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RODRIGUEZ, JOSEFA [CHIPITA]

RODRÍGUEZ, JOSEFA [CHIPITA] (?–1863). Josefa (Chipita) Rodríguez was for many years considered to be the only woman legally hanged in Texas. Most of her story verges on legend; facts surrounding her arrest, trial, and execution are scant, and many aspects of her story, including the name Josefa, cannot be verified. She is believed to have been the daughter of Pedro Rodríguez, who is said to have fled from Antonio López de Santa Anna. Chipita moved with her father to San Patricio de Hibernia, Texas, while quite young, and for many years after Rodríguez's death furnished travelers with meals and a cot on the porch of her lean-to shack on the Aransas River. When Cotton Road traveler John Savage was murdered with an ax, presumably for the $600 in gold which he had been carrying, Chipita was accused of robbery and murder. Recovery of the gold from the Aransas River north of San Patricio, where Savage's body was found in a burlap bag, raised substantial doubt about the motive for the crime, but Josefa Rodríguez and Juan Silvera (who sources suggest may have been her illegitimate son) were indicted on circumstantial evidence and tried before Fourteenth District Court judge Benjamin F. Neal at San Patricio. After Chipita pleaded not guilty, the jury recommended mercy, but Neal ordered her executed on November 13, 1863. For some time she was held at sheriff William Means's home in Meansville, where two attempts by a lynching mob were thwarted. According to legend, Chipita was kept in leg irons and chained to a wall in the courthouse. There, local children brought her candy and shucks to make cigarettes. At the time, she was described as "very old" or "about ninety," but was probably in her sixties.

The court records, except for a week of transcripts, were burned in a courthouse fire or lost in a flood, and many discrepancies exist in trial accounts. From these it has been determined that no list of qualified jurors existed, but the sheriff, instructed as jury foreman to produce "at least twenty qualified men," produced closer to thirty; at least three members of the grand jury also served on the trial jury; the foreman of the grand jury was the sheriff who arrested her; members of both juries had been indicted on felony charges; Chipita had little in the way of defense counsel, and her sole defense was the words "not guilty." There was no appeal or motion in arrest of judgment, and though some talk of a retrial may have occurred, none took place. Lore says that resident Kate McCumber drove off hangman John Gilpin when he came for her wagon to transport Chipita to the hanging tree. At least one witness to the hanging claimed he later heard a moan from the coffin, which was placed in an unmarked grave. Many tales have arisen as a result of the trial and the hanging, one of which claims that Chipita was protecting her illegitimate son. Other sources indicate she may have been involved in gathering information to influence the state's decision about which side to take in the Civil War and was framed as a political act. Her ghost is said to haunt the area, especially when a woman is sentenced to be executed. She is pictured as a specter with a noose around her neck, wailing from the riverbottoms. She has been the subject of two operas, numerous books, newspaper articles, and magazine accounts.

In 1985 state senator Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi asked the Texas legislature to absolve Chipita Rodríguez of murder. The Sixty-ninth Legislature passed the resolution, and it was signed by Governor Mark White on June 13, 1985.

Jane Elkins, a slave convicted of murder, was hanged on May 27, 1853, in Dallas. She was the first woman legally hanged in the state.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Francis Edward Abernethy, ed., Legendary Ladies of Texas, Publications of the Texas Folklore Society 43 (Dallas: E-Heart, 1981). Dallas Morning News, November 13, 1994. Rachel Bluntzer Hebert, Shadows on the Nueces (Atlanta: Banner, 1942). Ruel McDaniel, "The Day They Hanged Chipita," Texas Parade, September 1962. San Patricio County in 1976: A Bicentennial Perspective (Sinton, Texas: Sinton Bicentennial Celebrations, 1976). Vernon Smylie, A Noose for Chipita (Corpus Christi: Texas News Syndicate Press, 1970). Ruthe Winegarten, Finder's Guide to the 'Texas Women: A Celebration of History' Exhibit Archives (Denton: Texas Woman's University Library, 1984).

Marylyn Underwood

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Marylyn Underwood, "RODRIGUEZ, JOSEFA [CHIPITA]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fro50), accessed October 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.