Valdez, José Antonio (ca. 1787–1846)

By: Robert E. Wright, O.M.I.

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: August 5, 2020

José Antonio Valdez, priest of the Catholic diocesan church, was born outside of Texas around 1787, the son of María Gertrudis Flores and most probably Francisco Valdez. From 1794 to 1803, when Father Gavino Valdez, probably a relative, was pastor of San Antonio, José Antonio's family lived in that town. He was probably recently ordained when he returned to San Antonio in February 1811 to replace the chaplain of the Alamo Company (see SECOND FLYING COMPANY OF SAN CARLOS DE PARRAS). Since the insurgents of the Casas Revolt were then very briefly in power, it was only after the counterrevolution under Juan Manuel Zambrano in early March, which Valdez supported, that he was able to take over the Alamo Company chaplaincy. When the revolutionary forces of the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition captured La Bahía in November 1812, Valdez was with the Spanish troops who unsuccessfully laid siege to that place for four months. After José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara captured San Antonio in April 1813, Valdez remained in town instead of accompanying the Spanish troops who were forced to evacuate Texas. Imprisoned for three weeks by one of Gutiérrez's Tejano followers, Valdez managed to flee and join the vanguard of the returning Spanish forces at Alazán Creek. He thus shared in the royalists' defeat at that place and their subsequent victory at the battle of Medina in August. During the next year he appears to have accompanied the Spanish troops under Joaquín de Arredondo who were eliminating the revolutionary movements in the region. He was back in San Antonio by January 1815 as one of several chaplains to the troops stationed there, but he was the only chaplain left in town by August. The pastor of San Fernando de Béxar Church for the civilians also remained, as did the Franciscans at the mission communities.

In December 1816 Valdez became military chaplain and pastor at La Bahía. In June 1818 he encouraged the troops resisting the attack on that post by the filibusters led by Henry Perry. When the controversial Juan Manuel Zambrano took over as military commander at La Bahía, his intense dislike of Valdez, whom he accused of insolence and sexual impropriety, led to the priest's temporary removal to San Antonio. Valdez replaced the absent chaplain of the Alamo Company from November 1818 through March 1819. He returned to La Bahía when Zambrano was himself arrested. In the final months of 1819 and January 1820 he was ordered to accompany the troops sent to drive the filibusters under James Long out of Nacogdoches. In mid-1820 Valdez was finally able to bring his widowed mother and the two small children in her household from Linares to his residence at La Bahía. The same year he began developing a ranch at the juncture of the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers. At the end of 1820 he was elected as La Bahía's representative to the provincial meeting of electors. On Stephen F. Austin's first exploratory tour of Texas in 1821, he praised Valdez as "a very gentlemanly and liberal-minded man and a great friend of the Americans." Austin even said that Valdez wished to be appointed pastor of the new colonists. Ironically, a month later another filibustering party from the United States under Long briefly occupied La Bahía itself, only to discover from local authorities, including Father Valdez, that Texas had already accepted Mexican independence from Spain. By this time Valdez was already contemplating retiring from military chaplaincy work due to several factors. He had completed the required amount of service, his health was poor, La Bahía was undergoing very difficult economic times, and foreigners would soon begin arriving. Experience had taught Valdez that the town's pastor needed to be "wise, prudent, very old, and very rich"-all qualities he found lacking in himself-in order to survive and be a good pastor. However, the authorities asked him to stay on.

During the military buildup in East Texas after the Fredonian Rebellion, Valdez was required to become temporary chaplain and pastor at Nacogdoches from September 1827 through April 1828. He thus became the first resident priest in East Texas since 1813. The people praised his character, but found that he was too infirm to handle all the duties required. Perhaps at least partly to prevent another such call to duty elsewhere, Valdez renewed his request for retirement as a military chaplain. Immediately after his return to La Bahía he received notice that his request had been granted. Although he was freed from required chaplaincy service, he remained the pastor of La Bahía and thus in actuality also of the troops stationed there, since no one replaced him in the military position. During the next nine months he and the townspeople again had to suffer ill treatment from a new military commander who was finally removed for repeated abuses. During Valdez's absences, one of the nearby Franciscan missionaries had always substituted for him. In fact, Father Miguel Muro had been teaching the children of La Bahía since 1826. When the last missions in the area were finally secularized in 1830, Father Muro stayed on as a chaplain attached to the Bahía Company until he was transferred out of Texas in January 1833. This left Father Valdez for the first time as the only priest in the vicinity of Goliad (the new name for La Bahía). When the lands for the new Power and Hewetson colony were surveyed in 1834, the officials recognized Valdez's prior possession of his ranch. However, the land of that ranch in excess of the regular four sitios was allocated to María Josefa Travieso and her son. Valdez was reputed to be the father of this child, who was born around 1813.

With the outbreak of the Texas Revolution in October 1835, the Mexican troops and citizens fled from Goliad as it was taken over by volunteers under Dimmit and other leaders. Many Mexicans, including Valdez, took refuge at the downriver ranches, and several became scouts and spies for the arriving Mexican troops. The Texians generally assumed that the "old priest" was an active leader of the Mexican loyalist faction, and they portrayed him as a villain in character and appearance. Fannin had Valdez taken prisoner and removed to the Brazos in February 1836. But during the Runaway Scrape the next month, the priest was left to fend for himself. The only surviving Mexican settlement in the area for the next several years of border warfare was San Antonio. Valdez made his way there, but apparently did not regularly engage in ministry. Rather he managed his private affairs, probably awaiting the resettlement of the Goliad area. In Houston in January 1839 Juan N. Seguín happened to meet the Catholic clergy from the United States, who had been sent to assess the church situation in Texas. Seguín and others of the victorious independence party denounced Valdez as uncelibate and lacking public esteem. Although also advised later that "the poor Mexicans" liked Valdez and the Mexican pastor in San Antonio, when the new director of the Catholic Church in Texas reached that town in August 1840, he summarily dismissed Valdez from the priestly ministry in Texas without giving him an opportunity to respond to the charges. Disbarred from ministry, viewed very negatively by the victors, and with Goliad and his own ranch still in shambles and a regular prey to abusive adventurers, Valdez had little choice but to exile himself from the land where he had spent most of his life. In 1841–42 and again in 1844–46 he helped provide priestly ministry at the parish in Saltillo, Coahuila, where he was buried on November 17, 1846.

Archives of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Bexar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Religion
  • Catholic
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas
  • Mexican Texas

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

Robert E. Wright, O.M.I., “Valdez, José Antonio,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 5, 2020

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