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

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