A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from July 25, 2009
Dallas (summary)

Are the city of Dallas and the county of Dallas named after two different people named Dallas?

President James K. Polk and Vice President George Mifflin Dallas (1792-1864; a former senator from Pennsylvania) were elected in 1844 on a platform cry of “Polk, Dallas, Texas, and Oregon”—that is, electing the ticket of Polk and Dallas would help both Texas and Oregon to get admitted into the United States. Texas was annexed in 1845; the Texas counties of Polk and Dallas were named for the president and vice president in 1846.

The website of the City Secretary of the City of Dallas and the WPA’s Texas: A Guide to the Lone Star State (1940) state that the city of Dallas might not have been named after George Mifflin Dallas. The city name of “Dallas” was acquired in 1842—three years before George Mifflin Dallas became vice president. John Neely Bryan (the founder of Dallas) allegedly said that he named the town after a good friend, but he had never met George Mifflin Dallas. Other people named Dallas include: (1) Commodore Alexander James Dallas, a brother of George Mifflin Dallas and a naval commander stationed in the Gulf of Mexico; (2) Walter R. Dallas, who had fought at San Jacinto; (3) James L. Dallas, Walter’s brother and a former Texas Ranger; and (4) Joseph Dallas, who, like Bryan, was from Arkansas.

There is no documentary evidence, however, to support any these other people named Dallas. Histories of Dallas published between the 1890s and 1920s all state that the city was named after George Mifflin Dallas, but one Texas history from 1874 differs.

History of Texas (1874), by J. M. Morphis, states:

“This city was settled in 1842, by Colonel John Neely Bryan, and named in honor of Commodore Dallas, of the United States Navy, while the county was named after George M. Dallas.”

According to detailed newspaper accounts in 1876, 1925, and 1926 (see below), Mrs. Martha Gilbert—a Pennsylvania native and the first Anglo woman to live in Dallas County—chose the name that Bryan accepted. George Mifflin Dallas had been a prominent statesman, although he had no ties to Texas in 1842. W. W. Glover, the first child born in the new county of Dallas in 1846, contributed to the 1925 Dallas Morning News newspaper account. The 1876 newspaper story was based on the testimony of “Uncle Ben Christian.”

Differing dates (the 1876 story gives an 1837 date for the name “Dallas,” but this is too early) and differing details (one account states that Bryan exclusively gave Mrs. Gilbert the opportunity to name the new town, while another account states that Bryan had held a contest and had many submissions, with Mrs. Gilbert winning a lot on the northwest corner of Commerce and Houston streets) leave some unresolved questions.


City Secretary - City of Dallas
Origin of the Name “Dallas”
Unfortunately, the origin of the name of the town of Dallas is obscure and requires a lengthy explanation. We have no primary evidence from John Neely Bryan, the founder of the town, indicating exactly how he chose the name “Dallas.” Bryan (1810-1877), a trader, farmer, lawyer, and land speculator, is well documented in legal and business records but left few personal writings.  Frank M. Cockrell, an early pioneer who knew Bryan, recalled that he asserted “the town was named for my friend Dallas”
(WPA Dallas Guide and History, p. 43, History of Early Dallas by Frank M. Cockrell, and Dallas: The Deciding Years by A. C. Greene, p. 7).

There has been much speculation about exactly who that person named Dallas was.  Cockrell believed that it was George Mifflin Dallas, vice-president of the United States during the administration of president James K. Polk.  Dallas County is generally believed to have been named for George Mifflin Dallas since Polk County, named for President Polk, was created on March 30, 1846, the same day that Dallas County was created.

There is no evidence, however, that Bryan ever knew George Mifflin Dallas. In addition, the town of Dallas bore that name at least three years before the county was created.  George Mifflin Dallas had no documented interest in Texas until he made a casual reference favoring Texas statehood in an 1844 letter to a senator from Mississippi—again, after the town of Dallas, Texas was named.

