Gracing county with name, Navarro was a historic figure

Jose Antonio Navarro


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2/24/2002 Gracing county with name, Navarro was a historic figure
By INES WAGGONER/Special to the Daily Sun

Josˇ Antonio Navarro (Feb. 27, 1795 -- Jan. 13, 1871) was one of the founders of Texas and with his role in Texas' struggle for freedom from Mexico, remains one of the most neglected for all he did. Texas was his birthplace, but his father, Don Angel Navarro, who he adored, was born on the rocky isle of Corsica. Josˇ never forgot where his father came from. When the first legislature of Texas in 1846 created an empire-sized new county they named it Navarro. He suggested the name for the county seat, "Let it be Corsicana for my father's place of birth."

His father, Don Angel, was born in the capital of Corsica in 1739. When just a young boy wars between Corsica and Genoa ended with a bad government. Don Angel became restless; he rambled around and through the countries. He heard about a New Spain, probably dreamed about it. In 1756, at about age 17, he found himself sailing as member of the Spanish royal army and docked at Vera Cruz, Mexico. It even looked like Corsica, this New Spain. He was assigned as a private to a company in Satillo, an important center in Northern Mexico.

He applied himself well and rose quickly to the rank of colonel. While there he met and married Senorita Josepha Ruiz of San Antonio, from a very prominent family. He was soon transferred to Texas to reduce the Indian uprising and to do away with them. After studying the Indians, and found them to be human, he didn't want any part of it, so he resigned as colonel. He made San Antonio his home. He opened a mercantile store, built a home on Flores Street and there he and Senora Josepha raised their 12 children.

Josˇ's father died Oct. 31, 1808. Records shows that Don Angel Navarro was never too busy with his store that he forgot his obligations to his country or ignored civic duties and political responsibilities. He displayed the old Corsican patriotism to such a degree he was elected the first judge of San Antonio. To fill this office one must show administrative ability and active interest in improving the city for which he did. He was elected a second term. It was said on his deathbed he pledged his children to give their lives to the development of Texas and to make it a land of freedom.

Josˇ Antonio Navarro was born Feb. 27, 1795 in San Antonio, a remote part of Mexico at that time. There were no schools back then so Josˇ was mostly self-taught. Texas was under the government of Spain until 1821. There were a lot of conflicts of different agreements, fighting and killing of many innocent people. Josˇ and some of his friends would stand afar upon a Catholic parish church and watch by binoculars. The country of Texas became a remote part of Mexico.

When Josˇ became older, he became interested in the world around him and began to take things very seriously. He went away to college for one year. He could not rely on his brother because he was away on expeditions, so he had to take care of the family business. Any spare time he would spend with his horse. It says he had such a love for horses that he even disapproved of Indians riding them like they did. Once he fell from a horse and was left with a limp. He was almost 6 feet, muscular and of great endurance. Something about his quiet youth caused his brothers and sisters to nickname him "White Dove." Some thought it was his white clothes he wore, others thought it was caused of such an easy-going attitude toward cruelties.

He didn't care for social affairs, he didn't even care about the girls nor did he romance any of the women before getting married. He was 30 years old when he got married in 1825. He choose Senorita Margarita de la Garza of Mier, Mexico to be his wife. She was about half his age. They made their home in the Old Navarro House and reared his children there. His father built the house in 1780 and they lived there until he built his own home in 1850. It consisted of three bedrooms, two large reception or living rooms and a two-story office. In the yard was the kitchen and dining room. In 1831, he acquired four leagues of land in Atascosa County; July 2, 1832, seven more; 2/3 in Travis County, and 1/2 in Bastrop County. This was known to be the largest ranch acreage belonging to any man in the state at that time (4,439 acres per league) -- 53,996 total acres.

Josˇ continued to obtain great knowledge of government of the country and the people. He became a lawyer and was very interested in the future of the colonists. He was acquainted with most of the great men of that time and because he was a native of this country and knew the laws the people trusted him. James Bowie was married to his niece. He had aided Stephen F. Austin for many years during the time he brought the first colony to Texas, "Old Three Hundred." Most of them were Mexicans. Josˇ assisted Austin with enforcing peace. Men from the states were constantly talking up unpleasant things that lead to complaints that the United States was taking steps to take over Texas. Mexico became enraged of so many people coming to settle Texas.

