Who Founded Dallas, Why its Called Dallas and what is has to do with Russian Czars and an Indian named Ned

Who Founded Dallas and who did they name it after?  HB

So the founding of Dallas, its name and its founder are all a little vague.  There are variations, but generally the story involves, murders, shootings, insane asylums, Russian Czars and an Indian named Ned.  Though there are different variations, I’ve included what most accept as the rough story.

Much of the vagueness behind the story lies in our founder, John Neely Bryan.  He was a rugged outdoorsmen who had lived with Indians, fled the Dallas after shooting someone and was driven to the bottle.  He was also a man who was described by author John Rogers as” “…a mortal whose life show spurts of considerable practical initiative, altering with the desire to wander off into dreams.  And as so often happens, his spirit must have been the unhappy battlefield.”  Well said John.


 John Neely is on the left and looking none to happy

He was a Tennessean by birth and moved to the American wildernesses in 1830’s to live for a number of years with Indians.  When he returned to the white man’s world, he helped to found the town of Van Buren in western Arkansas.  But hearing that there was fortune to be made in the newly formed Republic of Texas, he headed in search of his riches there.  His traveling group consisted of his faithful dog, Toby, a painted horse that he had given the Indian name of “Neshoba” which meant Walking Wolf, and an Indian, who he had given the white man name of Ned.  I should point out that this might actually have been the Indian’s real Indian name, but I doubt so.

Indian_large“Ned”…… maybe

Sometime, in 1841, the party came upon an embankment above a river that John thought would make a good trading post.  As legend has it, John took out a piece of buckskin, carved his name on it, and staked it to the ground.  Hence, Dallas was “founded.”


A replica of the Bryan’s cabin in downtown dallas

The town would slowly grow, and Bryan had some early success, even getting married and having children.  But for some reason he grew despondent, maybe it was the wanderlust in him, but it was said he took to the bottle more heavily than he normally did.  In 1855, believing that another man had insulated his wife, Bryan, while drunk, shot him.  Fearing that the man was dead and that the law, or worse, his enemies were after him, Bryan, while still drunk, rode off in the night leaving his family and Dallas behind.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

At least Ms. Bryan remembered Dallas fondly

He wandered around the American West for the better part of the next decade.  In 1862 he returned to Dallas after learning that the man he had shot hadn’t died and that he held no ill will towards him.  Bryan’s next ten years in Dallas wavered between those productive times and those periods chasing dreams.  By the 1870’s, the bottle had taken most of his mind, and he died in the state insane asylum in Austin in 1877.


John towards the end of his life

As far as the name of the town, you first have to clear up the idea that the county and the city are named for the same person or reason.  The town was founded in 1841, and referred to in personal journals and publications as such before the county was founded in 1846.  When the county was founded, they wanted to name it after the current US president James K. Polk, however there was already a county named after him in Texas.   So they went with the Vice President, George Dallas, who had been a respectable attorney practicing in Philadelphia and former ambassador to Russia before becoming Vice President.


Our counties namesake, George Dallas

But as I said, the town was founded in 1841, five years before the county.  And Bryan for his part said that “I named the town after my good friend, Dallas.”  This is according to a 1930’s history of Dallas published by Frank Cockrell, the son Alexander Cockrell, one of Bryan early and good friends in Dallas.  Who just so happens to have been tragically shot shortly after Bryan fled town by the town marshal while trying to collect a debt.  So, was Bryan good friends with the Russian ambassador, and did he get paid to start a spy settlement on the banks of the Trinity.  Well it’s highly unlikely that Bryan, who had spent the past decade living in the wilderness with Indians or in a frontier town in Arkansas knew who Dallas was at all.

56604819John and Alexander ran a ferry and bridge across the Trinity early in Dallas

No…who Dallas is named after is about as clear as the town’s early history.  There are plenty, plenty of theories.  But the best is that a man, who Bryan knew well, who shared property boundaries with him in Van Buren Arkansas, and who moved briefly to Cedar Springs in Dallas County in the 1840’s, is the friend Bryan mentioned to Cockrell.  That man, a “Joseph Dallas,” is the best bet for the town’s namesake.


Is this Joseph Dallas?

home alone

No it’s the old man from Home Alone

Why Campisi’s is called the “Egyptian Restaurant” and why people claim it’s tied to the mob

Why do they call it Campisis’s Egyptian Restaurant, is it because they’re in the mob? A.M.

