Antonio Canales Rosillo, military leader and politician, son of Josefa Rosillo Canales and José Antonio Canales Treviño, was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, in 1802. He studied law, earned his license in 1829, and with his wife, María del Refugio Molano, reared five children. Canales served as a militia officer in fights against Comanche and Lipan raiders. He served a term in the Tamaulipas Chamber of Deputies and in 1834 joined in liberal opposition to Antonio López de Santa Anna's Centralist move against the Constitution of 1824. As commander of Federalist forces in Tamaulipas, Canales sent envoys to appraise Anglo-Texan, Tejano, and Indian sentiments. When he discovered that the Texans' intentions were to secede from Mexico, he practiced neutrality while he fostered the idea of an independent border republic. The geographical and ideological boundaries of this republic fluctuated, but Canales easily raised armed forces from both sides of the Rio Grande. In 1839 he visited San Antonio, Austin, and Lipantitlán on the lower Nueces to enlist men. During these visits he offered substantial bounties to those Texans who joined his cause. The Texian Auxiliary Corps, an irregular militia composed of 270 officers and men under separate command of colonels Richard Roman, Reuben Ross, and Samuel W. Jordan, allied with Canales and participated in various campaigns.
During this period of revolts and counterrevolts, Canales, Antonio Zapata, and others met at Guerrero in January 1840 and proclaimed a separate Republic of the Rio Grande, drafted a constitution, and selected Laredo as their capital. The republic would have included Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and the sub-Nueces portion of Texas. Jesús Cárdenas was selected president, and Canales was appointed secretary of war and commander in chief of the army. Although Texas did not recognize it politically, the republic existed in the minds of many border people.
As the Centralist state continued to transform Mexico, Canales continued resistance against it, but he was defeated at Monterrey by Centralist forces and retreated to the Rio Grande. At Santa Rita de Morelos, Coahuila, he lost Zapata. Along with several Texan volunteers, Zapata was captured, court-martialed, and executed on March 29, 1840. Canales eventually capitulated to Centralist forces and forsook his Texan allies, a move for which he received a commission as brigadier general in Santa Anna's army. He later led campaigns against Anglo-Texans at Corpus Christi and Lipantitlán and in 1842 was instrumental in stopping a Texan filibuster at Mier. He was dismissed in 1844 for abandonment of his post but was later reinstated.
During the Mexican War Canales harassed United States troops stationed between Corpus Christi and Matamoros. He fought at Palo Alto and at Resaca de Guerrero. He served under Gen. Pedro de Ampudia at Cerralvo and under Santa Anna at Buena Vista. Between 1848 and 1851 Canales served Tamaulipas as surveyor general, legislative envoy, and interim governor. On July 22, 1852, he received a gold award for exemplary conduct. His sons Servando and Antonio served several terms as governors of Tamaulipas. Canales apparently died in 1852, after leading government forces that suppressed the Tamaulipas Rebelión de la Loba at El Paso de Azúcar, Camargo.