Friday, April 20, 2012

Chipita's Justice

"Did women who murdered back then have to face the same punishment as men?" Joshua asked. "It just seems like we read only about the men getting the death penalty, but nothing about women," he continued in our discussion of a story about a man who was put to death in the early days of Texas.

"Wait a minute," Ashley interjected with a hint of indignation. "There were women put to death then, and unjustly. One of them, Chipita, is part of my family."

Yes, Chipita Rodriguez. One of the storied legends in South Texas, Chipita lived her unassuming life not too far from our school.

Part of her truth has been blended with dramatic embellishment, but some things are known.

Born Josefa Rodriguez, Chipita lived with her father on the riverbanks in a small lean-to shack. They'd fled Mexican dictator Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. During the Civil War years after her father died, Chipita made her living providing meals and cot space for cowboys, gamblers, and horse traders. She had help from a younger man, Juan Silvero, who was rumored to be her illegitimate son.

John Savage was like other horse traders who'd passed that way. Having just made a big sale to the Confederate Army, his saddlebags were packed with $600 worth of gold. He couldn't help but brag about his prosperity to other travelers that night as they drank their whiskey in Chipita's front room .

When the sun arose, John Savage's cot was empty. His horse was gone, too. The other boarders assumed he'd made an early start and was already on the road headed north.

Those who were alive then say Chipita had no reaction when the news reached them that John Savage's hacked body had been found stuffed into several gunnysacks, a bloody axe nearby. They say she also showed no reaction when shown the axe. It was her own, one she used to chop kindling.

The sheriff came to question Chipita. She refused to speak anything in her own defense and gave neither alibi nor reason as to how her axe had ended up bloodied and near John Savage's body. The sheriff's limited Spanish and Chipita's limited English were never taken into account.

Chipita and Juan Silvero were both arrested for the murder of John Savage. Juan was charged with second degree murder and Chipita with first degree murder. The prosecution made the case that Savage was murdered for his gold, although the gold was found near the body, still in the saddlebags.

Chipita's hard life was shown in her face and stooped body. People mistook her to be in her eighties or nineties when she was actually in her early sixties. She had little to no legal defense, and the only words she spoke during the entire trial were, "“No soy culpable.” “I am not guilty.”

Both she and Juan were convicted, with Juan receiving five years in the penitentiary. The jury recommended leniency for Chipita, based on her age and only the circumstantial evidence against her. The judge,  Benjamin F. Neal, declared he was making an example of Chipita and sentenced her to death.

Her indictment, trial, and sentencing happened in the span of four days. The foreman of the grand jury who indicted her was the same sheriff who arrested her.

She was kept in the home of a deputy until her date for hanging, three months later. Two lynch mobs, headed by area men, were thwarted. Area women befriended Chipita, understanding with  mothers' hearts that she was probably protecting her son with her silence. One woman even drove the hangman away twice when he came to retrieve her.

Three months after John Savage was found murdered, Chipita was driven to the banks of the very river where she had lived for so many years. A thunderstorm unleashed heaven's fury as the wagon was backed under the hanging tree. Even as the noose was placed around her neck, she held her head as straight and high as her stooped back would allow her in the driving rain. She refused to look at the men around her and remained silent even as the horse hitched to the wagon was cracked with a whip and the wagon was jerked from beneath her.

Not given the opportunity for a Christian burial, she was cut down and hastily buried underneath the large hanging tree.

The arresting sheriff told his descendants she was given the death penalty in an effort to make her talk, to reveal the true killer. No one actually believed this small, shriveled, and stooped woman could overcome a large man, hack him to death, stuff his body into gunny sacks, and haul them away.

My student, Ashley, concluded, "She's why I want to become an attorney and fight for those who have no one else to fight for them. Justice should be just."

Somehow, I have to think Chipita would be pleased.

In 1985, the Texas legislature passed a resolution absolving Chipita Rodríguez of murder.

62 comments:

  1. Don't you just love it when a representative of the justice system deems it necessary to make an example of someone? This reminds me of the Salem witch trials. Chipita was railroaded and didn't deserve to pay with her life if indeed she was covering up a murder that her son had committed. Yet, the gold was not taken from the crime scene. If robbery was not the motive, then what was it?

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    1. Shady: She truly was railroaded. And the fact that she was a woman and Mexican American did not work in her favor with the justice system back then.