Josˇ was called the "Anglocized-Mexican, but he never lost his temper when referred to in this way. He may have been too busy with the family's flourishing business, management of ranches, land and his duties of the government to pay too much attention what people said. The key to his life was the development of Texas.

Josˇ had not been married three years until he was elected to the legislature of Texas. Josˇ was helping to pass laws that were good for the colonies from the states to settle in Texas. While Austin, Houston, Lamar and all the rest the of the high officials were trying to help organize Texas to become a republic, Santa Anna and his group of soldiers and other Mexicans were determined to not let Texas become a republic. The Anglo colonists were getting ready to defend their homeland.

A convention took place at the Washington-on-the-Brazos March 1, 1836. Josˇ Antonio Navarro, Francisco Ruiz, Josˇ's uncle, and Lorenzo de Zavala, as three Anglo-Mexicans were there attending. At this convention, a committee was writing the first constitution of the Texas Republic and it strongly resembled the United States. When finished and those present signed it, Ruiz was the seventh and Josˇ was the eighth, with Zavala farther down on the list of 58. This constitution was drawn up and signed March 2, 1836. With the establishment of the Lone Star Republic, Josˇ Antonio Navarro was to go down in history, not as a defeated rebel but as a victorious revolutionist, no longer to be sneered at as an "Anglocized-Mexican," but saluted with honors for being a co-creator of Texas.

Josˇ then grew fully conscious of the fact that he had, as a member of Mexico's national government and longtime servant of that government, placed his life in double jeopardy. Knowing this he would not have wanted it to be any other way. His father had wanted Josˇ and his brothers to always work for the good of the people of the Texas Republic.

They did not know while at the convention Santa Anna and his army was taking over the Alamo. The Mexican soldiers had taken over Josˇ's house in San Antonio, and by the time Josˇ got back home, Santa Anna had ordered them to come with him to San Jacinto to fight Sam Houston and his armies. Since the constitution had been signed and the Battle at San Jacinto won, the people were ready to begin building the Republic of Texas.

The president election of Sam Houston as the first president was no surprise to Josˇ. The second president was Lamar. When Lamar was president, Josˇ agreed to serve as civil commissioner for Lamar's Santa Fe Expedition. Lamar thought this trip would cause better relations with their neighboring countries. Josˇ was not in favor of this. The Texas Congress had already rejected it twice. The journey started June 21, 1841 from near Austin with about 400 men, all volunteers.

They had traveled a distance, probably a couple of days, when they found themselves lost. They were captured by a group of "Mexican officers on patrol," they said. The officers didn't believe them after telling who and what they were trying to do. The officers made them turn their guns over and they were brought back to Mexico. Upon arriving in due time all the prisoners were released except Josˇ.

Santa Anna had himself made president of Mexico and ordered Josˇ to be put in prison, where he was kept confined in a little, filthy cell, with very little water and food. During this time Santa Anna had him tortured and bribed trying to persuade Josˇ to renounce Texas and to accept money for favors from the government of Mexico. Josˇ replied:

"I have sworn to be a good Texan and that I will not forswear. I will die for that which I firmly believe, for I know it is just and right. One life is a small price for a cause so great. As I fought, so shall I be willing to die. I will never forsake Texas and her cause. I am her son."

On Aug. 22, 1842, Josˇ received a sentence that he be shot as a traitor. There was so much talk about this, Santa Anna was afraid for his life. He had Josˇ sent to the worst of all places, to an old castle at Vera Cruz, with orders confined solitary alone in the darkest, most damp, dreariest dungeon within its walls. Santa Anna hoped death would over take Josˇ and he would die.

December 1844, still in this dungeon and this same month, Santa Anna was forcibly driven out of office, deprived of all his rights and kicked out of the country. When this happened, the Navarro family pleaded for Josˇ's release. Even Sam Houston made a special trip to Seguin to console the family. Nothing would change Santa Anna's mind. To make matters worst, Santa Anna decide to go see Josˇ. He ordered Josˇ's door to his cell be left opened hoping Josˇ would drag his chains toward the door and beg for mercy. Santa Anna even bragged to the people about his powers that "he gave Josˇ a choice, Josˇ didn't take it." But when Santa Anna came by Josˇ moved not a muscle, he hardly breathed. Santa Anna moved on by. Josˇ won admiration of the jailer and, according to the other prisoners, gave Josˇ liberties which eventually ended with his escape. Josˇ was outside at last. There an American merchant happened to pass in his boat by the Alcatraz-like prison and saw Josˇ walking along unguarded and called for him to jump into his boat.