So first of all, apparently whenever you’re writing about people you know personally, you’re supposed to say so.  I first met the Campisi family when I started preschool in Dallas at age 3 and met the twins.  But I’m not close to them; almost all kids that grew up in East Dallas in the 90’s knew the Campisi’s, or their extended family of the Fry’s, Culter’s, Dome’s, etc.  Now let’s get to the strangely named “Egyptian” Restaurant and its Italian food, wonderful pizza…and the alleged mob connections.

The Egyptian Restaurant                                              Obviously would specalize in this delicious pizza

Campisis Campisis-pizza

The Egyptian part of the name dates back the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  The Campisi family had run a grocery in Dallas since the turn of the century, but had only started to make pizzas (very good pizza) after World War II.  In a few short years they had become somewhat successful, out growing their location on McKinney Ave. and moving to the current location on Mockingbird.  Before Campisi’s moved in, the space had been known as the Egyptian Lounge, a nightclub and bar.  Campisi’s spent most of their money on the move and renovations to the interior and kitchen, leaving little for a new sign for the restaurant.  So they took the Egyptian Lounge Sign that was out front, and paid what little money they had to remove the lounge part and add the restaurant part.  Since then the name has stuck…going on 60 years.

filename-p1120048-jpg  They changed this sign

What has also stuck is the reputation that the Campisi’s are involved in and the restaurant is run by the Mafia in Dallas, or at least associated with the mob.  Why?  Well, the Campisi’s are an Italian American Family, a large successful Italian American Family, a large successful Italian American family that deals in (up until recently) what is an all cash business.  Doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots or make the accusations.  Of course what people who make these accusations neglect to realize is that Dallas has never really been a big mafia town.  Our crime, the organized kind, is usually gunslinging-murdering Benny Binion gamblers, underhanded Dad Joiner oil wildcatters, or crooked Danny Faulkner land developers.

l  But see, it looks like a place the mob would hang out in

What’s usually the biggest evidence pointed out for the mafia connection is the fact that Jack Ruby visited Campisi’s and allegedly ate with Joe Campisi the night before Ruby shot Oswald.  Or as the conspiracy theorist go, Ruby was a solider in the mob and got his marching orders to kill Oswald from Joe, a local mafia member.  The problem here beyond the fact that mob in Dallas wasn’t really big, was that Ruby was never really considered a member of the mob.  He was a wannabe, all the press corp members and vice cops of the era said as much.  A.C. Green a columnist and former metro writer for the Dallas Times Hearld who knew Ruby, called him, “…an undistinguished man”  who ran “…an undistinguished club”  that “didn’t even have  elementary class.”  And because Dallas lacked a strong organized estblishament, there wasn’t much need for a pleadingly crummy nightclub manager.  For his part, Joe Campisi said he hardly knew Ruby, and told the Warren Commission that Ruby was “…a crazy S.O.B.”

jack-ruby-nightclub-operator-everett  The crazy S.O.B. is on the left.

What’s more realistic is that the Campisi’s had interaction with people who were involved in organized crime as a fact of running a restaurant.  Running a restaurant in the 50’s and 60’s you had to deal with them.  Consider Thorton Mellon’s hidden cost of development lecture. It made sense for Joe to have good relations with liquor suppliers, labor, town officials, and other suppliers. Some of whom were likely involved in organized crime.  Plus Campisi’s likely had a few organized crime members that ate at the restaurant, it wasn’t like the cabana in the Goodfellas, but Tom Landry also ate there, and he’s about as straight laced as they come.  The relationship has been played up recently mainly for publicity now that one Campisi became a Playboy Playmate and another got a short lived TV show.  But really, it’s not as glamorous not as interesting as people make it out to be.

Best Books That Help You Understand Dallas

Can you recommend a good book about Dallas history.  A.W.

Whenever my father would have a new employee or a new neighbor move in from out of state, he would recommend four books that they should read to better acquaint themselves with Dallas and Texas (they’re listed at the bottom along with several others).  He’d pass along these four books because there was never just one book that he thought provided a good history in a “just the facts ma’am” way.  No text book that gave a clear and concise history of the town, nor one that could describe it’s people and the culture of Dallas and Texas.  There are plenty of reasons why, but that’s a different story and different question.

Never the less, below are several histories of Dallas and other books that helps one understand Dallas;

My Father’s recommendations:

NorthDallasFortybkcvr North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent, 1973 – Gent, a former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver, wrote this novel about a “fictional” football team in Dallas (but not named the Cowboys, wink wink).  His style mirrors Hunter S. Thompson (including the drinking, drugs, and sex) and it’s perhaps the best look inside the Landry Cowboys and life as a Cowboy.