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  2. What a tragic story--such madness. I'm glad she inspires now, decades later...perhaps that is the only justice at this point.

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    1. Chantel: That's how I look at it, that after all these years, good is coming from her unjust murder.

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  3. I study law from time to time, and have a general disdain for most lawyers from personal eXperiences. It seems they take forever to accomplish nothing, and then they want you to finaLLy settle out of court.

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    1. esboston: In this case, they should have been disbarred!

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  4. There are so many stories of incredible injustice that have happened all through history and into modern times (i.e. the hounding and persecution of John and Patsy Ramsey for the murder of their daughter, JonBenet without a shred of evidence to back it up!) But how proud Chipita would be to know that her story inspired greatness in her descendent!

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    1. Karen: What the Ramseys went through was criminal. Someone should face punishment for that. And yes, I do hope Ashley follows through. She's certainly got the brains for it.

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  5. "Justice should be just." Perhaps the young lady in future will help to make it so. Thus we may hope and pray.

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    1. vanilla: I so hope- she's really a jewel~

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  6. What a story. Reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird--just the absolute nonsense it all.

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    1. Felt Family: It is insane what was allowed to pass for justice, especially if you were a woman or member of a minority. Nonsense is the perfect word for it~

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  7. Beautifully written my friend. I just love it when you write stories like this. I love the comment at the end (by Ashley) and how he wants to fight for those who have no one else to fight for them. Well done to him. I agree that Chipita would be very proud. Great post my friend!

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    1. Thisisme: Thank you for your kind words! I am glad good is coming out of this travesty. She deserves no less.

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  8. As always, your stories are beautifully written, insightful and filled with deep feeling. Well done. I enjoyed this immensely.

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    1. Stephen: Thank you! I always enjoy digging into historic stories like this one, even though it still makes me mad every time I read of how she was treated.

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  9. Great story, Shelly! I think it is wonderful that this story inspires Ashley to want to become an attorney and fight for justice and I think Chipita would definetely be pleased.

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    1. Jenn June: I think it would be such fitting justice if Ashley does become an attorney. I really hope she does, for her sake and for Chipita's.

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  10. What a fascinating story, Shelly. I'm so glad you shared it with us; I would have never heard of Chipita if you hadn't. I do hope Ashley continues to have that passion through her years of schooling to get to be an attorney and fight for justice! I think we need more attorneys like her!

    betty

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    1. Betty: I don't think she's widely known outside of South Texas, but her story is very well known here, and I'm glad for it. Ashley would make a fine lawyer!

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  11. Ohhh, what a story! I'm heavy with the sadness of the injustice. Texas in those days must have been a place not for the faint of heart. I would love to visit you there someday. My uncle lives in Black Canyon City, AZ and that's the only part of the wild west I've ever visited. I was fascinated by everything. The killing of Chipita reminds me to be thankful for our justice system today, even with its flaws.

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    1. Jenny: It was just a brutal way of life then, with life worth not very much. I've heard so many stories that would curl your ears about murder, torture, and vigilanteeism. I am thankful, too, we have a better system of justice now. And anytime you make it to Texas, you'd better find me!

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  12. Wow, what a story. I love history like that, it's interesting. There's the good coming out of it all, probably Chipita's martyred soul that has been influencing Ashley!

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    1. Jamie: Her story has really stuck with me from the first time I heard it. Ashley is carrying that torch for justice now!

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  13. Oh, yeah and what's even sadder than this story is that there HAS to be a ton of others that were not recorded. (wrongly accused innocents)

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    1. Jamie: That's what is so chilling to me- there are so many untold other ones~

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  14. Very well written - I had never heard of this story - I learn something new every day. Sandie

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    1. I don't hear stuff like that cause I'm still in preschool. Ashly sounds like a very impressive young lady and I have no doubt she will make a difference!

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    2. Sandie: Stories like Chipita's always fascinate me. We should always be learners!

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    3. Saimi: I really do think she is going to make a splash in this world!

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  15. I hope that Ashly get to go law school and help out those who have no one to support. This was a fascinating story.

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    1. Munir: I am certainly rooting for Ashley, too. I think she would make a wonderful attorney.

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  16. OH justice finally for Chipita! Ashley will go far in this world with vision like hers! Lovely story once again, Shelly! Hugs~

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    1. It will be so satisying to see Ashley go into law and exact justice for Chipita that way- can't wait for it to happen~

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  17. Very Interesting.....and Bravo for Ashley.....