He was free and on his way home. On the way he had time to think about and reflect over the past. He could hardly wait to get home. His amazing escape and his safe return brought happiness to his family he so dearly loved. He was a proud man and always looked clean, neat and he dressed quite well. But since he had been in prison for so long, he knew he didn't look nice enough for his children to see him. He wanted to bathe and clean himself to be more presentable. Most people don't know that after arriving home, he waited until dark and the children asleep before knocking on the door.

Josˇ had been gone almost four years and on arriving he found his affairs had become sadly deranged. Some of his cattle had been driven off by government agents without legal receipts being given. But after getting his life back in order, it was no time before he was in the government again.

Imagine Josˇ's surprise when upon arrival he learned that arrangements were nearing completion for annexation of Texas to the United States. Even more surprise came when his delighted fellow statesmen elected him to the convention called to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos to prepare for the annexation. He greatly rejoiced with old friends.

On July 4, 1845, the convention started and writing of another constitution had begun, finishing Aug. 27. The United States accepted the Texas constitution Dec. 29, 1845. Josˇ Antonio Navarro was among the first to be elected senators.

After Texas was annexed to the United States, questions about the boundaries became a disagreement of matter. So the United States and Mexico had battles and Santa Anna was mixed up in the wars again. But he was soon run out of the country and to Josˇ's surprise an agreement of peace was signed. The war turned out to be a short one without the slaughter, as Josˇ feared.

Dec. 21, 1849, Josˇ did not seek his senator job for another term and he was replaced. He retired. He didn't care too much for cows, but his wife's family, the De la Garza, who lived near the Rio Grande, had done well with cattle. In May 1824, Stephen F. Austin had made a rule that everyone had to require a brand for their cattle and register them. Josˇ already had his cattle that he used for horses and what cows he had branded with his initials J-A-N and at this time he added a symbolic souvenir to his well-known cattle brand -- a ring to remind him of the one fastened so securely to the iron chain while in prison for those suffering years.

Josˇ looked after his ranches and checked on his store daily. Callers came in numbers, no escaping them. There was always someone to let him know of what was going on in the government. It was most surprising to see in 1849 that Texans were not happy in the Union. But the most disturbing was the disagreements among the people, their hatreds and divisiveness arising over the Mexicans in Texas. In September 1857, U.S. government train carts loaded with supplies were attacked. One cart man was killed and several were wounded.

The people of Texas were very unhappy being a state of the Union. There were disagreements on major issues and boundaries. After 15 years of statehood, Texas withdrew from the Union. March 1861, Josˇ was at a point in his life that he could not keep up with his fellow countrymen. He got his son to go in his place to Mexico to make peace and to accept it. But then the war between the states started. It seemed like some kind of war was going on all the time.

In 1865, when the war ended, reconstruction began. Josˇ's health held him back from doing what he loved most, working for a better government of Texas. Usually Josˇ enjoyed good health, though the suffering of the Santa Fe Expedition left marks, one of which was a tumor on his leg. But about the last part of December 1870 he became ill and lingered on until Jan. 13, 1871.

Josˇ was 76 when he died and left four sons and one daughter. His wife, Margarita de la Garza Navarro, mother of these children, died July 8, 1861. His last rites were at the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, the church he had worshiped in since youth. It was said the procession to the cemetery was the "longest in San Antonio's history."

Josˇ never did get to come to Corsicana. He tried several times but his health would not let him. He could not travel far. The monument at the Navarro County Courthouse was erected in 1939. The back of the monument has some of the things Josˇ Antonio Navarro did for the Republic of Texas: Member of Legislature of Coahuila-Texas 1821, Land Commission of DeWitt's Colony 1831, Land Commission of Bexar District 1835, Signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence 1836, Member of the Congress of the Republic of Texas 1838-39, A Commissioner of the Santa Fe Expedition 1841, Member of the Constitution Convention of 1845, Senator in the Legislature of Texas 1846-49.

A number of things have been named in his honor. The local chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas is named the Josˇ Antonio Navarro Chapter, and the Corsicana Independent School District has named a school Josˇ Antonio Navarro Elementary.

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