by Samuel Wilson, Lieutenant commanding and joined Captain Duval's company and was attached to said company until after the Declaration of Independence by the convention of the People of Texas and until his health disabled him from performing the duties of a soldier when he obtained a furlough from Colonel Fannin and a passport from Samuel P. Carson, Secretary of State of the Republic of Texas. He went on to say that in the year 1839 he applied to and received from the Board of Land Commissioners for Victoria County a certificate for one third of a League of Land as a first class head right and located the same in Victoria County. He was refuting a fraudulent claim against his right to the land by stating that the Commissioners refused to recommend his land certificate but that it was a genuine and good claim. He asked for a jury to try his right to a third of a League of Land, etc. The General Land Office in Austin verified his claim that he served faithfully and honorably in the Army of the Republic of Texas. The date of the petition was 20 August 1874. In 1852, for his service and having escaped the Massacre of Fannin, he received a Bounty Warrant #1073 for 320 acres of land in Goliad County near Media Creek. In 1853, he received 320 acres in Bee County, adjacent to Goliad County. When John reached the age of 77, he applied for a pension for his service in the Army of the Republic in 1836. His disposition was approved on 29 June 1871 and he received $250.00.
Probate Court Records in the Victoria County Courthouse reveal numerous files pertaining to the estate of John Van Bibber. There were records permitting John to receive and disperse any monetary sums belonging to or due his cousin, James Van Bibber, who also had come to fight for the Republic of Texas. Next is John's will written on 09 February 1884, shortly less than two weeks before his death, where he named John S. Munn as executor, and H.C. Cunningham, F.A. Fenner, and E.A. Thurber as witnesses. The legatees "devised by the deceased" in his will are as follows:

To the heirs of Joshua Rollins, residence unknown, five hundred dollars.
To the heirs of Cyrus Van Bibber, supposed to reside in Kentucky, five hundred dollars.
To the heirs of Rhoda Tanner, supposed to reside in Kentucky, five hundred dollars.
To the heirs of James Van Bibber, residence unknown, five hundred dollars
To Albert Van Bibber and his heirs three thousand dollars.
To Mrs. Emma Gentry whose maiden name was Emma Hall, five thousand dollars. The file date was 12 March 1884.

On 13 June 1884, Eugene Sibley entered the story. He appeared before the Court and claimed that John S. Munn had "wholly failed to qualify as said Executor and more than twenty days had lapsed since the probate of the will." He stated there were claims due to the estate that were necessary to collect, and sundry matters of business, which required settlement. He stated he was requested by the next of kin of the testators to administer the estate and asked to be duly appointed. On 05 August 1884, Sibley was appointed Administrator of the estate.

The next item was filed 07 October 1884 when Sibley made a report to the Court and stated that Albert Van Bibber, brother of the deceased, claimed one gold watch of probable value of eighty dollars. {There is some speculation that Albert is the brother who came from California to visit John in 1883%u2014the brother he had not seen in 40 years.} The probate note signed by Sibley also stated the whole of the estate consisted of money in the bank and claims in the form of promissory notes totaling $14,824.23.

A year and a half later on 18 January 1886, controversy set in when the heirs of Cyrus Van Bibber and other heirs of John Van Bibber's will filed a petition against Eugene Sibley, Administrator of John Van Bibber's estate, Mrs. Emma Gentry, one of the legatees, and Theodore Buhler, administrator representing Albert Van Bibber, now deceased. They asked that the probate of John Van Bibber's will be revoked and set aside. Their rationale for this request was based on the possibility of John's imbecility when he wrote his will. Cunningham and Tanner testified the will was true and legally executed. The Court denied the petition and ordered the administration of John Van Bibber's will be done without delay.

Three days later, on 13 January 1886, Eugene Sibley claimed that John Van Bibber's will had been duly probated and established in the Court giving legacies as follows:

To the heirs of Joshua Rollins five hundred dollars.
To the heirs of Cyrus Van Bibber five hundred dollars.
To the heirs of James Van Bibber five hundred dollars.
To Albert Van Bibber and his heirs three thousand dollars.
To Mrs. Emma Gentry five thousand dollars.

He further stated there were no debts against the estate yet unpaid and the estate was now ready for distribution among the legatees of the will and the heirs at law of the testator. He gave a lengthy account of the bills he paid and his efforts to locate the Van Bibber legatees. The balance on hand in the account was now $8,035.57.

