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A.K.A.: "Chipita"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 1863
Date of birth: December 30, 1799?
Victim profile: John Savage
Method of murder: Hitting with an axe
Location: San Patricio County, Texas, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on November 13, 1863

Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez (December 30, 1799? - November 13, 1863) was convicted of murder and hanged in San Patricio County, Texas at the age of 63. A century later, on June 13, 1985, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution noting that Rodriguez did not receive a fair trial. She has been the subject of two operas, numerous books, newspaper articles, and magazine accounts.

Trial and execution

Rodriguez was reportedly born December 30, 1799 in Mexico. She was a Mexican-American woman from the South Texas town of San Patricio who furnished travelers with meals and a cot on the porch of her lean-to on the Aransas River.

She was accused of robbing and murdering a trader named John Savage with an axe. However, the $600 of gold stolen from him was found down river, where Savage's body was discovered in a burlap bag.

She and Juan Silvera (who was possibly her illegitimate son) were indicted on circumstantial evidence and tried before 14th District Court judge Benjamin F. Neal at San Patricio. Although Rodriguez maintained her innocence, she refused to testify in her defense and remained silent throughout the trial, perhaps, some have speculated, to protect her guilty son.

Although the jury recommended mercy, Neal ordered her executed. She was hanged from a mesquite tree on Friday, November 13, 1863. She was 63 at the time of her death. Her last words were quoted with being, "No soy culpable" (I am not guilty).

At least one witness to the hanging claimed to have heard a moan from the coffin, which was placed in an unmarked grave. Her ghost is said to haunt San Patricio, especially when a woman is to be executed. Rodriguez is depicted as a spectre with a noose around her neck, riding through the mesquite trees or wailing from the riverbottoms.

Cultural references

Chipita Rodriguez has become a folk legend, and since the 1930s, there have been numerous alleged sightings of her ghost along the Aransas River where she was hanged.

Rodriguez has been the subject of numerous books and newspaper articles. Rachel Bluntzer Hebert’s epic-length poem “Shadows on the Nueces” and Teresa Palomo Acosta’s poem “Chipita” both portray Rodriguez as a heroine.

In 1993, the University of Texas music department performed the opera, "Chipita Rodriguez", composed by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi professor Lawrence Weiner. In 2010 a screenplay was written by Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi student screenwriter Cary Cadena.


RODRÍGUEZ, JOSEFA (?-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.


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 -


Chipita Rodriguez

Convicted of killing a horse trader with an axe.

Chipita was the last woman executed in Texas before Karla Faye Tucker (preceeding her by over 130 years).

The day they hanged Chipita

By Murphy Givens - Viewpoints Editor

They came for her in a wagon. She climbed up and sat on a box made of cypress planks that had been nailed together that morning. The wagon was pulled by oxen and people of the town walked behind. They were quiet -- the only noise was the creaking of the wagon.

They didn't have far to go, less than 1,000 yards from the courthouse. The wagon stopped under a mesquite by the river. The people watched as a new hemp rope was placed around her neck. She was wearing a borrowed dress and a woman in town had fixed her hair. She showed no sign of fear. The people watched her, not talking.

That was Friday, Nov. 13, 1863 -- the day they hanged Chipita Rodriguez in old San Patricio. She had been tried, sentenced, and the sentence was about to be carried out, but many believed her to be innocent. There was plenty of room for reasonable doubt.

"Chipita" was a nickname derived from Josefa. Her father Pedro Rodriguez, on the wrong side of Santa Anna, brought her from Mexico. He joined Texas forces and was killed in the fighting. She took up with a drifter and bore him a son. He left her and took the boy -- so the story goes.

She settled down in a shack on the Aransas River and it became a stopping place for travelers, where they could get a meal and sleep on the porch.

A horse trader named John Savage stayed the night of Aug. 23. He disappeared. Two servants from the Welder ranch, washing clothes in the river, found his body in a burlap bag. His head had been split with an axe.

