Thursday, September 30, 2021

Was Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez A Patsy?

Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez was legally hanged in Texas in 1863 for the murder of John Savage.

Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez's life story is a bit of a mystery since very little is known about her. Today, depending on what sources you read, it seems the story of her life is one that's hard to separate fact from fiction. 

For example, there is a question about her name because some say Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez might not have been her real name. To add to that, some question her reported date of birth of December 30, 1799, in Mexico. So besides her name, her age when the state of Texas hanged her might be in question. 

Most do agree that she was the daughter of a Mexican soldier by the name of Pedro Rodríguez. He deserted from General Santa Anna's army when Texas was fighting for its independence. Interestingly, her father, Pedro Rodriguez, supposedly fled Santa Anna's army and brought his wife and daughter to Texas. It's interesting because it's not every day that we hear about a deserter who took his whole family with him. Usually, deserters are trying to get away with as little a trail as possible. In his case, he took his entire family to San Patricio de Hibernia, Texas. 

From there, he left them to join the Texas forces to fight against Santa Anna. Yes, to fight against the army, he just deserted. Pedro Rodríguez was supposedly killed in one of the battles, but I haven't determined which one. 

The settlement that became San Patricio, Texas, started attracting settlers in 1829. The small settlement was created by the Mexican government as a place for 200 Irish-American Catholic families. Those families were migrating to Texas, which was part of Mexico at the time. Since Mexico was a Catholic country, the Mexican government required everyone migrating to Mexico to either be Catholic or become Catholic. Sadly for San Patricio, the conflict between Texas and Mexico was brewing. 

Because of the Texas war for independence, by 1836, most there had fled to safety elsewhere. The town was almost abandoned until 1845. That was when U.S. Army General Zachary Taylor and his troops arrived. General Taylor was commander of the force ordered to Texas after annexation. He was ordered to Texas because of the invasion of Texas by Mexico in 1842 when they attempted to take Texas back as their own. 

Gen. Taylor was ordered to establish his base camp at Corpus Christi. Because of the threat from Mexico, it's said that by the spring of 1846, that base housed nearly half of the United States Army. So imagine the economic boom that took place there due to all of those troops needing places to spend their money. While that was big enough to create and sustain many towns for years, more settlers also came to the area. So with them and having the soldiers and fort personnel nearby, soon the town of San Patricio began to thrive. 

The town became a stopping place and supply station for travelers along what later became known as the "Cotton Road." The area was not on the front lines of the Civil War but was critical to the "Cotton Road," a smuggling route used by the Confederacy to trade with Mexico. 

Of course, the outlaws, saloons, gamblers, leaches, and traders of various sorts but legitimate and shady also came with newfound prosperity. Along with these groups, we find the population of San Patricio trying to scratch out a living from these assorted people just passing through.

There is a story about how Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez took up with a drifter and had a son by him. The rest of that story simply says he was not anchored to San Patricio and left. The unbelievable part of that story is that the drifter took his son with him. Yes, supposedly leaving Chipita to fend for herself. 

Before someone writes to ask if I believe that story, let me say that it would have been out of character for a drifter to take an offspring with him. Reality and human nature being what it is, the world is full of stories of those drifting along, leaving a trail of un-wed mothers in their wake. Even today, some seem to think their mission on earth is to plant seeds wherever they've been. Yes, the modern-day version of Johnny Appleseed -- who is said to have traveled across the country planting apple trees wherever he went. 

Did that happen to Chipita? Did she meet and fall in with a drifter? Did she bear a son, and did he leave with that son? Actually, the problem is that no one knows for sure if it's true or not. As I said earlier, as for Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez, her life story is a bit of a mystery since very little is known about her. 

What we do know is that by the time she was either 60 years of age or about that age, Chipita furnished travelers with meals and a cot on the porch of her lean-to shack on the Nueces River. That's what we know for sure. She provided food and a place to sleep for travelers. Most likely, it was maybe one or two at a time. 

One traveler was John Savage. In August of 1863, he was found murdered with an ax floating in the Nueces River. Supposedly, he was carrying $600 in gold. The people of San Patricio immediately assumed that Chipita murdered and robbed him. 

Believe it or not, even after the gold was recovered when it was found in a burlap bag in the Nueces River north of San Patricio, she was still believed to have murdered him. A shadow of doubt was present, but that didn't matter. 

Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez and Juan Silvera, a young man who some sources say was actually her illegitimate son, were indicted for murder and robbery. Was Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez the mother of Juan Silvera? Who knows. As for the evidence, there was very little, and it was circumstantial at best. But that didn't matter. They went before Fourteenth District Court Judge Benjamin F. Neal at San Patricio, and they were found guilty. 

Chipita begged for her life and that of Juan Silvera. She pleaded not guilty, and believe it or not, the jury recommended mercy in the case. Fourteenth District Court judge Benjamin F. Neal didn't care what the jury recommended and ordered her executed on November 13, 1863. 

As with many court records in various towns that were lost to fires, almost everything about her trial was lost to a fire. The few transcripts that survived have discrepancies, which would have been grounds for a new trial in today's world. Some of the discrepancies had to do with the sheriff acting as a jury member and the jury foreman. And as for a lawyer to defend her, she didn't have one. What was her defense? Her only defense was her words, "I'm not guilty." 

She didn't stand a chance. And as for an appeal? There was no appeal or motion for a retrial. She was carted off in the back of a wagon to a hanging tree. And there, she was hanged before being placed in an unmarked grave.

Okay, as for all of the conspiracy folks who wrote to ask if I think she was killed to keep her quiet "since she had evidence of wrongdoings by politicians"? No, I don't. Besides, why would anyone believe that nonsense? 

Let's remember that she was illiterate, uneducated, poor, spoke limited English, and was killed because someone said she committed murder and robbery. Yes, even though there were no witnesses, nothing to substantiate those charges, and the money had been found elsewhere -- money not connected to her or Juan Silvera -- she was hanged. Doesn't there seem like something is wrong with that? Keep in mind that the only evidence used to say that Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez killed John Savage was that he ate and slept at her home the night before he was killed with an ax and thrown in the river. 

So now, John Savage was found dead in mid-August, and by early November, Chipita and Juan were to be hanged. While that might sound like some speedy justice to take care of a bad hombre? Some still thought that was too long to wait. In fact, it is said that while she was being held at County Sheriff William Means's home, that there were two attempts to lynch her. The attempts were supposedly thwarted by the sheriff. Wanting to lynch an old woman already destined to hang in a few days makes me wonder if there were other reasons for wanting her dead? 

Of course, while part of the Texas legend about her says that she was kept in leg irons and chained up, I can't help but feel that she was just an old Mexican woman who may have been an easy patsy. After all, why else was there such a rush to execute her? Did the real killers want her dead so they could move on? Did the real killer or killers of John Savage also get away with murdering Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez?

Tom Correa

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