The Texas Revolution gave birth to our state’s first heroes, and among those, but often overlooked is James Walker Fannin.
While fate would not allow him the dignity of being able to go down fighting like his comrades at the Alamo, he held out with his men and fought against an army with far superior numbers. In the end, he stood his post and died a soldier, and what better could be said of any man.
He was born in Georgia in 1804, but as his mother and father were not married, he was adopted by his maternal grandfather, James W. Walker. In July 1819, Fannin enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point, but he only stayed for two years, and in November 1821, he withdrew.
After returning to Georgia, he married Minerva Fort and in 1834 they moved to a plantation in Velasco, Texas which would eventually be annexed into the city of Freeport in 1957.
Besides running a plantation, Fannin was also involved in the slave trade, which put him at odds with the Mexican government, who controlled Texas. Soon he became a leader in the Texas Revolution, both as an officer in the Volunteer army and as a financier.
Fannin planned several offensive actions against the Mexican army that never materialized and after becoming disillusioned with the Volunteer Army, he resigned on November 22, 1835. He did not like the undisciplined nature of the volunteer soldiers, and especially disliked the custom of the men electing their own officers. The feeling, however, was mutual, as his men felt he was a poor leader and dislike his attempts at enforcing military order.
In December, he was commissioned as Colonel in the Regular army, and he immediately set about gathering both men and material.
Fannin gathered his forces at La Bahia in Goliad, Texas on February 7, 1836, and it was here that him and his men would meet their fate.
On March 19, under orders from General Sam Houston, Fannin began his retreat to Victoria after learning that his reinforcements from Refugio had been captured. Fannin and his men were captured almost immediately at the Battle of Coleto Creek by Mexican forces led by General Jose Urrea, but not before putting up a fierce fight and killing one hundred Mexican soldiers.
The Texas Revolutionaries were taken back to La Bahia, where they were all executed on March 27, 1836. Fannin was the last to be executed, as he was injured.
He was seated in a chair in the middle of the courtyard and blindfolded. He asked that his possessions be given to his family, that he be shot in the heart and that he be given a Christian burial. While his executioner agreed to his request, Fannin was shot in the face, his possessions were divided among several of the soldiers, and his body was burned along with those of his men. After burning, their bodies were left in the open to be ravaged by animals.
While James Fannin had certain major deficiencies in his character, and was not a particularly likeable person by most accounts, he gave his life for freedom. We can’t pick and choose our heroes from some imaginary group of flawless people. Heroes are nothing more than real people with the same balance of good and bad as everyone, but what makes them extraordinary is the fact that when needed, they rise above themselves and do what is necessary.
To pay homage to Colonel James Fannin and his brave men, visit the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site and the Fannin Memorial Monument