James Hughes Callahan, a soldier of the Texas Revolution and frontier military leader, was born near Marietta, Georgia, in 1812. He marched to Texas as a sergeant in Capt. J. C. Winn's Third Company of the Georgia Battalion, which arrived at Velasco just before Christmas of 1835. Callahan served in this unit for more than the next two months but managed to escape the Goliad Massacre, probably by having been engaged in a labor detail at Victoria during the battles of March 1836. After a postwar visit in the United States, he settled in the southwestern Hill Country. He helped establish Walnut Springs (now Seguin) in 1838. During the 1840s he moved to Caldwell County, where he operated a 350-acre farm and a store. He also held government land grants in Lavaca and Kimble counties. He married Sarah Melissa Day in 1841; they had four children.
Callahan remained an active citizen and soldier and, like many others who had fought in the revolution, was vigorously anti-Mexican. From 1839 to 1841 he commanded a group of minutemen in Guadalupe County who chased and fought Indians and Mexicans accused of stealing horses. He also volunteered for more formal campaigns between 1840 and 1842. He served as a first lieutenant in Mathew Caldwell's company in 1840, and became a company commander during the incursion of Rafael Vásquez in 1841, in which he led a retreat from San Antonio. The next year his sixty-man company helped expel Adrián Woll from Texas and saw action at the battle of Salado Creek. Later that year Callahan also served as a lieutenant in the Somervell expedition.
His military activities then ceased until 1855, when he commanded the punitive expedition into Mexico that bears his name. This campaign originated with Governor E. M. Pease's authorization to form a ranger company to retaliate against Indian attacks in Bexar and Comal counties. Callahan was also responding to slaveholders' appeals for a military venture that would return runaway slaves from Mexico. Accordingly, his company of about 130 men crossed the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass on September 29, 1855, and fought an inconclusive battle about forty miles south of there on the Río Escondido. Callahan retreated to Piedras Negras, which he first fortified, then looted and burned, before recrossing the Rio Grande under fire.
He failed to gain the support needed for another expedition, but public opinion generally favored his aggressive action. He moved to Blanco in 1854 or early 1855 and was killed there in April 1856 during a feud with Woodson Blassingame. The legislature of 1857–58 named Callahan County in his honor. In 1931 the bodies of Callahan and his wife were removed from the cemetery at Blanco and reinterred in the State Cemetery, Austin.