Other possibilities for the town’s namesake are:

Commodore Alexander James Dallas, a brother of George Mifflin Dallas, who was a naval commander was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico (Morphis, J. M., History of Texas from its Discovery and Settlement, 1874)

Walter R. Dallas, who fought at San Jacinto; his family had land near Bryan’s land holdings, (WPA Dallas Guide, p. 44 and Dallas: The Deciding Years, p. 7)

James L. Dallas, Walter’s brother and a one-time Texas Ranger, (WPA Dallas Guide, p. 44 and Dallas: The Deciding Years, p. 7)

Joseph Dallas, who lived in the Cedar Springs area in 1843; from Washington County, Arkansas, adjacent to Bryan’s home county of Crawford Co., Arkansas, (WPA Dallas Guide, p. 44 and Dallas: The Deciding Years, p. 7)

In truth, we will probably never know for whom John Neely Bryan intended to name the city. Sadly, Bryan never managed to write down memoirs or reminiscences; he died in the State Lunatic Asylum in Austin in 1877.

Wikipedia: History of Dallas, Texas (1839-1855)
This article traces the history of Dallas, Texas (USA) during the city’s original settlement from 1839 to 1855.

Settlement
John Neely Bryan, looking for a good trading post to serve Native Americans and settlers, first surveyed the Dallas area in 1839. Bryan, who shared Sam Houston’s insight into the wisdom of Native American customs, must have realized that Caddo trails he came across intersected at one of the few natural fords for hundreds of kilometers along the wide Trinity floodplain. At what became known as “Bryan’s Bluff”, the river, which was an impassable barrier of mud and water between late fall and early spring, narrowed like an hourglass where it crossed a ridge of Austin chalk, providing a hard rock ford that became the natural north-south route between Republic of Texas settlements and those of the expanding United States. Bryan also knew that the planned Preston Trail was to run near the ford — the north-south route and the ford at Bryan’s Bluff became more important when the United States annexed Texas in 1845.
(...)
Establishment
In 1844, John Neely Bryan convinced J. P. Dumas to survey and lay out a 0.5 square miles (1.3 km2) section of blocks and streets near present downtown. The establishment was named Dallas, and though it has been largely assumed that it was named after George Mifflin Dallas, who became Vice President the following March, there are problems with this theory. George M. Dallas lived in Philadelphia and never traveled very far west of the city, and Bryan had never traveled very far east of Memphis. It is doubtful that the two ever met, and there are at least five other candidates:

. Named after George M. Dallas’s brother Alexander James Dallas, a U.S. Navy commodore who was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico;
. Named after George and Alexander’s father, Alexander James Dallas, who was the United States Secretary of the Treasury around the end of the War of 1812;
. Named in a town-naming contest in 1842;
. Named after the friend of founder John Neely Bryan’s son, who later stated that his father had said he had named the town “after my friend Dallas” (a person whose identity is not certain).
. Named after Joseph Dallas, who settled near Dallas in 1843.

Dallas County was established in 1846 and the city of Dallas was set as the temporary county seat. In 1850, Dallas became the permanent seat over Cedar Springs and Hord’s Ridge (Oak Cliff), both of which now lie within the city’s limits.

Handbook of Texas Online
DALLAS, TEXAS. Dallas is on the Trinity River in the center of Dallas County in North Central Texas. It is crossed by Interstate highways 20, 30, 35, and 45. The city was founded by John Neely Bryan, who settled on the east bank of the Trinity near a natural ford in November 1841. Bryan had picked the best spot for a trading post to serve the population migrating into the region. The ford, at the intersection of two major Indian traces, provided the only good crossing point for miles. Two highways proposed by the Republic of Texas soon converged nearby. Unknown to Bryan, however, he had settled on land granted by the republic to the Texan Land and Emigration Company of St. Louis, headed by William S. Peters. Bryan eventually legalized his claim, and the extensive promotional efforts of the Peters colony attracted settlers to the region. In 1844 J. P. Dumas surveyed and laid out a townsite comprising a half mile square of blocks and streets. The origin of the name Dallas is unknown. Candidates include George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States, 1845-49; his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas, United States Navy; and Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843.

Handbook of Texas Online
DALLAS COUNTY. Dallas County (E-18), in north central Texas, is bordered by Kaufman and Rockwall counties to the east, Tarrant County to the west, Denton and Collin counties to the north, and Ellis County to the south. Dallas is the county seat and largest city. The county’s center point is at 32°46’ north latitude and 96°48’ west longitude.
(...)
In 1845 voters in the future Dallas County approved the annexationqv of Texas to the United States by a vote of 29 to 3. On March 30, 1846, Dallas County was officially formed by order of the state legislature from portions of Nacogdoches and Robertson counties, and named probably for George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States under James K. Polk (see DALLAS, TEXAS).

