Lea, Thomas Calloway, Jr. (1877–1945)

By: Evan Haywood Antone

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: November 6, 2019

Thomas Calloway Lea, Jr., lawyer and mayor of El Paso, was born in Independence, Missouri, on October 29, 1877, the eldest of three children of Thomas Calloway and Amanda Rose Lea. He attended Kansas City (Missouri) Law School, from which he received an LL.B. degree in 1898. In 1904 he began his law practice and was appointed police-court judge. He married Zola May Utt on June 29, 1906, and they had three sons. Lea served as a volunteer in the Spanish-American War and World War I, during which he attended officers' training school at Fort Sam Houston. After the armistice he resumed law practice in El Paso, where he became a renowned criminal lawyer. Lea and his law partner, Robert Ewing Thomason, were noted for their use of emotionalism in court. In the mayoral election of 1915 Lea defeated the incumbent, Charles E. (Henry) Kelly. As El Paso mayor from 1915 to 1917, Lea served during Francisco (Pancho) Villa's activities in the Mexican interior and on the border. He threatened Villa with arrest if he came to El Paso. In retaliation Villa offered a standing reward of a thousand pesos in gold to anyone who would deliver on the Mexican side the gringo mayor of El Paso dead or alive. Lea received obscene notes in Spanish threatening to kidnap his sons, who were escorted to and from school daily by a policeman. Zola May Lea died of cancer in 1936, and Lea married Mrs. Rosario Partida Archer on May 20, 1939. He died of a heart attack in Southwestern General Hospital on August 2, 1945, and was interred in Evergreen Cemetery on August 4. He held an illustrious record in Masonry and was a member of the First Baptist Church; he was a member of the State Bar of Texas for over forty years. He was honored by the state Supreme Court in a resolution dated November 22, 1945, and a city park located below Rim Road in El Paso was named for him. His eldest son, Thomas Calloway (Tom) Lea III, became widely known as an outstanding artist and author.

Evan Haywood Antone, Tom Lea: His Life and Work (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1988). El Paso Times, December 25, 1936, May 22, 1939, August 3 and 4, 1945. Joseph M. Ray, ed., Thomason: The Autobiography of a Federal Judge (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1971). C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 vols., El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Evan Haywood Antone, “Lea, Thomas Calloway, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 25, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lea-thomas-calloway-jr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
November 6, 2019