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"Chipita" sentenced to death


On this day in 1863, Josefa (Chipita) Rodríguez was sentenced to death for the murder of John Savage in San Patricio de Hibernia. Rodríguez, for many years believed to be the only woman legally hanged in Texas, furnished travelers with meals and a cot on the porch of her lean-to on the Aransas River. She was accused of killing Savage while seeking to rob him of $600 in gold, but the gold was found in the river north of San Patricio, where Savage's body was discovered in a burlap bag. Nonetheless, she and Juan Silvera (who 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. At the time, Chipita was described as "very old" or "about ninety," but was probably in her sixties. At least one witness to the hanging claimed he later heard a moan from the coffin, which was placed in an unmarked grave, and 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.

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