Additional probate minutes concerned the distribution of the estate. A note of interest since Mrs. Emma Gentry is buried next to John Van Bibber in Evergreen Cemetery, is found on pages 43-44, 20 April 1886: "Mrs. Emma Gentry, a legatee of the Will of John Van Bibber, deceased, came into court and stated that she was living separate and apart from her husband, F.V. Gentry, who was for more than three years absent from this state and living in New Mexico, during which time he had contributed nothing to her support, and who took no care of her pecuniary interests. She prayed the court that the Administrator here in be ordered to pay to her in person the legacy bequeathed to her by said John Van Bibber." The court honored her request.

On 21 July 1886, more than two years after John Van Bibber died, the final accounting, partition, and distribution of his estate was completed and all surviving and deceased heirs are listed along with their current residence. It is a treasure of genealogical information regarding the siblings and heirs of John Van Bibber.

This is only part of John's story, a man born in Point Pleasant, Virginia (now WV) who came to Texas to seek his fortune; a man whose life was spared from the Goliad Massacre by illness; a man who made a place for himself in the history of Victoria, Texas. There is always more to discover, but thanks to the sharing of research by Gary and Earl, and Gary Dunnam of Victoria Preservation, Inc., and by digging into archive, land, and court records, we now have more of John Van Bibber's story, the story between the dashes on his gravestone.
Captain Duval's Company
(Kentucky Mustangs--First Regiment Volunteers from Bardstown)

Captured and Executed 27 March
Captain Burr H. Duval
Lieutenants Samuel Wilson, William Jefferson Merrifield
Sergeants George Washington Daniel, James S. Bagby, Enoch P. Gaines Chisum, William P. Dickerman
Corporals Norborne B. Hawkins, Abner B. Williams, A. H. Lynd, Richard G. Brashear

James Moss Adams, James S. Batts, Fred J. Bellows, William S. Carlson, Thomas T. Churchill, William H. Cole, John Donohoo, H. M. Downman, George Dyer, Charles Ready Haskell, Edward J. Johnson, James P. Kemp, Adams G. Lamond, James A. McDonald, William Mayer, Harvey Martin, Robert Smith Owings, Robert R. Rainey, Samuel Smith Sanders, Lawson S. Simpson, Lewis Tilson, B. W. Tolover, J. Q. Volckner, William Waggoner

Escaped during massacre 27 March
Thomas G. Allen, John Crittenden Duval, John C. Holliday, William Mason, Charles B. Shain, Augustus V. Sharpe

Spared execution by intercession 27 March
John Van Bibber (ill); Sidney Van Bibber, Ulrich Wuthrich

Spared execution for absence or illness 14-27 March
Dr. William H. Magee


  • 1836

GOLIAD MASSACRE~(27 March 1836)

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As part of the Mexican invasion of Texas in early 1836, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his main force of at least 5000 men followed an inland route toward San Antonio. At the same time, Mexican General Jose Urrea with some 900 troops, left Matamoros and followed a coastal route into Texas.

The first town approached by Urrea was San Patricio, where on February 27 he encountered Frank Johnson and about 50 Texans. Johnson and four of his men escaped, but the rest were either killed or captured. A few days later, the Mexicans also fell upon James Grant and another 50 men, and all but one of the Texans were killed.

Citizens of Refugio, the next town in Urrea's path, were slow to evacuate. To provide assistance, James W. Fannin, commander of forces at Goliad, sent two relief forces. The first of these groups numbered about 30 men under Aaron King, followed by a larger group of some 150 men under William Ward. Like Johnson's force, both of these groups were eventually killed or captured by the Mexicans.

Meanwhile back in Goliad, Fannin and his remaining force of about 350 were called on to aid William Barrett Travis and the Alamo defenders. Afterwards, he was also ordered by Sam Houston to retreat with back to Victoria. Due to indecision and carelessness by Fannin, however, he failed to accomplish either of these missions.

After a delay of about five days following Houston's order, Fannin finally began his retreat. It was not long, however, before the Texans found themselves surrounded on open prairie. Several attacks by Urrea resulted each time in the Mexicans being repulsed by the deadly fire of the Texans. By dusk, the Texans had lost about sixty men killed or wounded against some 200 of the Mexicans.

