Bryan V. Callaghan, Jr., political boss, county judge, and mayor of San Antonio, son of Bryan V. and Concepción (Ramón) Callaghan, was born in San Antonio on April 1, 1852. After receiving an elementary education at St. Mary's Institute, he studied at the Lycée de Montpelier in southern France for five years. He then took a position as a guard on a West Texas stagecoach line operated by a family friend, Peter Gallagher. After a few years he took up the study of law at the University of Virginia, where he received a bachelor of law degree in 1874. Callaghan then returned to San Antonio and set up a private law practice. In 1879 he married Adele Guilbeau; they had six children.
Callaghan was elected alderman in San Antonio in 1879. In 1883 he became city recorder, and in 1885 he won his first term as mayor. He was continuously reelected until 1892, when he resigned to campaign successfully for a seat as a county judge of Bexar County. He returned to the mayor's office in 1897 but lost the post in 1899. He resumed his private law practice, then returned to politics in 1905, once again elected mayor. He continued to hold that office until his death. One of the reasons for his political success was his appeal to the ethnically diverse voters of San Antonio. By birth or by marriage, he had intimate ties to the Irish, Hispanic, and French communities in the city. He was able to deliver political speeches fluently in English, Spanish, French, and German. He was Catholic, like many San Antonio residents. He also entered politics at a time when San Antonio's fiscally conservative leadership was reluctant to provide municipal services that the growing population needed. At the beginning of his career, while he was building his political organization, he favored the expansion of city services, though he later became more conservative in his own views on municipal spending. Nevertheless, he became a civic hero. Throughout his tenure in office he stood as a bulwark against prohibition agitation and the growing drive for other sumptuary laws.
The Callaghan machine has been accused, with justification, of a variety of sins, including the unethical distribution of patronage, opposition to civil-service reform, lenience toward gambling and vice operations, favoritism in awarding municipal contracts, and widespread vote manipulation. On the other hand, Callaghan accepted advice from and directed resources toward groups of citizens that had been ignored in the past. He worked to expand and modernize the police and fire-fighting forces of the city. He began major road-paving and sewerage projects, and under his guidance the city gained ownership of its waterworks. During his administrations city officials expanded the park system and school facilities and built a new city hospital and city hall. Callaghan may have used irregular methods in the accomplishment of these goals, but he did not benefit personally from the power he wielded; he had built up no personal fortune when he died in his San Antonio home on July 8, 1912.