Wikipedia: George M. Dallas
George Mifflin Dallas (July 10, 1792 – December 31, 1864) was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and the 11th Vice President of the United States, serving under James K. Polk.
(...)
Political career
After the War of 1812 ended, Pennsylvania’s political climate was chaotic, with two factions in that state’s Democratic party vying for control. One, the Philadelphia-based “Family party”, was led by Dallas, and it espoused the beliefs that the Constitution of the United States was supreme, that an energetic national government should exist that would implement protective tariffs, a powerful central banking system, and undertake internal improvements to the country in order to facilitate national commerce. The other faction was called the “Amalgamators”, headed by the future President James Buchanan.

The Family party elected Dallas in 1828 to the position of mayor of Philadelphia, after they had gained control of the city councils. However, he quickly grew bored of that post, and became the district attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania in 1829, a position his father had held from 1801 to 1814, and continued in that role until 1831. In December of that year, he won a five-man, eleven-ballot contest in the state legislature, that enabled him to become the Senator from Pennsylvania in order to complete the unexpired term of the previous senator who had resigned.

Dallas served less than 15 months — from December 13, 1831, to March 4, 1833 — and declined to be a candidate for reelection. He was chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

Dallas resumed the practice of law, was attorney general of Pennsylvania from 1833 to 1835, and served as the Grand Master of Freemasons in Pennsylvania in 1835. He was appointed by President Martin Van Buren as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia from 1837 to 1839, when he was recalled at his own request. Dallas was elected Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket in 1844 with James K. Polk and served from March 4, 1845 to March 4, 1849.

President Franklin Pierce appointed Dallas in 1856 as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Britain, where he served until 1861, when he returned to Philadelphia. He died there in 1864 at the age of 72 and was interred in St. Peter’s Churchyard. Dallas County, Iowa and Dallas County, Texas, and several U. S. cities and towns elsewhere were named in his honor such as Dallas, Georgia, Dallastown, Pennsylvania and Dallas, Oregon the county seat of Polk County, Oregon. (It is debated that the city of Dallas, Texas is named after the Vice President—see History of Dallas, Texas (1839-1855) for more information.)

Handbook of Texas Online
GILBERT, MABEL (1797-1870). Mabel Gilbert, pioneer North Texas settler, farmer, and businessman, was born on March 4, 1797, to William and Nicy Gilbert in Dickson County, Tennessee. He was known as Captain Gilbert from his years as a Mississippi River steamboat captain. In the spring of 1837 he gave up a comfortable life in Tennessee with land and slaves inherited from his parents and moved with his wife, Charity (Morris), and their seven children to Fannin County, Texas. Gilbert’s first home in Texas was located three miles south of the site of present-day Bonham.

He met with immediate success in Texas. By 1839 he had participated in successful expeditions that recovered stolen stock and property from Indians, served as a justice of the peace and member of the first Fannin County Commissioners Court, and helped draw up plans for the county’s first courthouse. He also farmed 1,280 acres and established the first horse-powered gristmill in the area. By 1840 he had constructed and made operational an incline-wheel, ox-powered mill.

Events in 1840 persuaded Gilbert to move his family to a remote and unsettled portion of Texas. Late that year he and about forty other men accompanied Gen. Jonathan Bird on an expedition to construct a fort and settlement on the West Fork of the Trinity River, in what is now Tarrant County. The expedition, harassed by Indians, managed to raise a log stockade, a blockhouse fort (Bird’s Fortqv), and a few houses, collectively known as Birdville. Gilbert retained his property in Fannin County during the fall of 1841. He and his family remained in Birdville for six months before a legal dispute arose over the right of the community to exist on land granted to the Peters colony. During the spring of 1842 Gilbert took his family by boat down the Trinity River to John Neely Bryan’s newly established settlement. The Gilbert family became one of the earliest to settle the community that was to become Dallas, and Mrs. Gilbert was the first Anglo-American woman to live there. Bryan constructed a log cabin for them at a site that became the foot of Main Street in Dallas, where they lived until 1844.

