Up until 1991, there was a giant oak tree, out in the middle of an otherwise open space, that was all that marked the once mighty Texas plantation known as Orozimbo. Orozimbo was famed for one momentous event in Texas history: it was there that the captured Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was held a prisoner after he was captured following the Battle of San Jacinto.
During Santa Anna’s imprisonment at Orozimbo, there was an attempt made by Mexicans loyal to him to rescue him and take him back to Mexico. The attempt failed. Legend says the failure was the result of ghostly intervention.
Remember the Alamo!
The Alamo fell in March 1836, its one hundred eighty-odd defenders killed to a man. A few weeks later, at the battle of Goliad, Texians (as early settlers were known) under the command of Colonel James W. Fannin were defeated by Mexican troops. Of three hundred seventy men taken prisoner in the wake of that defeat, three hundred nine–including Colonel Fannin–were killed on March 27 on direct orders of Santa Anna. Others had already died of wounds; twenty-eight had managed to escape.
The massacre at Goliad, following so close on the fall of the Alamo, galvanized Texians. On April 21, at San Jacinto in what is now Harris County, Texas, a Texian force led by former Tennessee governor (and eventual Texas statesman) Sam Houston launched a surprise attack on Mexican forces led by Santa Anna in person. Some seven hundred Mexican troops were killed or wounded, and another seven hundred captured. Santa Anna tried to make a getaway–by doffing his bright officer’s uniform and dressing as a common soldier–but was captured the next day. He was recognized when other Mexican prisoners saluted him as El Presidente! El Presidente!
Although many Texians–including a wealthy Alamo widow who was said to be openly planning to abduct and execute the dictator–favored putting Santa Anna to death, Houston preferred making a negotiated settlement of hostilities, and intended to take Santa Anna to Washington, DC, where he would be forced to deal with the ornery and hard-bargaining American president, Andrew Jackson.
Until then, the dictator needed to be held somewhere safe, beyond the reach of assassins. After attempts were made on his life at Velasco and Columbia, he was moved upriver to a great plantation called Orozimbo. Orozimbo’s owner, Dr. James Aeneas Phelps, had built up the plantation on a land grant he had received in 1824, and had been a surgeon attached to Houston’s army at San Jacinto, where he tended the wounded Houston himself and was with Houston when he confronted the captive Santa Anna.
Santa Anna was held at Orozimbo from July until November 1836. During that time–sometime late in the fall–Mexican loyalists hatched a plan to break him out of his captivity and spirit him away to Mexico City, where he would as a matter of course repudiate any treaties he had made with Houston and the Texians.
The rescue attempt was planned for a moonless night with a misty rain falling.
It failed miserably, Santa Anna had been warned to be ready to flee; a ringer who gave the guards and other retainers in the Phelps household drugged wine had done his duty well, and all were asleep as the rescuers began to approach the house.
All at once, seemingly from nowhere, there arose an ungodly sound–the baying of an immense pack of hounds that have sighted their prey.
One of the servants at Orozimbo, the first to be aroused from his drugged slumber by the howling of the hounds, saw them. He insisted there were only three of them: thin, half-starved looking things. Two of them were an unearthly white that glowed, even on a moonless night; the third was eerily pink, looking almost as if its hair had all been skinned off. All three had odd, glazed-looking eyes, he recalled. Once the alarm had been raised, they vanished.
No one knew where these hounds came from.
There were no dogs at Orozimbo, then or ever. Dr. Phelps owned none.
Santa Anna’s would-be rescuers fled in terror, knowing their presence had been detected. El presidente eventually was taken to Washington, signed various treaties, and returned to Mexico in disgrace–a disgrace that wasn’t of long duration; he eventually won back the presidency of Mexico.
Yet the hounds–now tacitly acknowledged as ghost dogs–still were seen hanging around the plantation on certain moonless nights.
A few years after the attempted rescue of Santa Anna, a man visited Orozimbo and was told the story of the strange hounds.
This man recognized them from the description given of them. They had belonged to a neighbor of his, upriver at a place known then as Washington-on-the-Brazos. They had, he said, followed their owner everywhere, until he left them at home to go fight for Texas independence. The hounds had seemed to know that he wouldn’t return; they had refused to eat and, eventually, vanished. The man found it odd that they had wound up so far from home.
He added, as an afterthought, that their master had been one of the three hundred nine men murdered at Goliad.
The hounds never left Orozimbo. The plantation is long since broken up; a 1932 hurricane destroyed the big house and outbuildings, and the great oak was burnt to a mere stump in a 1991 fire accidentally set by campers. But people have reported seeing them–two white hounds, another oddly hairless–slinking around the old grounds–as recently as 1974.
The story of the Hounds of Orozimbo is told by Ed Syers in his 1981 book Ghost Stories of Texas. A variation on the legend, told in Richard Alan Young and Judy Dockrey Young’s 1991 book Ghost Stories from the American Southwest, says there were no dogs involved at all: that the howling was the voices of the men who died at Goliad, determined that the man who ordered their deaths would not escape.