Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

Jose Francisco Ruiz and his Decades-Long Fight for Texas Independence

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by Frank W. Jennings

No signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 fought longer for a free Texas than Jose Francisco Ruiz.

Beginning in 1813, when San Antonio de Bexar was under Spanish rule, Ruiz was active in the armed rebellion against the Crown. Because he was a leader of the republicans defeated at the Battle of the Medina, General Joaquín de Arredondo, the Spanish commandant, placed a rich bounty on his head, and Ruiz fled for his life.

He found refuge for about nine years in the rancherias of the Comanche Indians, where he won high respect among the Native Americans. Word spread widely about his unique rapport with various Indian groups. In 1823, two years after Mexican independence caused Spain to lose Texas, Ruiz arranged for a peace treaty between "the Comanche Nation" and "the Mexican Nation," and served as interpreter. Four years later, Gen. Don Manuel de Mier y Teran led an exploratory trip across Texas, using Ruiz as an official consultant on Indians.

He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Mexican Army, and commanded the presidio at Nacogdoches in 1827 and the garrison in San Antonio in 1828 and 1829. He then was asked to establish Fort Tenoxtitlan at the Brazos River crossing of the San Antonio-Nacagdoches Road. His dealings with Stephen F. Austin and other Americans in that part of Texas were especially friendly. Early in 1836, the Lieutenant Governo of the Provisional Government of Texas, James W. Robinson, appointed Ruiz a commissioner to negotiate with the Comanches in San Antonio.

By the mid-1830s, Ruiz -- as he had done with the Spanish government in the past -- had become one of the leaders in the struggle for Texan independence from the oppressive Mexican government. He was elected in February 1836 by the people of Bexar to represent their municipality at the convention in Washington, Texas.

Ruiz was second among the 58 patriots to sign the historic Declaration on March 2, 1836 -- only a few days before the Battle of the Alamo ended in his hometown.

His multiple emotions upon hearing of the fall to the Mexican army of the Texan's Alamo fortress in the former Mission San Antonio de Valero can only be imagined. Only two years before, his mother had been buried beneath the hard- packed soil of the room to the left of the main altar in the "little chapel" of the church of the abandoned mission.

At age 81, San Antonian Adolph Herrera, great grandson of Jose Francisco Ruiz, told how, until shortly after World War I, he went once a year with his father to lay flowers in the little chapel in the Alamo on the grave of Maria Manuella De La Pena, mother of Jose Francisco. Herrera said his father told him that his great grandmother didn't want to be buried in the San Fernando church as were others in her family, because the graves there had lain under water in the great flood of 1819. She wanted to lie in higher, drier ground. And there today she rests -- the woman whose son, Jose Francisco Ruiz, and grand nephew, Jose Antonio Navarro, were signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Jose Francisco Ruiz left his mark on Texas in many ways.

Born in San Antonio on September 1, 1780, educated in Spain, he was the son of a Spanish-born rancher and Mexican-born mother living on a ranch near San Antonio. He taught the first school in San Antonio for a time, in the family home. He was active in business and civic affairs and was elected senator in the first Congress of the Republic in 1836 and 1837. He died on January 20, 1840 and is buried in San Fernando Cathedral.

A book written by Jose Francisco Ruiz and translated by John C. Ewers, Report on the Indian Tribes of Texas in 1828, was published by Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut in 1972. It presents a facsimile of his entire manuscript in which he describes in Spanish the customs and characteristics of the Lipan Apaches, the Comanches, and the Chariticas.

The house where Jose Francisco Ruiz lived -- as did his son, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, Alcalde of San Antonio in 1836 -- was built about 1745 on the south side of Military Plaza at 420 Dolorosa Street. In 1942, the San Antonio Museum Association reconstructed it at the Witte Museum at 3801 Broadway, San Antonio.

(Editors Note: readers will find Report on the Indian Tribes of Texas in 1828 in UTSA’s John Peace Library Special Collections, John Peace Collection, Call Number E99.C85)