Tobin, John Wallace (1867–1927)

By: Zelime Vance Gillespie

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: July 1, 1995

John Wallace Tobin, sheriff of Bexar County and city mayor, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on June 27, 1867, the son of Josephine (Smith) and William Gerard Tobin. He received his education at St. Mary's Academy and St. Mary's College. At the age of twenty he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Texas militia as a member of the Belknap Rifles, a San Antonio volunteer organization. In 1893 he was elected alderman. He resigned before completing the term to become chief of the San Antonio fire department. In 1897 he was Bexar County treasurer. In 1900 he began his tenure as county sheriff; he was reelected every two years until 1908 and again from 1910 to 1923, a total of twenty-one years. He was known as the "gunless sheriff." Tobin's ambition was to become mayor of San Antonio in the footsteps of his grandfather, John William Smith, first mayor of San Antonio in the Republic of Texas. He succeeded in 1923 and served as mayor until his death. His administration was marked by many public improvements, including the construction of Olmos Dam, the widening and straightening of the San Antonio River, a street-improvement project, the renovation of the city hall, and the construction of a municipal auditorium. Tobin was married to Minnie Thornton on August 15, 1906. They had a daughter, who died in childhood. He was an Episcopalian. Tobin died on November 10, 1927, and was buried in City Cemetery No. 1, San Antonio.

Frederick Charles Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (Yanaguana Society Publications 4, San Antonio, 1937). David R. Johnson et al., eds., The Politics of San Antonio (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983). Sidney Kring, "San Antonio-Yesterday and Today," County Progress, September 1927. San Antonio Express, November 11, 1927, September 26, 1965. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. James Bennett Wooding, "The Late John W. Tobin," Texas Pioneer, April 1928.

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

Zelime Vance Gillespie, “Tobin, John Wallace,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995