Sheriff "Pole" Means went to Chipita's. There was blood on her porch -- chicken blood, she said. Chipita and her hired man, Juan Silvera, a halfwit, were arrested. Chipita would say nothing. With prodding by the sheriff, Juan said he helped Chipita dump the body in the river.

The trial was quick. The prosecutor was John S. Givens (no relation). The judge was Benjamin F. Neal (he was the first mayor of Corpus Christi). The trial was also irregular. Sheriff Means served on the grand jury that indicted her. There was no jury panel for the trial -- people were rounded up off the streets. Four members of the jury had been indicted for felonies, one for murder. The trial jury foreman was a close associate of the sheriff's. The motive for the killing was supposed to be robbery but the horse trader's $600 in gold was found in his saddlebags, untouched. And Chipita would not help in her own defense.

The trial lasted the morning and the jury brought back a verdict by noon. Silvera was found guilty of second-degree murder and she was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury urged clemency for Chipita, but Judge Neal did not agree and ordered her to be hanged on Nov. 13.

The trial records were burned in a fire in 1889. What little survived suggests the evidence was not carefully considered. The case was circumstantial, with no witnesses and no motive. Why Chipita would not help in her defense is a mystery. The legend holds that she saw the killer that night -- and recognized him as her long-lost son.

It was a bad day's work. It looks now like Chipita was found guilty based on who she was, rather than what she did. Had she not been a "Mexican" (the term used for her at the time), there would not have been enough evidence to indict, much less convict. The Corpus Christi paper, The Ranchero, expressed the sentiment: "Mexicans should not have the same rights in this state as Americans." It complimented the judge and jury for finding Chipita guilty and said, "We are decidedly pleased with our neighbors in San Patricio."

But in San Patricio, they weren't much pleased with themselves. Prominent citizens urged the sheriff not to carry out the sentence and, the day before the hanging, he left town, leaving the hangman to do the job alone. When he arrived, he tried to borrow a wagon, was turned down, and was forced to confiscate it.

At the hanging tree, there was a faint murmur when the wagon moved forward, the rope jerked, and Chipita dropped, her feet inches from the ground. The oxen moved so slow, and her body was so frail, that the fall didn't break her neck. It took a long time for her to strangle to death. A woman watching fainted. A young boy ran away, crying. A man turned his back and said, "I've had enough of this."

The hangman cut her down and buried her in the cypress coffin at the foot of a mesquite and that ended the earthly existence of Chipita Rodriguez. Her ghost, they say, lives on. So does the legend.

Sources: Caller-Times Archives; The Ranchero, 1863; "Shadows on the Nueces" by Rachel Bluntzer Hebert; Texas Parade article, September, 1962, by Ruel McDaniel; "History of San Patricio County" by Keith Guthrie; and "Legendary Ladies of Texas" by Marylyn Underwood.


Somewhere in The West- Josefa “Chipita” Rodriguez

A Hank of Hemp & a Needle

The Leakeay Star

November 5, 2011

In 1829, settlers began arriving to the new community of San Patricio, Texas. The Mexican government gave permission for this settlement in Texas in hopes of finding a place for 200 Irish Catholic families headed to the area. The original township was almost doomed from the beginning. The conflict between Texas and Mexico was brewing. In early 1836, the Battle of San Patricio would cause most of the inhabitants to flee to safer ground. The town remained empty until 1845 when General Zachary Taylor arrived. San Patricio then began to thrive as more settlers came to the area. The town became a stopping place and supply station for travelers along the Cotton Road.

But with prosperity comes the outlaws, saloons and traders of various sorts. Along with this group of people, we find the population of San Patricio trying to scratch out a living from these assorted people just passing through.

