José Antonio Navarro

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José Antonio Navarro

Born February 27, 1795 San Antonio de Bexar, Mexico

Died January 14, 1871 San Antonio, Texas


Joseé Antonio Navarro is considered one of the founders of the state of Texas. He was one of the few Tejanos (Texas citizens of Mexican heritage) to gain recognition for playing a key role in the early days of Texas, from the Texas Revolution—when Texas declared its independence from Mexico—and the establishment of the Lone Star Republic to Texas statehood and beyond. Throughout his political career, Narvarro was a strong defender of the rights of Mexican Americans in his beloved Texas.

Witness to a revolution

José Antonio Navarro's father, Angel Navarro, was a private in the Spanish army when he came to what was then the colony of New Spain, and which later became Mexico. Leaving the army, he established a trading business in the town of Saltillo in the province of Tejas y Coahuila. After marrying Maria Josepha Ruiz y Pena, Angel Navarro moved to San Antonio de Bexar where he opened a store and started a family that would eventually include twelve children.

José Antonio Navarro was the eighth of these children. At the age of ten he was sent to Saltillo to attend school, but when his father died three years later, he had to return to San Antonio, and he never received any more formal education. The young Navarro was working in his father's store when the violence that had been erupting across New Spain reached his own town.

Beginning in 1811, resentment over the harsh rule of the Spanish, whose rigid class system granted privileges to those who were wealthy and of direct Spanish descents, led to scattered rebellions. The first was led by Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811), whose uprising of mostly poor, mixed-race followers was crushed by the Spanish. Eventually, however, the Spanish were beaten, and Mexico achieved its independence in 1821.

Before that day, however, the citizens of San Antonio de Bexar had fought their own battle with the Spanish. In 1813, the teenaged Navarro witnessed the brutal execution of some Spanish soldiers that the rebels had taken prisoner, an event that horrified him despite his admiration for the freedom fighters. Soon Spain sent a larger army to defeat the rebels, and Navarro was forced to flee, with his brothers and his uncle Francisco Ruiz, to the United States. After spending three years in Louisiana, Navarro returned to San Antonio de Bexar to establish himself as a merchant.

The White Dove

Now an adult, Navarro was six feet tall and muscular, although he walked with a limp from a childhood horseback-riding accident. He was a quiet, modest, serious young man who loved reading and who usually wore white clothing, which is why his brothers gave him the nickname "the White Dove." In his free time, he studied law books and developed an extensive knowledge of Spanish and, later, Mexican law.

In late 1820, just as Mexico's independence struggle was nearing its end, an American named Moses Austin (1761-1821) came to San Antonio de Bexar. He met with the town's Spanish representative and received permission to bring three hundred U.S. settlers to Tejas y Coahuila, which would come to be known in the United States as Texas. An expanding population, economic pressures, and expansionist spirit (the idea of U.S. citizens moving beyond their nation's current boundaries) had combined to make that rolling, sparsely populated land south of the border seem very attractive.

Not long after the meeting, Austin died unexpectedly, and his son Stephen Austin (1793-1836) took over as the settlers' leader. After renegotiating an agreement with the government of newly independent Mexico, whose leaders hoped these newcomers would bring prosperity to a remote and undeveloped region, Austin brought the first group of U.S. settlers to Texas. In order to live in the new land, these immigrants agreed to meet certain conditions, such as becoming Mexican citizens, obeying Mexican laws, and joining the state-sponsored Roman Catholic Church. It also was during this time that Austin and Navarro became friends, a relationship that would continue until Austin's death about fifteen years later.

Active in Mexican politics

In the wake of their revolution, and especially after the 1824 constitution established Mexico as a republic, most Mexicans hoped that they would enjoy the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other democratic nations. This would not the case though, as Mexico would suffer over the next few decades from political instability and dictatorial leaders. Nevertheless, Navarro took an active role from the start, winning election to the Mexican legislature.

In 1825, the thirty-year-old Navarro married teenaged Margarita de la Garza, with whom he would have a happy, almost forty-year marriage that produced seven children. He soon began a second term in the legislature, while also becoming one of the area's largest landowners by buying about 50,000 acres (divided into a number of ranches) as well as the long-horn cattle that had been brought to the region by the Spanish.

Meanwhile, as the decade progressed, residents of the United States who had caught "Texas fever" poured over the border. Navarro approved of this, because he thought it was a good idea to develop this land in which Mexicans were not, by and large, settling. In fact, by the end of the decade, there would be about fifteen thousand former U.S. citizens living in Texas, compared to only three thousand Tejanos. As a lawmaker, Navarro pushed legislation that would benefit the Texans, such as more lenient laws on slavery and religion. But gradually Navarro found that his fellow legislators considered him too close to the U.S. settlers, and they questioned his loyalty to Mexico.

