Texas A&M University Kingsville, South Texas Archives

J.T. Canales Estate Collection

Collection Summary

Creator J.T. Canales
Title: J.T. Canales Estate Collection
Dates: 1899 - 1976
Abstract: Judge J.T. Canales was a leading South Texas Mexican American political leader, lawyer, judge, legislator, landowner, and one of the founders of L.U.L.A.C., the League of Latin American Citizens. His estate collection includes correspondence, historical and religious articles, land records and abstracts, over 50 maps and building plans, and other materials. The Canales family descend from the original Spanish Land Grantee Don Jose Salvador DeLaGarza of the “El Espititu Santo” Land Grant, portions of which are still owned by the Canales family today.
Identification A1990-034; A1992-025; A1998-038; A1999-022
Collection URL http://archives.tamuk.edu/collections/ead.php?xml=Canales%20ead
Quantity: 15 linear feet
Location: STAD Boxes 430-442; ; Rare Books and Special Collections; Flat Files
Language: English; Spanish

Historical Note

José Tomás Canales, 1877-1976, was born on a ranch in Nueces County, Texas. His mother was descended from the family of Jose Salvador de la Garza who had been given a vast Spanish land grant, Espiritu Santo, which once covered most of present-day Cameron County. He was the grandnephew of Juan N. Cortina, who is considered a Mexican folk hero by the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Growing up in a close knit family in Nueces and Cameron counties, he was first educated in schools in South Texas, Tampico, Matamoro, and Mier, Tamaulipas. Later he attended secondary school in Austin, Texas but moved to Kansas City, Kansas where he completed his secondary education. He entered the University of Michigan in 1896 and received a law degree before returning to practice law first in Corpus Christi, Texas then Laredo, Texas and ultimately in Brownsville, Texas. He considered Brownsville his home and became a political powerhouse from that community. Moving to Brownsville in 1903 he worked in the county assessor’s office then became county superintendent of public schools, 1912-1914; county judge, 1914, and city attorney, 1930-1940. He served a total of five terms in the Texas House of Representatives, 1905-1910 and 1917 and 1917 -1920. While in the Legislature he worked in particular on education, judicial and tax reform, and irrigation and water problems. He played a significant role in the development of commercial farming in the region. He helped write the law that created what is now Texas A&M University-Kingsville. As Cameron County Superintendent of Public Schools he stressed the use of the English language, U.S. patriotism and rural education. During the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Judge Canales organized a company of Latin American scouts to assist the U.S. Army in collecting intelligence on and combating Mexican raids. In 1918 he forced a legislative investigation of the Texas Rangers that led to the reorganization of the force and then turned his attention to helping create civil rights organizations. Later, realizing that there were several different Latin American groups working for the same civil rights causes, he and his friend Alonzo Perales worked to bring Latin American groups under one umbrella and helped establish the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929. He wrote most of its first constitution, served on its first board of trustees, and was president of the organization from 1932-1933. As president, he turned his attention to developing a scholarship fund which would assist young Latinos pursuits of college education; and enhanced the publication of LULAC News to help publicize the work of the organization. In the courtroom, Judge Canales fought on behalf of Latin Americans when he successfully represented a young man accused f killing a Texas Ranger; served as an appellate attorney in Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra, the first Texas case concerning the segregation of Latin American school children; and was involved in Delgado v. Bastrop ISD, a milestone case in the attempt to eliminate the separate public education for Latin Americans. Canales was a deeply religious man who at various times in his life was a Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. He wrote many essays on religion, ethics, law and history. He corresponded extensively with other men of his time who were working for the same causes, published four books, and did research on a variety of subjects. He was also a wealthy landowner whose family was engaged in cattle ranching, and later in raising crops, especially cotton. He was married to Anne Anderson Wheeler and they had one daughter, one granddaughter, and many nieces and nephews to whom he was quite attached.

Scope and Contents

The materials in the J. T. Canales Estate Collection cover portions of his personal, professional and spiritual life. The physical bulk of the collection are the title abstracts that he completed. This is followed in bulk by his papers concerning political and legal topics, individual case files and interest groups such as L.U.L.A.C., G.I. Forum, American Council of Spanish Speaking People and the Anglo-Latin Good Relations Committee. The collection also contains materials about his many philanthropic and religious pursuits. His personal and professional papers are replete with correspondence to and from many of the movers and shakers in South Texas legislation, civil rights, religion and education. The material in the first addition to the J.T. Canales Estate Collection consists mostly of personal correspondence between J.T. Canales and his granddaughter during the 1960s and is accompanied by photographs from the same era. This portion of the collection does include a photograph of J.T Canales as a young man with his parents and siblings. There is also one of the earliest pieces of information about him, his 1893 Grammar School graduation certificate.


The first accession in the J.T. Canales Estate Collection (A1990-034) is arranged into seven series: Series I. General Subseries A. Education Subseries B. History Subseries C. Personal Series II. Land Subseries A. Border Water Rights Subseries B. Title Abstracts Series III. Philanthropic Subseries A. Scholarships Subseries B. Boy Scouts of America Subseries C. Brownsville Community Center Subseries D. Canales Foundation Subseries E. Crippled Children Subseries F. Donations Series IV. Political/Legal Subseries A. Bar Associations Subseries B. Case Files Subseries C. Correspondence Subseries D. Interest Groups Series V. Religious Subseries A. General Subseries B. Catholic Church Subseries C. Episcopal Church Subseries D. Presbyterian Church Series VI. Maps & Architectural Drawings Series VII. Books

Index Terms

J.T. Canales
League of United Latin American Citizens
Order of Sons of America
Anglo-Latin Good Relations Committee
Texas -- Legislature -- House of Representatives
Texas Rangers
Brownsville Historical Society
Rio Grande Railroad Company
Society for Crippled Children of Texas
Latin American Law Committee
Texas Water Code Committee
Geographical Names
Brownsville (Tex.)
Corpus Christi (Tex.)
San Diego (Tex.)
Duval County (Tex.)
Jim Wells County (Tex.)
Padre Island (Tex.)
Mexican Americans -- Texas
Judges -- Texas
Land grants -- Texas
Irrigation laws -- Texas
Texas -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950
Progressivism (United States politics)
Ranching -- Texas -- History
Catholic Church
Episcopal Church
Presbyterian Church