Josepha “Chipita” Rodriguez was born December 30, 1799, or there about, in Mexico. Her parents wanted a better life so they came north settling in what would eventually be Texas. Various stories circulate about the early life of Chipita. Some say that she married young and had a son and that her husband, a white trader, left taking her young son with him. Chipita never recovered from this tragedy and she always searched for her son in the faces of the travelers that stopped at her inn. Some stories and tales state the Juan Silvera may have been her son, too. Either way, Chipita had one or maybe two sons, one that she longed for and one that she tolerated.

Chipita, with the help of Juan, ran a small inn that offered food and a cot on her porch to weary travelers, gamblers and cowboys along the Cotton Road and near the Aransas River and close to the settlement of San Patricio. So it was one day in August of 1863 that the horse trader, John Savage, rode up to Chipita’s Inn, eager for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep. He probably kept his heavy saddle bags with him, making it obvious that he was carrying a large sum of money. Some say the Chipita was aware of the heavy saddlebags others say she didn’t care but all Chipita would say is, “No soy culpable.”

The next morning, Chipita noticed that John Savage was gone but just assumed that he arose to an early start and left the inn before sun up. A couple of days later, two ladies from the Welder Ranch were washing clothes in the river when they found a burlap bag floating down stream. They were a curious pair and managed to get the bag on shore. Little did they know that the burlap bag contained the hacked up remains of one horse trader, John Savage. While a short distance, further downriver someone spotted his saddle bags containing his $600 in gold.

Sheriff Means was not a tolerable fellow. It was his duty to investigate the case. Since the body was found so close to Chipita’s Inn, he was quick to assume that Savage had been hacked to death with the same ax that Chipita split her wood. Means did find blood on Chipita’s porch. No matter that Chipita said the blood was from a chicken she had butchered and again she said to no avail, “No soy culpable.”

Another story tells that Chipita saw the murder but that she thought the killer was her long lost son and would not tell because of a mother’s love. Chipita was as older woman at the time of the murder. Some say she was almost 90 years old while others say she was in her 60’s. Most of the facts after the murder become jumbled with tales of ghosts, fiction and judgments that were not fair. There were no CSI or trained inspectors during this time because if there were she would never had to say, “No soy culpable.”

The sheriff arrested Chipita and Juan on the spot. Their trial was speedy and questionable. Sheriff Means served on the Grand Jury, go figure. The trial jury consisted of people brought in from the street. Chipita did not or was not allowed to speak in her defense thus, she was charged with murder in the first degree. Juan was charged with murder in the second degree. Now the other twist comes into play. The jury urged Judge Benjamin F. Neal to give clemency to Chipita but the request fell on deaf ears as the ring of the gavel fell and he ordered that Chipita be hung from the neck until dead on Friday, November the 13th 1863. Again, she uttered, “No soy culpable.”

It appears that most of the case was circumstantial. There were no witnesses and since the recovery of body and the money, there really was no motive. Supporting documents of the trail burned in the courthouse in 1889. So a good imagination now is the best evidence one can find.

The people of San Patricio begged that the sentence not be carried out, but that fell on deaf ears too. They knew that matters convulated at best. The hangman had difficulty carrying out the sentence. Sheriff Means left town the day before the hanging. The hangman, John Gilpin, tried to borrow the wagon of Betty McCumber to transport Chipita to the river where the trees were suitable for a hanging. Betty refused the use of her new wagon but finally the hangman confiscated the wagon and her team of oxen. He then loaded the frail old Chipita into the wagon. She sat on her coffin smoking a corn husk cigarette, as the oxen team slowly transported her to the hanging tree while she whispered to anyone who would listen, “No soy culpable.”

On that Friday, November the 13th, the crowd gathered on the Wier ranch on the banks of the Nueces River. The people that came to witness the event became very quiet, some ladies cried and one fainted. The hangman slipped the noose around her neck and once again she quietly murmured, “No soy culpable.” Now everyone knows that the pace of oxen is slow and as they moved forward, the noose tightened very slowly. Chipita’s death was slow and sad. Her final words echoed, “No soy culpable."



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