Meet José Antonio Menchaca, The Namesake Behind The Long-Misspelled Street

Oct 5, 2018

Whether you end up pronouncing it differently or not, the road formerly known as Manchaca has a new name: Menchaca. The Austin City Council overwhelmingly approved an ordinance to change the name of the South Austin road to honor the Tejano revolutionary and San Antonio luminary, José Antonio Menchaca.

So who was he?

Menchaca was born in San Antonio in January 1800 under Spanish rule, and fought in the Mexican Revolution before later joining what became the Texian Army, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Early on in his tenure, Menchaca was conscripted by James Bowie as a courier, but was caught and captured by the Mexican Army while delivering a letter in 1835. He was released, and days later attended a ball at the Alamo that was held to celebrate the arrival of David Crockett, according to Timothy Matovina and Jesús De La Teja's translation of interviews and memoirs of Menchaca, Recollections of Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History.

Menchaca then headed for Gonzalez, where Gen. Sam Houston's troops rallied shortly after Texas' declaration of independence. It was there, Menchaca recalls in Recollections, he was told he and his fellow Tejano soldiers weren't expected to fight, when a commanding officer told him to watch the stables. Menchaca and his captain, Juan Seguin, asked to speak to Houston personally:

I then told him that he could not deprive me of my commission; that when I joined the Americans I had done so with a view of aiding them in their fight and that I wanted to do so even if I died facing the enemy. That I did not enlist to guard horses and would do no such duty; that if that was the alternative I would go and attend to my family, which was on its way to Nacogdoches without escort or servants. Houston answered that I spoke like a man. I answered that I considered myself one; that I could handle any and all kinds of arms from a gun to an arrow, and that having a willing heart I did not see why I should not be allowed to fight. Houston then told me that he would gladly let me and my company go to fight.

Menchaca was Seguin's second lieutenant in the decisive Battle of San Jacinto.

Bob Perkins, the retired judge who championed renaming the road for years, argues his name was first misspelled to the now-familiar "Manchaca," during the roll call after San Jacinto. His name was also misspelled in a proclamation from Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1838.

The heading of an 1838 joint resolution signed by Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar honoring Jose Antonio Menchaca misspells his name.
Credit Via Texas Portal to History

Menchaca went on to serve as an alderman and mayor pro-tem in San Antonio before joining back up with the Texas Army. Menchaca served until 1842, patrolling the area between San Antonio and what's now Austin, protecting settlers against Comanche raids. The prevailing history contends the misspelling of Menchaca's name was first rooted in geography during those patrols, as he and his troops would set up camp at a spring that became synonymous with his name. 

Opponents argue, however, argue the name comes from a Choctaw word for "rear entrance" and that the road served as an entrance to the spring. They also cite the existence of a "Manchac" on maps of Louisiana stretching back centuries. 

While Menchaca, who died in San Antonio in 1879, may have won out, it's important to point out that all this evidence is circumstantial.

In an interview with KUT in 2016, De La Teja pointed out that Dallas has a similarly murky history. While it was incorporated at around the time of then-Vice President George Mifflin Dallas' tenure, there's no document – as with Manchaca – that explicitly states it was named for him.

"We make an assumption based on the logic of the situation."