Still heavily outnumbered and with no water and few supplies, the Texans waved the white flag of truce the following morning. Believing that they would be taken captive and eventually returned to their homes, the Texans surrendered the morning of March 20. The were escorted back to Goliad as prisoners.

When news of their capture reached Santa Anna, however, he was furious that the Texans had not been executed on the spot. Citing a recently passed law that all foreigners taken under arms would be treated as pirates and executed, Santa Anna sent orders to execute the Goliad prisoners.

Santa Anna's orders were followed. On Palm Sunday, the 27th of March, the prisoners were divided into three groups, marched onto open prairie, and shot. Thus, all of Fannin's command except a few that managed to escape and several physicians and others deemed useful by the Mexicans, were massacred, collected into piles, and burned.

Like the defenders at the Battle of the Alamo who died only three weeks earlier, the men of Goliad served as martyrs for the remaining forces in Houston's army. Three weeks later, the Texans sought their revenge. Inspired by cries of "Remember Goliad" and "Remember the Alamo," the outnumbered Texans won one of history's most decisive victories at the Battle of San Jacinto.


At dawn of day, on Palm Sunday, March 27th, the Texans were awakened by a Mexican officer, who said he wished them to form a line, that they might be counted. The men were marched out in separate divisions, under different pretexts. Some were told that they were to be taken to Copano, in order to be sent home ; others that they were going out to slaughter beeves ; and others, again, that they were being removed to make room in the fort for Santa Anna.  Dr. Shackleford, who had been invited by Colonel Guerrier to his tent, about a hundred yards southeastwardly from the fort, says: " In about half an hour, we heard the report of a volley of small-arms, toward the river, and to the east of the fort. I immediately inquired the cause of the firing, and was assured by the officer that ' he did not know, but supposed it was the guard firing off their guns.' In about fifteen or twenty minutes thereafter, another such volley was fired, directly south of us, and in front.

At the same time I could distinguish the heads of some of the men through the boughs of some peach-trees, and could hear their screams. It was then, for the first time, the awful conviction seized upon our minds that treachery and murder had begun their work ! Shortly afterward, Colonel Guerrier appeared at the mouth of the tent. I asked him if it could be possible they were murdering our men. He replied that ' it was so ; but he had not given the order, neither had he executed it.' "

In about an hour more, the wounded were dragged out and butchered. Colonel Fannin was the last to suffer. When informed of his fate, he met it like a soldier. He handed his watch to the officer whose business it was to murder him, and requested him to have him shot in the breast and not in the head, and likewise to see that his remains should be decently buried. These natural and proper requirements the officer promised should be fulfilled, but, with that perfidy which is so prominent a characteristic of the Mexican race, he failed to do either ! Fannin seated himself in a chair, tied the hand-kerchief over his eyes, and bared his bosom to receive the fire of the soldiers.

As the different divisions were brought to the place of execution, they were ordered to sit down with their backs to the guard. In one instance, " young Fenner rose on his feet, and exclaimed, ' Boys, they are going to kill us%u2014die with your faces to them, like men !' At same moment, two other young men, flourishing their caps over their heads, shouted at the top of their voices, ' Hurrah for Texas !' "

Many attempted to escape ; but the most of those who survived the first fire were cut down by the pursuing cavalry, or afterward shot. It is believed that, in all, twenty-seven of those who were marched out to be slaughtered made their escape ; leaving three hundred and thirty who suffered death on that Sunday morning.*

* Number of prisoners at Goliad, on the 27th of March, according to Portilla 445
Major Miller's command (80)
Physicians and attendants (8)
Escaped from the slaughter (27)= 115 total spared/escaped
Number who suffered death 330
Names of those who escaped, according to Dr. Shackleford : %u2014
New Orleans Grays : William L. Hunter, William Brannon, John Reese, David Jones, B. H. Holland.
Huntsville Volunteers : Bennett Butler, Milton Irish.
Mustangs : William Morer, John C. Duval, William Mason, John Holliday, John Van Bibber, Charles Spain, Sharpe.
Burke's Company: Herman Eremby, Thomas Kemp, N. J. Devany. Horton's Company : Daniel Martindale, William Hadden, Charles Smith. Red Rovers : Isaac D. Hamilton, D. Cooper, L. M. Brooks, William Simpson. Company not recollected : N. Rosen, William Murphy, John Williams.
Foote, vol. ii., p. 244.