Helps to Understand: The Dallas Cowboys, Counter-Culture in Dallas of the 60’s


GoodbyeToARiver_web Goodbye to a River by John Graves, 1960 – As the wild rivers of Texas were being dammed to build lakes for drinking water in postwar Texas, Graves headed off down one of those rivers, the Brazos, in a canoe with little else but a faithful dog, a .22 rifle, some coffee and whiskey.  Both an eloquent writer and a rustic individualist in a Thoreau type of way, Graves wrote about his journey down the river and relayed the history of the area.

Helps to Understand:  Texas Nature and Wildlife, The Frontier Spirit of North Texas

fnl_cover_195 Friday Night Lights, H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger – By now everyone knows about Friday Night Lights, but more for the TV show and it’s acting then the original book based on a tiny west Texas town in 1989.  Even if you’ve seen the show and the movie, you need to read the book.

Helps to Understand:  Texas High School Football, Tiny Towns that surround Dallas

finch2-8-11-1Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer, 1961 – a former staff member for Lyndon Johnson, Brammer wrote a series of short novels that revolve around a masterful but “fictional” politician in Texas (totally not LBJ, wink wink).  Much like what Gent’s novel did for pro football, Brammer’s book gives a great inside eye to politics in Texas.  While politics have changed some since the 60’s, it’s pretty still much the same good ol’ boy network.

Helps to Understand:  LBJ, Politics in Texas, how things in the state capital get done

Other great books about Dallas, Texas

dallaspublicandprivateDallas Public and Private by Warren Leslie, 1964 – There are thousands of books about the JFK assassination; however this is the book that details Dallas’s role in the assassination.  The political and cultural atmosphere of the city and the civic leaders at the time and its effect, if any on Ruby, Oswald the rest of the players.

Helps to Understand:  JFK, The City’s Guilt, Culture of Midcentury Dallas

41n3D4YqaAL__SL500_SY300_ Dallas U.S.A., by A.C. Green 1984 – Green, a former columnist and editor at the Dallas Times Herald, wrote this history of Dallas while the TV show “Dallas” was big.  It’s in part a defense of Dallas against the stereotype of the TV show.  It’s also a pretty good history up to the 80’s, though it reads a little like a history of Dallas written by someone who lives in Richardson.

Helps to Understand:  Dallas throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the people who built the underground tunnels in downtown Dallas

$(KGrHqJ,!hoFETEUPmQsBRIUkCSPiw~~60_35 The Lusty Texans of Dallas, John William Rogers, 1950 – This might be my favorite book about Dallas history solely because how Rogers turns a phrase, like, “the Dallas Opera House undramatically burned down,” or “a stocky man whom the years have inclined to plumpness” or my favorite, the gentleman “must have clowns in his ancestry because he finds a great deal about life amusing.”

Helps to Understand: Early Dallas History, The Influx of Oil Money on Dallas, How Dallas Grew-Up

$(KGrHqF,!q0E-ZStHzMYBP5CyBjTCw~~_35 The WPA Dallas Guide and History, circa 1930’s republished 1993 – A good collection of facts and some stories from the early years of Dallas.  Some very good, some not so much, and some totally out of left field or blatantly racist.  Entertaining if nothing else and worth your time. Be sure to read addition sources to verify some info in it.

Helps to Understand: Early Dallas History, Culture of depression era Dallas, Dallas Folklore

956094 Big D by Darwin Payne, 1994 – Might be the closest thing to a textbook about Dallas.  Focuses more on politics and politicians more then arts, culture, sports, and the life of the people of Dallas.  It can be laborious at times to get through, and ends up a little heavy on the Citizen’s Council, the unelected civic leaders of Dallas that has run the show for 70 years.

Helps to Understand:  Politics in Dallas, the Citizen’s Council

 the-acccommocation1 The Accommodation, by Jim Schutze, 1987 – Schutze, a former writer for the Times Herald and current Observer columnist, wrote probably the most definitive history of race and politics in Dallas.  In short, his book details the bribes of white business men and the selling out of black community leaders throughout Dallas history, particularly in the civil rights era.  Might not be completely accurate but mostly correct.  Schutze signed over the rights of the book to John Wiley Price, an African American community leader shortly after publication to promote better relations.  Shutze and Price have since had a falling out and Price refuses to grant permission for additional printings, hence the book’s scarcity.

Helps to Understand:  Race in Dallas, Race in Dallas Politics, the Civil Right Era in Dallas.

Lawn  JWP

It’s a shame these two guys can’t get along

Now there are of course plenty of other books about Dallas, like the Dallas Myth, Big D is for Dallas, Dallas Cowboys 50 Years of Football and most recently Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by the great Ben Foundation. I’d recommend them, but I can’t talk about them much because I haven’t read them and don’t feel right pontificating about them.