Texans fight for independence

At the same time, there was growing fear that the Texans were becoming too independent. Much of this was brought on by the Texans themselves, for, despite their promises, most of them openly disobeyed Mexican laws, especially those outlawing slavery and restricting gun ownership. The Texans also made no effort to practice Catholicism, learn Spanish, or blend in with the native-born community. They were, indeed, asking for more autonomy (self-rule), but the Mexican government was in no mood to listen. In 1835, a dynamic general named Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876) had taken over as president and immediately overturned the 1824 constitution. Power was now concentrated in the central government, rather than the individual states, and Santa Anna ruled as a dictator.

In 1833, after having traveled to the nation's capital, Mexico City, to negotiate with the government, Austin was arrested and imprisoned. Two years later, Navarro was elected senator to the National Congress but, fearing that he also would be arrested because of his close ties to Austin, Navarro made excuses not to go to Mexico City. That same year, Austin was released from prison, but by this time Santa Anna had ordered Mexican troops into towns across Texas. He meant to show the Texans that the Mexican government would tolerate no nonsense. Now was the time for Tejanos to choose sides, and Navarro chose Texas.

In the early months of 1836, Texan leaders from across the region held a meeting in the town of Washington-on-Brazos. They were there to form an independent nation, which was to be called the Lone Star Republic. Navarro was one of only three Tejanos to participate in writing the constitution, which was closely modeled after that of the United States. The new republic's declaration of independence was signed on March 2, 1836, making the Lone Star Republic a reality.

Only four days later, Santa Anna's force surrounded and slaughtered a small group of Texans who had taken refuge in the Alamo, an old Spanish mission located at San Antonio. All of the Alamo's nearly two hundred defenders were killed, among them the legendary frontiersman Jim Bowie (1796-1836), the widowed husband of Navarro's niece. This incident, along with the later massacre of three hundred Texan prisoners at the town of Goliad, ignited Texans' rage. They rushed to join a rebellion that ended with the defeat of Santa Anna's troops at the Battle of San Jacinto by a Texan army under the command of Sam Houston (1793-1863), who would soon become the first elected president of the Lone Star Republic.

An uneasy truce and an ill-fated quest

Although the Mexican army withdrew, Mexico did not acknowledge Texas's independence. The two nations existed side by side in an uneasy kind of truce, as Texans began the work of running a country and Mexico bided its time. Navarro, too, had much to do, for his store needed rebuilding and his cattle stocks, depleted by the hunger of the Mexican army, needed replenishing.

Throughout the 1830s, Navarro served in the Texas Congress, working to help Tejanos gain legal ownership of their lands. Then, in June 1841, he made a decision that he would come to regret. The ambitious Mirabeau Lamar (1798-1859) was now the president of the Lone Star Republic. He believed that the residents of the Mexican territory of New Mexico, where the thriving trading center of Santa Fe was located, would gladly accept an offer to break away from Mexico and become part of Texas. Eager to pursue this goal, Lamar recruited more than three hundred individuals from a variety of backgrounds to take part in an expedition to Santa Fe. Navarro reluctantly agreed to become one of the leaders of the expedition, which set out with a long train of wagons loaded with trading goods.

The journey, however, was ill-fated from the start. Misled by an incompetent guide, the group became lost in the desert, soon discovering that its store of food and water was insufficient. They were attacked several times by hostile Native Americans, Comanches and Kiowas, who resented the Texans presence in the area, and many members of the expedition were plagued by illness and hunger.

But the worst was yet to come. Before reaching Santa Fe, the whole group was captured by the Mexican army and forced to make a long, difficult march to Mexico City that led to many of their deaths. Delighted with this chance to teach the Texans a lesson, Santa Anna ordered the group to be thrown into Acordada Prison. Because Santa Anna considered Navarro a traitor to Mexico, however, he was singled out for especially harsh treatment and was sentenced to be executed.

Imprisoned by Santa Anna

Much to Santa Anna's disappointment, Mexico's Supreme Court overturned Navarro's sentence, but Santa Anna retaliated as best he could. While the other expedition members were released in June 1842, Navarro was sent to the worst prison in Mexico, the notoriously dreary, damp San Juan de Ulloa, in the coastal city of Vera Cruz. He spent the next three years there, first in solitary confinement and then in a regular cell. When Santa Anna (whose grudge against Navarro, some said, dated back to the Navarro family's refusal of Santa Anna's proposal to marry Navarro's sister) came to visit him, Navarro would not say a word to the dictator, further enraging him.

