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October 26, 2007

Exceedingly Rare Memoir of an Illustrious Tejano
Roof-Top Witness to the Storming of the Alamo

231. RODRÍGUEZ, [José María]. Rodríguez Memoirs of Early Texas. [San Antonio: Designed and Printed by Passing Show Printing Co. (from title verso)], 1913. 76 pp. (including frontispiece portrait of author, protected by original glassine leaf), text illustrations (mostly photographic, some vignettes of architecture, etc.), text printed within sepia border. 8vo (23 x 16.5 cm), original limp brown suede with leather ties, title and ornate frame lettered in olive and blue on upper cover. Other than light outer wear to the fragile binding and flecking to lettering on upper cover, very fine. Exceedingly rare–considered by some to be the rarest of all San Antonio books.

            First edition, limited to 200 copies (according to the author’s preface). Cracker Barrel Chronicles 434. Dykes, Collecting Range Life Literature, p. 20 (designating a print run of 100 to 200 copies). Howes R398 (stating 100 copies printed). Rader 2814.

            This memoir contains much important information on San Antonio as well as Texas history and social history. The sketches of sixteen pioneer San Antonio families of Spanish and Mexican descent are especially valuable. Jane Dysart points out that the memoir is one of the classic sources on Mexican women in San Antonio (“Mexican Women in San Antonio, 1830-1860: The Assimilation Process,” in Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 4, October, 1976, p. 371). Among the family photographs in the book are portraits of the author’s daughter Alice and her husband, then Lieutenant John L. Bullis. This work is quite germane to Tejano studies. Rodríguez, himself of Canary Island descent, recalls the danger and insecurity felt after the Texas Revolution by many of the families descended from the original Spanish settlers of San Antonio. This was based on nothing but hatred and negative stereotyping aimed at anyone of “Mexican” descent. He states that by 1840 at least two hundred of the old Spanish families who had lived in San Antonio in the early 1800s relocated due to threats of various types. Rodríguez also gives insight into the situation in Laredo after Texan Independence, describing how some Texans “began a movement to clean out the Mexicans. They would rant at public meetings and declare that this was an American country and the Mexicans ought to be run out.” He also describes attempts by “land boomers to wreck [Laredo] and load it down with taxes.” He expresses his hope that the original settlers would “not sell out their land to the stranger and then rent from him.” A tragic irony is that many of the men of these persecuted families had fought with the Texans against the Mexican government during the Texas Revolution.

            Rodríguez gives crucial details not found elsewhere on military operations of the Texas Revolution at San Antonio from December 1835 to the middle of 1836 and in the early 1840s. He recounts his father’s participation in the Texan army in 1836. Timothy M. Matovino notes in The Alamo Remembered: Tejano Accounts and Perspectives (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995): “Extant Tejano accounts remain a significant and often untapped resource for historical studies of the Alamo.” One might write at length about what Rodríguez had to say, but far superior is to read this venerable Tejano’s own unvarnished words (first chapter, pp. 7-10, “The War of Independence”):

My earliest recollection is when I was a boy about six years old. One evening I was coming with my father and mother up Soledad Street, where the Kampmann Building is now, and as we got a little further up the street, we were stopped by a sentry and there were other soldiers there and we saw some breastworks there. General Cos, the Mexican general, my father told me, was in possession of the town. We went a little further down where the present corner of Travis and Soledad Street is. We crossed a ditch on a plank and went up Soledad Street to see my uncle, Jose Olivarri. I heard a great deal of shooting toward the Plaza and my father said that General Burleson of the Texas Army was trying to capture the city. The next day General Cos capitulated and was allowed to take his arms and leave the city.

Ben Milam was killed at the Veramendi House. The arms the Mexicans had were old English muskets that did not reach much over fifty yards. The Texas army used long range flint rifles. Shortly after that, Colonel Travis was put in command with a small garrison and he stayed at the Alamo. Colonel Travis was a fine looking man of more than ordinary height. I recollect him distinctly from the very fact that he used to come up to our house from the Alamo and talk to my father and mother a great deal. Our house was the first one after you crossed the river coming from the Alamo and Col. Travis generally stopped at our home going and coming. He was a very popular man and was well liked by everyone. My father was always in sympathy with the Texas cause, but had so far not taken up arms on either side.