Who the Katy Trail is named after and why it could have only happened in Dallas

The Katy Trail feels so very un-Dallas, I mean who is Katy and what did she do to make such an awesome thing in the middle of Dallas?  JJ

I’m paraphrasing this question a little, really it came from a conversion with a young lady about how the Katy Trail  seems so very un-Dallas (read Austin) and who it’s named after.  In short it’s not named after any person, but also the Katy Trail is actually a very uniquely Dallas creation, one that wouldn’t have happened in Austin, Portland or Seattle.

See the trail is not named after some rich lady in Highland Park, or a biking enthusiast in East Dallas.  It’s named after Kansas and Texas.  Don’t follow?  Okay think about the Katy Trail, it’s flat, extremely straight, above grade(elevated above roadways) and shielded from many surrounding buildings by tall mature trees.  What else has those characteristics?

katytrail                        knox

The Katy Trail Now                                                                           The Katy Trail 50 years ago

That’s right, railroads.  Now the path that the Katy Trail follows used to be a rail line for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad.  Or the MKT for short, or the KT for even shorter.  Or the Katy, for the spelled out version.  Hence the trail is named after the Kansas and Texas part of the name of the railroad that used to own the line, much like the Santa Fe Trail is named after the Santa Fe railroad and the SoPac Trail is named after the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Also, Katy Texas is named after the MKT railroad.

KATY MKT MISSOURI KANSAS TEXAS RAILROAD The KATY Line Railway MO_ KS_ TX_, The  Katy Girl Magazine Ad Advertising

Be proud of your namesake, Katy, Texas

So why is the Katy Trail, a uniquely Dallas creation, one that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else? Well, by the 1980’s the rail line had lost much of its use for freight railroads.  However at the same time, Dallas, under the direction of the public transit agency DART, was beginning the process of acquiring rail lines to build a passenger light rail system.  Back then, DART thought that the Katy line would be a perfect line because it ran out of downtown connecting to north Dallas, Richardson, Plano and all the way to Oklahoma (not that anyone actually wants to go to Oklahoma.)  But DART ran into a problem…rich people who don’t like public transit and poor people, at least not in their back yard.


Not fans of public transit, unless of course they’re hop-ons(Couldn’t find a clip of hop-ons, so here’s Bust and Gob doing Godzilla)

In this case it was rich people in the Park Cities where the line briefly ran through.  These rich people said no, we don’t want public transit, and a passenger train line running through our city and neighborhood.  I’d imagine the conversation went something like this;

DART: Well the only other possibility to run a light rail line north to Mockingbird is to somehow tunnel beneath Central Expressway for several miles.

Parkies:  And?

DART:  Its cost prohibitive, it literally costs hundreds of millions of dollars that DART doesn’t have.

Parkies:  Then we will completely fund and help to run the campaign for the bond election to ensure you receive the money.

DART:  But really, it would be much easily if we just…

Parkies: Sorry the matter is settled.

So, Dallas got the subway part of the light line system that runs from downtown beneath central and connects back to the Katy rail line at Mockingbird.


The City Place Station under Central

Now it’s at this moment that Dallas’s yin and yang, our rich businessmen and our progressive urbanites can be seen.  See instead of having the land that the Katy Trail currently sits on be gobbled up by those same rich people, some smart people at City Hall, some advocates in the community, and some very very smart people at DART arranged for the remaining part of the Katy rail line not used for light rail or freight rail, but instead to be donated and turned into a hike and bike trail.

Katy Trail  2005  Dahlia Woods

Much prettier then that train station picture

See, that never would have happened in Austin, or many other places either.  Some cities just don’t have the rich people with their nimby concerns, others might have the rich people, but lack the rich people with the wherewithal, the connections and the political structure in place to fund alternates.   And even fewer also have the rich connected people, AND enough smart, committed, community driven, quasi-hippies to ensure that those rich white people didn’t just annex that land onto their back yards.

Dallas’s unique blend of boss-man suits and tree-hugging granolas made the Katy Trail happen.  Both our Ross Perots and our Stoney Burns; our Tom Lepperts and our Angela Hunts.  So next time you’re running down the Katy Trail or at the Ice House be sure to thank that 40 something on the $5,000 dollar bike barking into his Bluetooth and crushing it; but also thank the heavily tatted guy on a unicycle eating homemade pickles and wearing ironic shades; because that combination made the Katy Trail.

cycling-21          DSC02410

Crushes business                                                Crushes granola