Josefa “Chepita” Rodriguez ran an inn on the old Cotton Road between Refugio and Aransas Pass around the time of the Civil War. Sometimes her name is spelled Chapita or Chipita, but Chepita appears to be the most common spelling. Her story began when the body of John Savage, a cotton dealer and horse trader, was found dead, wrapped in burlap in the Aransas River near San Patricio.
Savage was reported to have boasted of making a recent horse sale to the Union Army, not popular in an area that was largely in support of the Confederacy. Savage had apparently been murdered with an ax as he carried $600 in gold, although the gold was supposedly found still in saddlebags near his remains. Rodriguez was accused of the crime along with Juan Silvera, her hired hand, who also may have been her son.
Chepita was indicted, tried and convicted for the crime. The jury recommended leniency due to her age, since she was thought to have been in her mid 60s or older. Other than minutes of the District Court of San Patricio County, official records of the trial no longer exist. The jury verdict reportedly read, “We the jury find the defendant Chepita Rodriguez guilty of murder in the first degree, but on account of her old age and the circumstantial evidence against her do recommend her to the mercy of the court.” Silvera was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison. There was apparently a motion, later withdrawn, for a new trial for Chepita. At the sentencing, she did not speak on her own behalf, stating that she had nothing to add to her previous statement that she was not guilty. Chepita was sentenced to death by hanging the following day on November 13, 1863. By all accounts, the sentence was carried out on the appointed day. Chepita was reportedly buried beneath the hanging tree, though the exact location of the hanging has been lost to history.
There has been speculation that there may have been irregularities in the trial and that Chepita may have been framed for the crime. Points in favor include the statement that the county sheriff was foreman of the grand jury and that there were several indicted felons allowed to serve on the trial jury. These factors are said to have violated Texas statues at the time. A possible motive was that Chepita was unpopular in the area because of her political statements and activities. Chepita’s execution is said to have been the first such execution in Texas for a female in Texas, though some accounts place her as the second.
Since then, her story has become a legend. It has given rise to reports of ghostly visions of a woman with a noose around her neck appearing to people around San Patricio. Also mentioned is that November 13, 1863 was a Friday, Friday the Thirteenth for the superstitious. The ghost is said to roam the banks of the river, moaning and weeping. Some say that Chepita walks when a woman is unjustly accused of murder.
In 1985, Texas Senator Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi introduced a resolution to absolve Chepita Rodriguez of the murder of John Savage. After discussion, the resolution was adopted by the 69th Texas legislature and signed June 13, 1985 by late Governor Mark White.
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