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home : perspectives : historico chaparral by tony bill September 30, 2014

3/27/2013 12:27:00 AM
J. T. Canales and the 1919 Texas Ranger Investigation
J. T. Canales
J. T. Canales
Texas Ranger Frank Hamer
Texas Ranger Frank Hamer
Historico Chaparral

(Part two of a four-part series)

In December 1918, a month before he filed House Bill No. 5 that led to a joint committee's investigation of the Texas Rangers, J.T. Canales was walking toward his law office in downtown Brownsville, when a man confronted him and said, "Come here, I want to talk to you."

Canales recognized the big hombre as Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. At 6"3" and weighing 230 lbs., Hamer cast a striking figure who used his physique and badge to intimidate people. He asked Canales, "What is the name of that (expletive deleted) that complained to you about the Rangers cursing him and abusing him over at Rio Grande City?"

Canales, briefly thrown off by the abrupt inquiry, responded "I don't believe such testimony is for you to know..."

Canales would later testify that Ranger Frank Hamer "looked at me in a very angry way, his eyes glistened, and ...I have been practicing law for 20 years and I know when men mean business. He told me, 'you are hot-footing it here and Austin and complaining to the Governor and Adjutant General about the Rangers, and I am going to tell you if you don't stop that you are going to get hurt.'"

Baffled by Hamer's statement, Canales commented, "what...???" And Hamer repeated, "If you are not going to quit it, you are going to get hurt."

Canales regained his composure and asked Hamer, "Will you repeat that to somebody, I would like to have a witness to that."

Canales then led Hamer down the sidewalk to a garage that was attached to the automobile sales business of Brownsville city commissioner Jesse Dennett. Canales then asked Dennett "to listen to what this man has to say."

Hamer attempted to explain the circumstances and Canales interrupted and instructed him to "repeat what you told me.....Didn't you just tell me that if I didn't quit making complaints against the Rangers to the Governor and the Adjutant General, that I was going to get hurt?"

Hamer didn't answer until commissioner Dennett asked him point blank, "Did you say that to Mr. Canales?"

Hamer replied, "Yes, sir."

Wesley Hall Looney, in his Master's Thesis at Texas Tech, writes that "Canales returned to his law office following the confrontation with Hamer. After reflecting on the enormity of the collaboration between Hanson and Hamer, Canales went to Cameron County Sheriff W.T.Vann for advice. Vann, who no doubt knew of Hamer's violent potential, already had heard of the incident from Canales's law partner, Oscar Dancy, and from James B. Wells. He had an answer ready for Canales: My advice to you is to take a double-barreled shot-gun...and kill that jury would convict you."

J.T. Canales "replied to Vann...I am a Christian, and my religion tells me that I should not take the life of any man, even if it is to save my own life."


The Joint Committee of the House and Senate to investigate the charges against the State Ranger Force was called to order by Chairman W.H. Bledsoe at 10 a.m. Friday, January 31, 1919. Jose Tomas Canales, State Representative from Brownsville, Texas was duly sworn in and began his testimony before the Committee with reference to the charges prepared and filed by him concerning the State Ranger Force.

"My name is J. T. Canales. I was born in the old County of Nueces, Texas very near to the present town of /Premont/. I am 42years old, will be next month. I went to the public schools of my county, came to Austin and attended business college, from here I went to Kansas City and graduated in the public schools of Kansas City, Kansas, and from there I went to Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1899, and have been practicing law in the State of Texas ever since then as a general practitioner, criminal as well as civil law."

Canales continued, informing the Committee that he "was first elected Representative in 1904...and was re-elected in 1907 and 1909." He chose not to run again until 1916 "and then ran for re-election to the present Legislature" in 1918.

He stated that he had "lived in Brownsville and its vicinity since 1904 and was well acquainted with the conditions there" and all along the border and South Texas.

"I was born and raised on a ranch and am thoroughly acquainted with the Ranger business." He explained that his earliest recollections included the Texas Rangers and that his home, La Cabra Ranch had "been a haven for the Rangers. They stayed there, were stationed there, came there at all hours, got our horses, got meals there, and they got our services. I have known among the Ranger forces some of the noblest and best men that I know, Captain Hughes, Captain Rogers, who is now United States Marshal, Captain Wright, who used to be Sergeant under Captain Hughes, and various other individuals. At that time they gave us protection. They were a capable set of men, and did not need any restriction because their own conscience was a self-restraint and law."

Canales then swore before the Committee "that the charges hereinafter made are not prompted by malice or any improper motive on my part, but for the purpose of enabling the Committee to investigate the abuses permitted in the present Ranger force in various sections of the State."

In the interest of relevancy only the charges that relate to the Llanos Mestenos will be noted.

Representative J.T. Canales then itemized his charges:

First. "I charge that on or about November 16, 1918 Rangers George B. Hurst and Daniel Hinojosa, while in a state of intoxication, discharged their pistols in the streets of San Diego, Duval County, Texas, and intimidated the citizens of said town that, and that afterwards, when complaints were made for their arrest, they made threats against the life of Constable Ventura R. Sanchez in the event he should execute the warrant of arrest against them."

Second: "I charge that Jesus Villarreal, a citizen of Duval County, while under the custody of Sergeant J.J. Edds together with other rangers, whose names at present are not known to me, on or about the 15th day of September, 1918, was tortured and brutally treated by said Rangers, assisted by one Royal Collins, in order to make him confess to a supposed violation of the law."

Third: "I charge that on or about October 5, 1918, Sergeant J.J. Edds, stationed at Rio Grande City, killed a man by the name of Lisando Munoz at Munoz's ranch which is near Rio Grande City under circumstances which makes said Edds guilty of murder in the second degree."

Fourth: "I charge that on or about September 2, 1918, one Jose Maria Gomez Salinas was murdered in Jim Hogg County by two Mexicans named Sabas Ozuna and Fredrico Lopez, under circumstances, that lead me to believe that said Mexicans were acting under the orders and at the request of Sergeant J.J. Edds."

In all J.T. Canales filed nineteen charges against the Texas Rangers.

(To Be Continued)

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Article comment by: luis duron


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