The Portal to Texas History
28 September 1843, Northern Standard (Clarksville, TX), pg. 2, col. 4:
Bird’s Fort is about twelve miles above the mouth of the Elm fork, situated on the East bank of the West fork. The settlements commence at that point, and extend down the river to Dallas, a distance of about five miles below the mouth of the Elm fork. The Eastern boundary of the Colony line, as originally surveyed by Messrs. Webb and Beatty, crossed the Trinity about a mile below Dallas, and at a point known as Cook’s upper crossing.
(...)
It is my opinion that Dallas, or mouth of Elm fork, (Col. 5—ed.) may be considered as at the head of steam boat navigation; and as a good crossing is now established at Dallas, by its enterprising proprietor, (Col. Bryan,) I will make that point from which to give distance to other places, and a farther description of that portion of he country.
(...)
AN EMIGRANT.

The Portal to Texas History
22 November 1843, Houston (TX) Telegraph and Texas Register, pg. 3, col. 1:
COLONY IN THE CROSS TIMBERS.—We have heard many conflicting accounts relative to the settlement established by Messrs. Peters & Co., in the Cross Timbers.—A few months since we learned that two or three hundred emigrants from Kentucky intended to remove to that section, and we confidently expected that there would be two or three hundred families in this colony this Autumn.—We however have recently learned that the number of families now settled within the limits of the colony is only twenty-five. These are settled near the mouth of Elm creek, and the houses are scattered from Bird’s Fort to Dallas, a distance of 17 miles, along the east bank of the river. Bird’s Fort is situated about 12 miles above the mouth of Elm Fork, and Dallas five miles below it. The distance from Dallas to a point due north to Red River is only 70 miles, and the country between the two points is undulating, and could easily be travelled by wagons. It is believed that the Trinity can with little difficulty be made navigable to Dallas.

21 February 1844, Houston (TX) Telegraph and Texas Register, pg. 2:
There is a nearer route by the Trinity whenever it admits of steam boat navigation as far as Manolia, which is about one hundred miles by land, and two hundred and seventy miles by the meanderings of the river to Dallas in the colony.

The Portal to Texas History
History of Texas,
From its first settlement in 1685 to its annexation to the United States in 1846

By H. Yoakum, Esq.
Vol. II
New York, NY: Redfield
1855
Pg. 430:
When the convention met, however, and the pledges of delegates had been redeemed by casting their votes for Mr. Van Buren, and the untrammelled question was presented between that gentleman and annexation, he was rejected, and the nomination conferred on James K. Polk, of Tennessee, a civilian of considerable political talent, and of unexceptionable character (Pg. 431—ed.), who had already come out in favor of the annexation policy. George M. Dallas, of Pennsylvania, having similar views, was nominated for vice-president. Thenceforth the cry of “Polk, Dallas, Texas, and Oregon,” electrified the masses of the Union.

30 June 1874, Dallas (TX) Weekly Herald, pg. 1, col. 5:
DALLAS.
We make the following extracts from the forthcoming history of Texas, by Colonel J. M. Morphis, mentioned in the HERALD of Sunday last:
(...)
This city was settled in 1842, by Colonel John Neely Bryan, and named in honor of Commodore Dallas of the United States navy, while the county was named after George M. Dallas.

Google Books
History of Texas:
From Its Discovery and Settlement, with a Description of its Principal Cities and Counties, and the Agricultural, Mineral, and Material Resources of the State.

By J. M. Morphis
New York, NY: United States Publishing Company
1874
Pg. 516:
This city was settled in 1842, by Colonel John Neely Bryan, and named in honor of Commodore Dallas, of the United States Navy, while the county was named after George M. Dallas.

28 July 1876, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 3, col. 4:
The Commercial reels after the following legend of the city of Dallas, which it obtains from Uncle Ben Christian, now of Whitesboro, Grayson County: In December, 1837, Wilson Gilbert, who had commanded of English’s Fort, now Bonham, was sent for to take command of Bird’s Fort, on the Trinity River, near where Fort Worth now stands. While en route the party camped one evening a few miles from the river. The next morning John Neely Bryan made his way through the thick heavy underbrush to the bank of the river, saw that the banks were suitable, and selected his place. He went back to the party, and they cut a roadway for the ox-teams, and drove down to the river. Bryan stuck his hatchet in a tree, and announced his purpose of laying out a town. Turning to Mrs. Gilbert, he told her he would give her a corner lot on the “square” if she would name the town. Mrs. Gilbert was from Pennsylvania, and an ardent admirer of the then prominent statesman, George M. Dallas, and suggested the name of Dallas. The name was adopted, and the record shows that the lot was duly deeded. Bryan and John Beeman stopped here, Beeman making a farm near by. Gilbert and Tom Cozzens made a farm on the other side of the river, about two miles distant, but the heavy rain of the next year washed off Gilbert’s pumpkin patch, and he deserted the place, going back to Tennessee.