By 1844, however, the Mexican people had had enough of Santa Anna. He was overthrown and exiled to Cuba, while the more moderate José Joaquin de Herrera (1792-1854) took over as president. With Herrera in power, Navarro now was finally allowed to leave the prison, and on February, 3, 1845 he returned to Texas. Receiving a hero's welcome in the port town of Galveston, he traveled immediately to his home to be reunited with his family and go back to work on his ranches.

The new state of Texas

Only a month after Navarro's return, Texas became part of the United States. The only Tejano elected to the convention to approve statehood and write a constitution, Navarro argued successfully against those who wanted only free white citizens of Texas to be able to vote. In the first elections held in the new state of Texas, Navarro was elected a state senator. The next year saw the beginning of the Mexican American War, when U.S. forces invaded Mexican territory, quickly taking control of New Mexico, California, and much of northeastern Mexico. The same year, a southern Texas county was named for Navarro, who requested that its county be called Corsicana, in honor of his father's birthplace.

The population of Texas had grown by leaps and bounds throughout the 1830s and early 1840s, bringing it to about two hundred thousand. The most recent immigrants, however, treated the Tejanos with prejudice and suspicion, especially during the years of the Mexican American War. This was surely disheartening for people like Navarro, who had lived in the region all their lives and who had worked, fought, and suffered for its independence. The fact was that many, if not most of the U.S. settlers, brought with them deeply racist ideas about Mexicans, whom they saw as ignorant, lazy, and incapable of self-government. The division between white Texans and Tejanos intensified even more after the war, expressed in occasional incidents of violence and in laws that prohibited the rights of Mexican Americans. These tensions and injustices were to continue well into the twentieth century.

Navarro's senate term ended in 1849 and he retired to private life, spending the next two decades working on his ranches. He did not give up politics altogether, however, for in 1853 he ran successfully for the office of San Antonio alderman (a position in city government). Navarro had been alarmed to witness the growing local influence of the strongly anti-Catholic and anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party, the name of which dated from its origins as a secret society, when members who were asked about the group's existence would respond that they did not know anything about it.

In the 1854 election, the Know-Nothings won the mayor's race as well as a majority on the city council. Navarro led a successful campaign to defeat the Know-Nothings in the next election. Voted out of office in 1855, they soon disappeared.

By 1861, rising tension over the issues of slavery and states' rights had brought the United States to the brink of civil war. Navarro supported the secession from the Union of the eleven southern states, including Texas, that made up the Confederacy. This action by the southerners resulted in a bloody four-year conflict between the North and the South, called the Civil War. All four of Navarro's sons fought for the Confederate Army. When Navarro died of cancer in 1871, he was recognized as a true Texas patriot and one of the key figures in its early history.

For More Information


Dawson, Joseph Martin. José Antonio Navarro: Creator of Texas. Waco, TX:Baylor University Press, 1969.

Gurasich, Marj. Benito and the White Dove: A Story of José Antonio Navarro, Hero of Early Texas. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1989.

Meier, Matt S. Mexican American Biographies: A Historical Dictionary, 1836-1987. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Montejano, David. Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Navarro, José Antonio. Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro's Historical Writings, 1853-1857. Austin, TX: State House Press, 1995.

Web Sites

"José Antonio Navarro: A Bicentennial Tribute 1795-1995." Texas Parks and Wildlife. [Online] Available (accessed on January 29, 2003).

Jose Antonio Navarro, Biography & Index. [Online] Available (accessed on January 29, 2003).

"José Antonio Navarro, 1795-1871." Sons of Dewitt Colony Texas. [On-line] Available (accessed on January 29, 2003).

Siegel, Stanley E. "Navarro, José Antonio (1795-1871)." The Handbook of Texas Online. [Online] Available (accessed on January 29, 2003).

Texans Declare Their Independence

On March 2, 1836, four days before the disastrous clash between several thousand Mexican troops and less than two hundred Texans at the Alamo, in which all the Texan defenders were killed, representatives from all over Texas staged an important meeting in the town of Washington-on-Brazos. There they declared their independence from Mexico and signed the following document, thus establishing the Lone Star Republic.

The Unanimous Declaration of Independence made by the Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the town of Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It [the Mexican government] hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, until they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic.

Richard Ellis, President of the Convention and Delegate from Red River

Source: "The Texas Declaration of Independence (March 2, 1836)." Lone Star Junction. [Online] Available (accessed on January 31, 2003).