Tobin, William Gerard (1833–1884)

By: Zelime Vance Gillespie

Type: Biography

Updated: January 16, 2019

William Gerard Tobin, Texas Ranger, soldier, and businessman, was born in South Carolina on May 21, 1833. In October 1853 he traveled to San Antonio with his brother Dan. Two months after his arrival he was married to Josephine Smith, daughter of John William Smith, former mayor of San Antonio. They had ten children. Tobin was a member of the Texas Rangers for a short time in 1855, and in 1856 he served as city marshal of San Antonio. In 1859 he was captain of a company of San Antonio volunteers and served under Samuel Peter Heintzelman of the United States Army during Juan N. Cortina's raids along the border near Brownsville. When Texas seceded from the Union, Tobin was commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army; he served throughout the war. Subsequently, he returned to San Antonio. During the 1870s he leased the Vance Building, once a Confederate headquarters, and converted it into a hotel, the Vance House. He was an early advocate of Texas-type Mexican foods and in 1881 negotiated with the United States government to sell canned chili con carne to the army and navy. In the mid-1880s he organized an extensive factory for the canning of chili con carne and other Mexican specialties. Tobin's death, a few days after the canning operation had been started, ended further development of the project. He died at his home on July 28, 1884, and was buried in City Cemetery No. 1 in San Antonio.

William Corner, San Antonio de Bexar: A Guide and History (San Antonio: Bainbridge and Corner, 1890). M. L. Crimmins, "Colonel Robert E. Lee's Report on Indian Combats in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 39 (July 1935). Edward W. Heusinger, A Chronology of Events in San Antonio (San Antonio: Standard Printing, 1951). San Antonio Express, July 15, 29, September 7, 1884.

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

Zelime Vance Gillespie, “Tobin, William Gerard,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 16, 2019