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    1. Rhonda: Yes- she's going to do some great things in this life!

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  18. I have lived my whole life in Minnesota. I find TX to be a fascinating place or anything beyond Iowa! hee hee

    I am sure there are a million stories like hers. Praying that Ashley will be a brave soul that will defend those who cannot defend themselves.

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  19. Christine: It was a wild and wooly place back then, but it's settled down considerably here (in most places!). I have a lot of hope in Ashley- that she will continue to be driven by Chipita's injustices to do the great things all her life.

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  20. That is so infuriating. I can see why Ashley is inspired.

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    1. Missed Periods: I just can't get over how people of that time could let such injustices happen.

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  21. Dearest Shelly,
    I am SO impressed with Chipita's attitude; the way she faced that kind of fate... I DO hope the prosperous future for Ashley☆☆☆ I agree with you that you think Chipita would be pleased!
    We have had many these false charge cases mainly they decide the criminal hastily without much sleuthing(hope this is the right word here)
    Well, I realized one personal thing. My favorite drama called "Murder she wrote" helped me a lot to read this story. I learned a lot of vocabulary from the heroin. Haha, my poor English.

    PS> I really AM sorry for my constant belated comment. Your new post doesn't show up in my dushboard along with the other my 2 friends. I promise I won't miss again. And other reason is; I found your posts so intriguing and educating, I need to read several times and also read other your friends' comments as a reference. Thank you very much for the constant wonderful writings♪
    Love you always, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: My dear friend, I am always so happy when you stop by to visit- not to worry about the time!

      Your vocabulary is perfect- I remain so impressed with how good your English is. I could never equal it in Japanese. I appreciate you sticking with it and even reading it more than once. You are a faithful friend.

      Murder She Wrote was a very intersting show to watch- and it provides all of us with new words.

      Thank you again for persevering with my posts. Have a wonderful weekend, my dear friend!

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  22. How my heart goes out to that poor woman. This was injustice and one judge wanting to prove a point became a murderer himself.More so than the woman he convicted.. Love and blessings to you Shelly. xx

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    1. Crystal Mary: Yes, he certainly did become that which he condemned others for. So very sad that he did such a poor job administering justice. Thank you for visiting my friend!

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  23. trekking your blog!!! justice must prevail!

    cheers!
    ..TREK..

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    1. icedgurl: I believe, that even though misused, justice will always find a way to win out in the end. Thank you for stopping by!

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  24. Interesting story, Shelly. I wonder if she thought her son did it or not. And why was the money still there?

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    1. Belle: Most of the records of that case were lost in a fire. I would very much love to know~

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  25. The injustice of it makes you wonder how on earth they could find a frail old woman guilty, yes she may have been protecting her son no one will ever know. What I do know is that I found this story very interesting

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    1. Jo-Anne: Justice back then was too often injustice. I don't know how those men could live with themselves. She probably was protecting her son. He should have spoken up if it was him and not allowed her to sacrifice her life.

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  26. Shelly, what a powerful story. Thanks for sharing it. It's like the old witch trial stories--they'd prey upon single, old women.

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    1. Teresa: Yes- they prey on the weakest- it is so maddening.

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  27. What an intriguing story. You have such a talent for writing. Most of the time I feel like I'm reading a novel. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Becky: Thank you for your very kind words!

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  28. Shelly, you have done it again! You have thrilled, entertained and educated us all with your wonderful story telling. What a sad story, I will have to learn more about Chipita, I wonder if any images of her exist. It's terrible to think of all the injustice out there. Thank you, Shelly! Hope things are going well for you and your family. ♥

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    1. Cindy: I haven't been able to find any pictures at all of her. I would love to see her face. Thank you, my friend, glad to see you back on the blogroll again!

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  29. Shelly,
    I don't know how you find the time to teach, and research and write such great stories, but you do - and this one was a beaut!

    Great writing! Thank you for your sharing your gift with us. Marsha

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    1. Marsha: You are always so very kind- thank you!

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  30. Not only have you written one marvelous story here you've enlightened the hearts of your students.

    This was a wonderful read sweetie!

    Have a blessed and beautiful day dear one!!! :o)

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    1. Nezzy: Thank you, my friend! I hope your day has been equally blessed and terrific~

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