Soon after this, a report came to my father from a reliable source that Santa Anna was starting for San Antonio with 7,000 men, composed of cavalry, infantry and artillery, in fact a well organized army. My father sent for Colonel Travis and he came to our house and my father told him about this coming of Santa Anna and advised him to retire into the interior of Texas and abandon the Alamo.  He told him he could not resist Santa Anna’s army with such a small force. Colonel Travis told my father that he could not believe it, because General Cos had only been defeated less than three months, and it did not seem possible to him that General Santa Anna could organize in so short a time as large an army as that. Colonel Travis, therefore, remained at the Alamo, and at the last, Travis told my father, “Well we have made up our minds to die at the Alamo fighting for Texas.” My father asked him again to retire as General Sam Houston was then in the interior of Texas organizing an army.

The Mexicans in San Antonio who were in sympathy with the war of Independence organized a company under Colonel Juan Seguin. There were twenty-four in the company including my father and they joined the command of General Sam Houston. My mother and all of us remained in the city.

One morning early a man named Rivas called at our house and told us that he had seen Santa Anna in disguise the night before looking in on a fandango on Soledad Street. My father being away with General Houston’s army, my mother undertook to act for us, and decided it was best for us to go into the country to avoid being here when General Santa Anna’s army should come in. We went to the ranch of Dona Santos Ximenes. We left in ox carts, the wheels of which were made of solid wood. We buried our money in the house, about $800.00; it took us nearly two days to get to the ranch.

A few days after that, one morning about day break, I heard some firing, and Pablo Olivarri, who was with us, woke me up. He said, “You had better get up on the house; they are fighting at the Alamo.” We got up on the house and could see the flash of the guns and hear the booming of the cannon. The firing lasted about two hours. The next day we heard that all the Texans had been killed and the Alamo taken. A few days after that an army consisting of about 1200 men under General Urrea came by from San Antonio on their way to Goliad to attack Fannin. I saw these troops as they passed the ranch.

There has been a great deal of discussion with reference to what had been done with the bodies of the Texans who were slain in the Alamo....

Some days after the Urrea army passed, he heard of the massacre of Fannin’s army at Goliad. My mother, along with other loyal families, determined then to move to East Texas, and we started with all our goods and chattels in ox-carts. The Flores and Seguin families were among those who went with us. Most of us traveled in the carts. Horses were very scarce, the army taking nearly all they could find. We had gotten as far as the Trinity river on the road to Nacogdoches where we heard of Santa Anna being defeated and all returned to San Antonio, except our family, who went on to Washington, which was the Texas Capital, as my father was still in the field with Houston’s troops.

Other chapters and sub-chapters include “The Battle of San Jacinto,” “After the War,” “General Woll’s Invasion,” “Indians” (includes captivities), “The Main Plaza Indian Fight” (San Antonio, 1841), “Cholera” (1833), “Home Life of the People,” “My Own People,” “The Principal Families,” and “Laredo.”

Handbook of Texas Online: José María Rodríguez):

José María Rodríguez (1829-1913), politician and long-time Webb county judge, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 29, 1829, to Ambrosio Rodríguez and María de Jesús Olivarri. As a child he witnessed the storming of the Alamo from a ranch southeast of San Antonio, where his mother had taken the family when Antonio López de Santa Anna entered the town. In 1855 he took part in the Vidaurri Revolution. Rodríguez was made a first lieutenant, and when the troops arrived in Mier, Tamaulipas, the alcalde was able to solicit $5,000 for the cause. The only time Rodríguez was in actual battle was during the takeover of Matamoros. The Vidaurri Revolution, named after Gen. Santiago Vidaurri [see elsewhere in this catalogue], who united the men, was aimed at removing Santa Anna from power; however, neither Vidaurri nor Rodríguez participated in the actual overthrow of the dictator. After Santa Anna’s fall, Rodríguez returned to San Antonio, where he was tax assessor and collector for Bexar County and alderman for San Antonio in 1857-58. About 1861 he moved to Laredo as a schoolteacher. He studied law and began his practice in 1864. He also served as county clerk for four years during the 1860s. In 1879 Rodríguez was elected county judge of Webb County, a position he held for thirty-five years. During his term in office, the election riot of April 1886 occurred in Laredo. The two opposing political factions were the “Boots and Sandals” (Botas and Guaraches). Rodríguez was an important leader of the Bota faction because of his position as county judge. Although he was a politician and attorney, he was also a prosperous cattle rancher and trader. Throughout his life Rodríguez was seen as a public-spirited man who influenced the politics and daily life of San Antonio and Laredo. He married Feliz Benavides around 1861, and they had two children. He was a Democrat and a Catholic. Rodríguez died in Laredo on February 22, 1913. His book Memoirs of Early Texas was published the year of his death.


Sold. Hammer: $2,000.00; Price Realized: $2,350.00

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