José Francisco Ruiz, military officer and public official, was born about January 28, 1783, to Juan Manuel Ruiz and María Manuela de la Peña and baptized eight days later in the parish church of San Fernando de Béxar (now San Antonio). It is said that he went to Spain for his final years of schooling. In 1803 he was appointed San Antonio's schoolmaster. The designated site for the school was a house on Military Plaza acquired earlier by Juan Manuel Ruiz and passed on to his son. This same house, suffering from the ravages of time and business encroachment, was removed from its original location in 1943 and carefully reconstructed on the grounds of the Witte Museum, where it is still used for educational purposes.
Ruiz was elected regidor on the San Antonio cabildo or city council in 1805. His duties involved assisting the síndico procurador (city attorney) in administering the affairs of a public slaughterhouse. In 1809 he was elected procurador. Beginning a long military career, he joined the Bexar Provincial Militia on January 14, 1811, with the rank of lieutenant. He joined the Republican Army at Bexar and served first under José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and then José Álvarez de Toledo y Dubois. He took part in the battle of Medina on August 18, 1813, and with the defeat of the revolutionaries and a price on his head, Ruiz was "obliged to emigrate to the United States of the North." His nephew, José Antonio Navarro, who was also in exile, wrote of their "wandering in the State of Louisiana." When a proclamation of general amnesty was issued on October 10, 1813, to the Mexican insurgents, Francisco Ruiz, Juan Martín de Veramendi, and a few others were excepted. The Ruiz family was on the "List of Insurgents for the Month of March 1814." Ruiz remained in exile until 1822, and spent part of this time with the Indians. In 1821, at the order of Augustín de Iturbide, he "occupied himself in making peace with the Indians until he succeeded in getting the hostile tribes of the North, the Comanches and Lipans, to present themselves in peace." In a letter to Antonio M. Martínez Ruiz writes that he will leave Natchitoches, Louisiana, on November 1, 1821, in compliance with the commission conferred on him by Gaspar López, commandant general of the Eastern Internal Provinces, and take the Indians to the capitol if possible.
In 1822, his long exile ended, Ruiz returned to Texas, where he was appointed to the Mounted Militia. That same year he traveled with a party of Indians to Mexico City, where the Lipans signed a peace treaty ratified in September 1822 by the Mexican government. Ruiz was promoted in 1823 to army captain, unassigned, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His commission was confirmed on September 23, 1825. On June 22, 1826, he wrote the president of Mexico requesting the command of a post. He was sent to Nacogdoches in December 1826 to help put down the Fredonian Rebellion, and by April 1827 he was in command of a detachment there. In 1828 Ruiz returned to Bexar, where he commanded the Álamo de Parras company (see SECOND FLYING COMPANY OF SAN CARLOS DE PARRAS) and assisted Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán in his study of the Texas Indians. It was probably during this time that Ruiz wrote his "Report on the Indian Tribes of Texas in 1828," preserved in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. During his years in the military Ruiz gained the trust of the Indians as negotiator. The Shawnees referred to him as "A good man no lie and a friend of the Indians."
With the passage of the Law of April 6, 1830, General Mier instructed Antonio Elozúa, military commandant in Bexar, to dispatch Ruiz with the Alamo de Parras company to establish a military post on the Brazos at the upper crossing of the Bexar-Nacogdoches road. Its primary purpose was to prevent further American colonization from this direction. Ruiz set out on June 25, 1830, with his company and kept a diary of the trip, in which he recorded their arrival at the Brazos on July 13, 1830. They chose a site on August 2 on the west side of the river, in what is now Burleson County, and gave their post the name Fort Tenoxtitlán. Colonel Ruiz encountered many difficulties as commandant of the fort-isolation, hostile Indians, and desertions and other crimes. The post suffered shortages of food, funds, and military personnel. In a letter to his friend Stephen F. Austin on November 26, 1830, Ruiz stated that he was tired of his command and wanted to get out of military service. He longed to obtain land and build a house so he could bring his family from Bexar and settle down as a rancher. On October 16, 1831, he wrote Vice President Anastasio Bustamante asking to be separated from the army because of failing health. He outlined his military career and asked for retirement or a permanent leave. In a letter of November 13 to his friend and superior Elozúa, Ruiz described a debilitating illness that had impaired his hearing and caused his hair to fall out. On August 15, 1832, he received orders to abandon the fort and move his troops back to Bexar. Ruiz received his retirement and military pay from the Mexican government at the end of 1832. On January 17, 1836, James W. Robinson, lieutenant governor of the provisional government of Texas, appointed him one of five commissioners to treat with the Comanche Indians. When the struggle for Texas independence gained momentum in 1835, Ruiz allied himself with its cause. He traveled to Washington-on-the-Brazos in late February 1836 as a delegate to the Convention of 1836. There he and his nephew José Antonio Navarro signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836, the only native Texans among the fifty-nine men who affixed their names to this document.
Still away from his home in the service of the republic, Ruiz wrote his son-in-law, Blas María Herrera, on December 27, 1836, from Columbia, Texas. In this letter, still in family possession, he eloquently expressed his affection and longing for his family and his support for the young Republic of Texas. "Under no circumstance," he wrote, "take sides against the Texans . . . for only God will return the territory of Texas to the Mexican government." Ruiz represented the Bexar District as its senator in the First Congress of the Republic of Texas, from October 3, 1836, to September 25, 1837. He was a Catholic. He was married in San Antonio on March 8, 1804, to Josefa Hernández. They had four children, of whom one was Francisco Antonio Ruiz, alcalde of San Antonio during the battle of the Alamo. Besides the property Ruiz owned in and around San Antonio, in 1833 and 1834 he received eleven leagues of land that is now part of Robertson, Brazos, Milam, Burleson, and Karnes counties. Ruiz died in San Antonio, probably on January 19, 1840, and is buried there.