During the War for Texas Independence volunteers came from all over the United States and Europe to fight for the cause and to gain the large tracts of free land offered to volunteers. Some came in organized militia units like the "Kentucky Mustangs" and the "New Orleans Greys". One such unit that probably stood out more than all others was a group of 61 volunteers from the small town of Courtland in northern Alabama. Probably no other unit in the Texas army was so "colorful". They were organized by local doctor Jack Shackelford and named the Alabama Red Rovers because of their red uniforms. The unit included about one third of the entire adult male population of Courtland. For $600 they purchased U.S. muskets and equipment from the Alabama State Arsenal and had their distinctive uniforms made by supportive local ladies. Their primary uniform consisted of a bright red hunting shirt, fringed on the sleeves and shoulders of a "linsey woolsey" material and dyed in their distinctive color. The unit also had a "dress" uniform which consisted of a red velvet cap and jacket with white trousers and a blue sash. Their flag was likewise solid red.
The Red Rovers left Alabama in December of 1835 and joined the command of Colonel James Walker Fannin at Goliad, Texas. Placed in the Lafayette Battalion, they accompanied the attempted retreat from Goliad which ended at the battle of Coleto Creek. The Texians were caught in open country when Fannin and his column were overtaken by the advance cavalry and light infantry of the Mexican forces under General Jose Urrea. Knowing that they would stand little chance against the elite Mexican cavalry without cover in open country, the Red Rovers favored moving on until they reached the cover of the tree line along Coleto Creek. However, Fannin decided to stand and fight so the Texians formed up in a hollow square, baggage in the middle and their canon at the corners. They fought off all of the Mexican attacks, but were nonetheless trapped and immobilized.
The Mexican light infantry had killed all of the Texians' oxen, and the men quickly used up all of their water. The Texians were becoming dehydrated and their cannon could not be fired because no water was available to cool the barrels down. The Red Rovers and some other companies wished to fight on to the bitter end, but Fannin ultimately decided it was best to surrender on the under-standing that they would be paroled back to the United States. However, this was not to be. After being held in the presidio at Goliad for some time, General Santa Anna gave strict orders that anyone from a foreign country taken in arms must be executed. On Palm Sunday, 1836, almost 400 Texians, including the vast majority of the Alabama Red Rovers, were marched about a mile into the countryside and massacred. Dr. Shackelford was spared in order to help treat the Mexican wounded (as Santa Anna had brought no medics or priests from Mexico), but his son and almost his entire commend were executed, some shot, others bayoneted and some ridden down and lanced by Mexican cavalry as they tried to escape. The men who had been wounded at Coleto were likewise dragged outside the chapel of the presidio and shot as well, including Colonel Fannin.