Fannin County’s Goliad Massacre survivor
By Malinda Allison, Fannin County Historical Commission
Mar 28, 2024
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Fannin County, Texas -- Fannin County citizens might be surprised to learn that one of the few survivors of the Goliad Massacre lived in Fannin County and is buried at Grove Hill Cemetery.

As a reminder, during the Texas War for Independence Colonel James Fannin (after whom Fannin County was later named) commanded over 300 Texas troops at Goliad. This was after the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Other soldiers joined these troops at Goliad. Facing overwhelming force, Fannin surrendered to the Mexican Army, expecting that his troops would soon be released. On March 27, Palm Sunday, between 425 and 445 Texians were marched into an open field and executed. Colonel Fannin was later executed. The bodies were burned. Some men, including those with medical training, were not killed.

Photo of James Fannin

Among the survivors was Joseph Fenner.

Joseph Fenner and his brother Robert left Alabama in 1836 to help Texas fight for independence. Joseph was 15 years old. Robert was killed at Goliad, but Joseph survived.

In 1835 in Courtland, Lawrence County, Alabama a company was recruited by Dr. Jack Shackelford to go to Texas and join the fight for independence. The Alabama State Arsenal furnished new muskets. The company called themselves “Red Rovers.” They wore homespun, homemade cotton uniforms, dyed a dark red. They camped for several weeks on the Courtland square and drilled while preparing for the journey to Texas.

The Red Rovers, sixty in number, left Courtland on December 12, 1835 on the train. They later traveled by steamboat, eventually reaching New Orleans. They reached Texas at Matagorda Bay on January 19, 1836.

On February 2, 1836 Dr. Shackelford received instruction to proceed to Goliad and place his company under the command of Colonel Fannin. They marched through bad weather and reached Col. Fannin on February 10.

On February 19 Col. Fannin’s army was in retreat. For some reason three men from the Red Rovers, including Joseph Fenner, were ordered to scouting duty with another company. That assignment saved his life.

The retreat was a disaster and Colonel Fannin surrendered. Robert Fenner was among the men who were later executed on March 27. Joseph Fenner was away from the main force on patrol at the time of surrender.

Eventually eight Red Rovers returned home, and the remains of fifty-one were eventually buried at the Goliad monument.

According to Ruth Leslie Barrett, there is no record of Joseph Fenner’s service “with Houston at San Jacinto” and he did not claim that service in his pension request. “It must be accepted that Mary Fenner [Joseph’s wife] based the inscription she used on her husband’s tombstone only on his personal testimony to her.”

Tombstone at Grove Hill Cemetery - “He was with Fannin at Goliad and Houston at San Jacinto”

Joseph Fenner returned to Alabama and apparently lived with his family until after his father’s death in 1847. In 1852 he was living in Tippah County, Tennessee.

In 1852 Joseph Fenner, then almost 35 years old, married 18-year-old Mary Gossett, and in 1860 they were living in Tippah County, where they owned a farm. They had 3 children at that time.

After the devastation of the Civil War the family left Mississippi and were in Arkansas by the 1870 census. Joseph was 52 years old and Mary was 35.

In 1871 their daughter, Lucy, then 17, married John T. Leslie, who was 23. In the fall of 1872 the young couple migrated with other Leslie family to Fannin County, Texas, eventually settling in the Bailey area. In 1874 John T. Leslie drove a covered wagon back to Arkansas and brought Joseph Fenner and his family back to Texas. Joseph Fenner bought a farm of 80 acres.

Joseph Fenner was entitled to a pension from the State of Texas for his service at Goliad. He filed an application in 1875 and received his pension until his death in 1896. He also received land grants of about 5,000 acres.

In 1962 the State of Texas honored him with a marker on his gravesite.

Joseph Fenner, Texas War for Independence Veteran, Member Shackleford’s Company, Colonel Fannin’s Command, 1836

Note: This story about Joseph Fenner is primarily condensed from the marvelous book The Fenner Forebears of Samuel Fenner Leslie by Ruth Leslie Barrett, which is  available at the Portal to Texas History:

Note: The Leslie family made significant contributions to the Bailey area and Fannin County and members of the family were well known. Sam Fenner Leslie served as Fannin County Attorney and Fannin County Judge.