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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Chipita's Ghost

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Chances are, nobody will ever really know the truth about the hanging - I recall a scene from an old movie that states: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Perhaps this is the way we should treat the execution of Chipita and the legend of her ghost that is said to linger around Old San Patricio, Texas.

According to The Handbook of Texas, Josefa "Chipita" Rodriquez was hanged in 1863 after being convicted on what some say was only circumstantial evidence. But here is where the legend part comes into play, it seems that the years have erased most of the facts concerning this sad tale. So we can probably assume that much of the story comes from mere speculation.

The fact of the matter is, hardly any facts about Chipita can be verified. Most accounts claim that even her name is speculation. The Handbook of Texas states that she is believed to have been the daughter of Pedro Rodriquez who fled Mexico to escape Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Chipita and her father came to the Irish settlement of San Patricio de Hibernia while she was quite young.

After her father died, Chipita earned a living by feeding travelers and giving them a place to sleep at her lean-to shack near the Nueces River. As the story goes, one of those travelers named John Savage was murdered with an ax - he was supposedly carrying $600 in gold. However, when Savage's body was found in a burlap bag near the river, the gold was also recovered which gave doubt as to robbery being the motive for the crime.

None-the-less, Chipita was arrested by Sheriff William B. Means and charged with robbery and murder. One online source reports that she had a "slow-witted" boy named Juan Silvera helping her with chores around the place - again, only on speculation, some claim that the boy was her son and he was also arrested as an accomplice.

The trial judge was Benjamin F. Neal who would go on to be the first mayor of Corpus Christi. Although the jury found her guilty, they recommended that because of her old age and the circumstantial evidence she should be given mercy. Neal ignored the jury and gave Silvera five years in prison while ordering Chipita to be hanged on Nov. 13, 1863.

According to legend, she was an old woman who didn't die instantly because her neck never broke and she strangled to death while still hanging from the tree. Old-timers said that the terrible way she died is the reason why her ghost still haunts the area. It's a sad story, to say the least - some sources reveal that Chipita had no defense lawyer and the foreman of the jury was the man who arrested her - others say she was protecting her illegitimate son.

Some sources claim that records of the trial were lost to fire, flood, or whatever. Also, some historians and writers say that Chipita was kept in leg irons and chained to the courthouse wall. Another report says that a witness to the hanging heard a moan coming from the coffin. Again, we don't know the facts but legend has it that she was buried in an unmarked grave at the base of a mesquite tree. She claimed to be "not guilty" throughout the entire affair. Finally, a state historical marker to honor Chipita was placed on the Old San Patricio Courthouse grounds in 2008.

As previously noted, the truth of this story is lost to history and now only the legend remains. Chipita has gained fame in newspapers, books, and magazines. In 1985, thanks to state senator Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi, the 69th legislature passed a resolution to pardon her - it was signed by Governor Mark White on June 13, 1985.


Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary December 14, 2020 Column



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