The dead were then stripped, and their naked bodies thrown into piles. A few brush were placed over them, and an attempt made to burn them up, but with such poor success, that their hands and feet, and much of their flesh, were left a prey to dogs and vultures! Texas has erected no monument to perpetuate the memory of these heroic victims of a cruel barbarism ; yet they have a memorial in the hearts of their countrymen more durable than brass or marble.

Colonel Fannin doubtless erred in postponing for four days the obedience to the order of the commander-in-chief to retreat with all possible dispatch to Victoria, on the Guadalupe ; and also in sending out Lieutenant-Colonel Ward in search of Captain King. But these errors sprang from the noblest feelings of humanity : first, in an attempt to save from the approaching enemy some Texan settlers at the mission of Refugio ; again, in an endeavor to rescue King and his men at the same place ; and, finally, to save Ward and his command%u2014until all was lost, but honor.

The "public vengeance" of the Mexican tyrant, however, was satisfied. Deliberately and in cold blood he had caused three hundred and thirty of the sternest friends of Texas%u2014her friends while living and dying%u2014to tread the winepress for her redemption. He chose the Lord's day for this sacrifice. It was accepted; and God waited his own good time for retribution%u2014a retribution which brought Santa Anna a trembling coward to the feet of the Texan victors, whose magnanimity prolonged his miserable life to waste the land of his birth with anarchy and civil war !

  • (27 March 1836)

'Remember the Alamo!


....."Boys, they are going to kill us---die with your faces to them, like men!"......two other young men, flourishing their caps over their heads, shouted at the top of their voices: "Hurra for Texas!" Can Texas cease to cherish the memory of those, whose dying words gave a pledge of their devotion to her cause?--Capt. Jack Shackelford, Survivor of the Massacre

......There was a general cry which pervaded the ranks: 'Remember the Alamo! Remember La Bahia!' These words electrified us all.--Thomas J. Rusk, Secretary of War referring to the defeat of the Mexican Centralista Forces at San Jacinto


John Crittenden Duval was born in Bardstown, KY in 1816 and joined his brother Burr Duval's company of volunteers to aid the fight for independence of Texas.  He attended St. Joseph's College, his father was a Kentucky congressmanand territorial governor of Florida at one time.

After the war, he returned to KY and then studied engineering at the University of Virginia.  Duval returned to Texas as a surveyor, served as a Texas Ranger and spent time as a loner in the wilds away from civilization.   He was a noted writer of both fiction and non-fiction and some credit him with being the first Texas "man of letters."   He was a close associate of famous ranger, Bigfoot Wallace, and met with fellow survivors, Barnard and Hunter, to reminisce over the massacre at Goliad.  He died in Ft. Worth in 1897 and was the last survivor of the massacre at Goliad


GOLIAD, TEXAS The site of Goliad was inhabited by Indians prior to the Spanish establishing a mission and fort in 1749. The Mission was Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiratu Santo de Zuniga. The fort was originally Presidio Nuestra Senora de Loreto de La Bahia. Both the mission and fort had originally been established in 1722 on what is presently Lavaca Bay, hence the designation "La Bahia" - Spanish for bay. An earlier mission (Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario) just west of town was founded in 1754 with the purpose of converting the Indians. The mission was quite successful in breeding cattle, but was abandoned in 1807. There's a marker on the former site four miles west on highway 59. The mission (La Bahia) is considered to be the first large cattle ranch in Texas since it was successful in raising an estimated herd of 40,000. Goliad was set up as a Mexican municipality in 1829. The town of Goliad moved across the river to the present location in 1836 when the county was organized and it was made the county seat of government. Later in its history, Goliad County was the scene of the "Cart Wars" - an ugly series of incidents in Texas history which was brought to a close by a legislative ruling and the employment of the large Live Oak on the courthouse lawn.


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View of the Grave of Fannin and his men
R - Presidio La Bahia
Photos by John Troesser, 7-01


One of Goliad's most endearing legends was also born of the heroism associated with the massacre here--that of the Angel of Goliad.  Panchita Alvarez, wife of a high-ranking officer in the Mexican army is credited with saving at least 28 lives, by begging the commander there to spare them.  One of the survivors, Dr. Bernard, wrote, "Her name deserves to be recorded in letters of gold among those angels who have from time to time been commissioned by an overruling and beneficent power to relieve the sorrows and cheer the hearts of man."

Contributor: bgill
Created: May 24, 2007 · Modified: December 18, 2010

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