Texas Originals

José Francisco Ruiz

January 28, 1783–January 19, 1840

Colonel José Francisco Ruiz was one of two native Texan signatories of the Texas Declaration of Independence. A former Mexican Army officer and an expert on native Texas tribes, he fought against Spain during the Mexican War of Independence. Then, in the 1830s, Ruiz risked everything again to liberate Texas.  

Born in San Antonio in 1783, Ruiz began his career as an educator and public litigator in 1803. During the Mexican War for Independence, he became a rebel against Spain by joining the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition. When the rebels were later defeated at the Battle of Medina in 1813, Ruiz fled to Louisiana, where he became a trader with the Comanches and the Lipan Apaches. 

Ruiz returned to Texas after Mexican independence in 1821, where he served the Mexican government as an envoy to the Apaches and Comanches. In 1830, he became a military commander of a fort on the Brazos River, one of the posts intended to contain illegal immigration from the United States. 

Ruiz retired from the army in 1833 and devoted himself to private business before joining the cause of Texas independence. He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836, and, after Santa Anna’s defeat, became San Antonio's senator in the first Texas Congress. He died in 1840, having guided Texas from colonial possession to independent republic. 

For More about José Francisco Ruiz

Visitors to San Antonio’s Witte Museum can view the historic Ruiz House, which has been moved and converted into a Museum Market. The house was built around 1745 and previously belonged to José Francisco’s father. When José Francisco became San Antonio’s schoolmaster at twenty years old, he used the front room of the house as his classroom, making it one of San Antonio’s first schools.

In the late 1820s, José Francisco collected his observations of the native tribes of Texas in his "Report on the Indian Tribes of Texas in 1828," an original copy of which is now preserved at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.

José Francisco Ruiz’s family played an important role in early Texas history. His nephew, José Antonio Navarro, had accompanied him during his exile in Louisiana and became the only other native Texan to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. His son, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, served the alcalde (mayor) of San Antonio during the Battle of the Alamo and left behind a vital eye-witness account of the siege.

The Battle of Medina, in which Ruiz took part, is underappreciated both for its viciousness and its historical significance. On August 18, 1813, an estimated 1400 Anglo, Tejano, and Indian fighters met a Spanish royalist army dispatched from Laredo in a sandy field somewhere south of San Antonio, which they hoped to defend. The battle ended in a crushing defeat for the republican side and put an emphatic end to the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition to liberate Texas from Spanish rule.

The Bexar Archives, housed at the Briscoe Center Digital Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, contain official Spanish documents related to the political, economic, military, and social history of the Spanish province of Texas and the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. The collection contains rich materials related to Col. Ruiz’s career as a military officer and public official prior to Texas independence.

Selected Bibliography

Berlandier, Jean Louis. Indians of Texas in 1830, ed. John C. Ewers and trans. Patricia Reading Leclerq. Washington: Smithsonian, 1969.

Chabot, Frederick C., ed. Texas in 1811: The Las Casas and Sambrano Revolutions. San Antonio: Yanaguana Society, 1941.

McDonald, David. José Antonio Navarro: In Search of the American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Texas. Denton: Texas State Historical Association, 2010.

Marino, Michael. "Tejanos and the Texas Revolution: Their Reaction to the Centralist Threat." Master's Thesis, The University of Texas - Pan American, 2014.

Martínez de Vara, Art. Tejano Patriot: The Revolutionary Life of José Francisco Ruiz, 1783–1840. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2020.

Martínez de Vara, Art, ed. The José Francisco Ruiz Papers: Volume I - Report on the Indian Tribes of Texas in 1828. Von Ormy, TX: Alamo Press, 2014.

Ramos, Raul A. Beyond the Alamo, Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821–1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Rios, Nora Elia Cantu. "Jose Francisco Ruiz, Signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence." Master's Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1970.

Spaw, Patsy McDonald. The Texas Senate, Vol. 1, Republic to Civil War, 1836–1861. College Station: Texas A&M Press. 1990.   

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Spanish Translation

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Portrait of José Francisco Ruiz. Courtesy of Alamo Mission Foundation.