Manuel Rodríguez, military leader on the Coahuila-Texas frontier, was born at Monclova, Coahuila, in 1697. From the Red River to El Paso del Norte he led his troops in the Indian wars. He was praised for his dedication to duty by the Marqués de Rubí, and he was instrumental in formation of the line of presidios under the New Regulations for Presidios of 1772. Rodríguez began his career at Monclova, as alcalde ordinario. In the military he rose through the ranks from private soldier to presidial captain. At age twenty he went to the presidio at San Juan Bautista (at present-day Guerrero, Coahuila) and thenceforth was often found assisting Texas military units in Apache campaigns or combatting the troublesome Tobosos in his own province. In 1720, as a volunteer, Rodríguez marched with the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, then Coahuila governor, against the rebel Toboso Indians. As a militia captain Rodríguez took part in 1721–22 in three campaigns led by Blas de la Garza Falcón against the Tobosos. In 1732 both he and Vicente Rodríguez, his younger brother, took the field with Governor Manuel de Sandoval to defeat the Tobosos in La Bavia Arroyo. That same year Manuel joined Juan Antonio de Bustillo y Ceballos, governor of Texas, on an Apache campaign through Central Texas; the Indians were defeated on the San Saba River in the area of present-day Menard County on December 9. Having served twelve years as a militia captain in Coahuila, Rodríguez became alférez in Presidio de Santa Rosa María del Sacramento (Múzquiz, Coahuila) in 1737 and then lieutenant of Presidio del Río Grande at San Juan Bautista the following year. In 1739 he took a contingent from that post for another Apache campaign to the San Sabá River, led by Capt. José de Urrutia of Presidio San Antonio de Béxar. On December 1, 1743, Rodríguez became commandant of the Rio Grande presidio, a post he was to hold for twenty-eight years, except during brief absences on official duties. The only blemish on his record during that time resulted from his disregard of protocol by failing to provide an escort for an incoming governor as promptly as asked. Governor Miguel de Sesma y Escudero removed Rodríguez from command in October 1756 for more than a year, while Lt. Manuel de Cos served in his stead, but at last Rodríguez was absolved by the viceroy of all charges.
When news came of the destruction of the Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission by the Nations of the North in March 1758, Rodríguez, like other frontier commanders, put his post on alert for fear of a widespread native onslaught. As a member of a junta convened in San Antonio de Béxar on January 3, 1759, he helped formulate plans for the Ortiz Parrilla Red River campaign. When the campaign got underway in September 1759, Rodríguez rode at the head of twenty-eight soldiers, militiamen, and Indians from San Juan Bautista, plus a contingent from Presidio de Santa Rosa. Three of his men were wounded and one died in the battle at a site near present-day Spanish Fort. Upon the expedition's return to San Sabá, Rodríguez agreed to remain in charge of the post while Diego Ortiz Parrilla went to Mexico City to report. When Felipe de Rábago y Terán arrived to take charge of the San Sabá garrison in September 1760, he found Rodríguez still in charge. Five years later Rodríguez and Ortiz Parrilla, as interim governor of Coahuila, used their offices to obtain for one Antonio Rivas-formerly a soldier under Ortiz Parrilla-a sizable land grant in the area of present-day Maverick County, Texas. The abstract of title provides an interesting study of how political events of the next century impacted individual land claims along the present international border.
Departure of Governor Jacinto de Barrios y Jáuregui from Coahuila in February 1768 left Manuel Rodríguez in charge as interim governor and military commandant of the province, a fact scarcely noted by historians. During the almost two years that he served in this capacity, Rodríguez, at age seventy-one, made his last campaign, a landmark journey from Santa Rosa to La Junta de los Ríos and the presidio of El Paso del Norte. This was the region that Juan Manuel de Oliván Rebolledo, judge of the royal audiencia, had urged Brigadier Pedro de Rivera y Villalón to explore during his inspection of 1724–28. Rivera had not done so. Nor had the Marqués de Rubí, who had visited the Rio Grande presidio on his inspection tour in November 1767. Rodríguez, his orders indicate, was to join Lope de Cuellar, the Chihuahua military commandant, in a campaign to punish Apaches who had been raiding settlements and ranches throughout Coahuila and Nueva Vizcaya. Yet his journey turned into an unparalleled feat of exploration and an assessment of the Indian problem that may have influenced some of Rubí's recommendations.
Leaving Santa Rosa on July 26, 1769, Rodríguez led his troop over an unmarked trail through the Bolsón de Mapimí, an elevated desert ringed by mountains, with waterholes far apart. Reaching La Junta on August 25, he expected to find Lope de Cuéllar's troop from Chihuahua. When Cuéllar failed to show, Rodríguez proceeded up the Rio Grande to Presidio del Paso del Norte, on the way depriving a band of roving Indians of a herd of stolen Spanish mares. Rodríguez returned to Santa Rosa on December 12, 1769. Reporting to the viceroy, he advised that "it would be an easy matter to open trade with that settlement [Paso del Norte]" with an escort provided by the Coahuila presidios. A short time later he was relieved of the duties of interim governor and commandant by Jacobo de Ugarte y Loyola. He discussed his plan for opening communication to the west with Ugarte, but it was the viceroy, Marqués de Croix, to whom he wrote in detail, outlining, in essence, the plan that was adopted with the New Regulations of 1772, on the recommendation of the Marqués de Rubí. The San Juan Bautista captain urged the establishment of four presidios along the Rio Grande, in the places he had reconnoitered-El Cajón, Julimes, San Vicente or Santa María, and Las Vacas or San Felipe. Left to conjecture is how Rodríguez happened to arrive at a plan so strikingly similar to that of the inspector-general before Rubí's plan was widely known. Whatever the answer, Rubí-in sharp contrast to his appraisal of other frontier presidios and their commanders-was highly complimentary of the Rio Grande post and its captain. Instead of the usual profiteering, the inspector noted, Rodríguez, over a three-year period, had paid his soldiers out of his own pocket; he was regarded by his soldiers with love, confidence, and respect. Rubí promised Rodríguez that he would "relate your most zealous and punctual performance of duty," that he might be accorded "the benefits of the Royal Gratitude."
What passed between Rubí and Rodríguez or Rubí and Viceroy Croix that led to Rodríguez's survey of the region between San Juan Bautista and El Paso is not known. It seems, however, that Don Manuel's exploration and his ensuing recommendations significantly influenced the establishment of the line of presidios along the Rio Grande under the New Regulations. This string of outposts, extending to the Gulf of California, was designed to block the Indians' war trails, thus curbing their raids in Mexico's northern provinces. Only Rodríguez had explored the entire Rio Grande region that was to be involved. He was not, however, to see the fruit of his labors. In the winter of 1771–72 his health failed. His death, following a lengthy illness, came on February 11, 1772. The oldest of his three sons, Francisco, petitioned immediately for appointment to his father's post, enclosing a copy of Rubí's commendatory letter. Francisco, who seems to have done nothing in his thirty-one years to distinguish himself, claimed that his father had left his large family in dire poverty, with many debts. His petition was seconded by his mother, Antonia Rodríguez Morales, and by Governor Ugarte y Loyola. The new viceroy, Antonio María Bucareli y Ursúa, replied that the choice of a new commandant could not be made on the basis of the family's need; Manuel Rodríguez-his selfless service to the king notwithstanding-had been responsible for his financial affairs. Manuel's successor, already the acting commandant, was to be his brother Vicente.