The Portal to Texas History
Memorial and Biographical History of Dallas County, Texas
Chicago, IL: The Lewis Publishing Company
1892
Pg. 273, col. 1:
Dallas (city, not county—ed.) was named in honor of Vice-President George M. Dallas, who was Vice-President of the United States when James K. Polk was President, 1845-1849. The town was incorporated on the 22d of February, 1856,...

26 January 1902, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 13, col. 4:
MR. AND MRS. WM. H. BEEMAN
Incidents of the Early Days in Texas—The First Citizens of This Section of the State.
(...)
Mr. Beeman (John, the pioneer father of Wm. H.) asked Bryan to give his camp a name, so that the new settlement could be designated. Bryan, being a great admirer of George M. Dallas, named the place in his honor.

Google Books
November 1906, Texas School Journal, pg. 14, col. 1:
In the spring of 1842 he (John Neely Bryan—ed.) erected a log cabin, and thus began the permanent settlement of Dallas. About the same time several families from Bird’s Fort, a settlement on the Trinity twenty-two miles northwest of Dallas, abandoned the Fort and, at the solicitation of Mr. Bryan, removed to his camp. The first families to arrive were those of John Beeman and Captain Mabel Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert was the first American woman in Dallas County, and Mrs. John Beeman the second.

On being asked to give his camp a name, so that the new settlement could be designated, Mr. Bryan, being a great admirer of George M. Dallas, the Pennsylvania statesman, later vice-president of the United States, named the place in his honor.

The Portal to Texas History
Sixty Years in Texas
Second Edition
By George Jackson
Dallas, TX: Wilkinson Printing Company
1908
Pg. 157:
Dallas (city, not county—ed.) was named for George M. Dallas, Vice-President. In the year 1844 James K. Polk and George M. Dallas were candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States of America, and were the champions of the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic party and favored the annexation of Texas, and the cry went up during the entire campaign (Pg. 158—ed.) for Polk and Dallas and the annexation of Texas. They were elected by a very large majority and inaugurated March 4th, 1845. The City of Dallas was named for the popular Vice-President, George M. Dallas.

The Portal to Texas History
A History of Greater Dallas and Vicinity
By Philip Lindsley
Volume 1
Chicago, IL: The Lewis Publishing Company
1909
Pg. 35:
CHAPTER I.
DALLAS FROM ITS FOUNDATION, IN 1841, TO 1851.
Dallas was so named, in honor of George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States when James K. Polk was president, 1845-1849. Before this, it was known as Peters’ Colony.

“Peters’ Colony,” grew out of an act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas, passed February 4, 1841, to encourage immigration, and under which W. S. Peters, and others, were authorized to locate colonies in the northern part of Texas. One of these, called “Peters’ Colony,” was located upon territory which now includes the greater part of Dallas county. It was under this authority, that John Neely Bryan located at Dallas, and became known in local history as the first settler of Dallas county, and the founder of Dallas.

1 October 1910, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “First Settler Here: J. N. Bryan Came from Tennessee in the Year 1841,” supplement, pg. 39:
The county and town were named in honor of George Mifflin Dallas, Vice President of the United States during the Administration of James K. Polk as President. 

The Portal to Texas History
The Encyclopedia of Texas
By Ellis Arthur Daivs and Edwin H. Grobe
Dallas, TX: Texas Development Bureau
1921-22
Pg. 45:
HISTORY OF DALLAS
By E. J. Keist
Proprietor of the Daily Times-Herald
DALLAS was named for the Vice-President of the United States, George Mifflin Dallas, under the president James K. Polk. It was formerly known as Peters Colony which was established under the instrumentality of W. S. peters a colonizing agent who had a contract with the government as did a number of others for colonizing tracts of land in northern Texas.

15 February 1925, Dallas (TX) Morning News, part 3, pg. 9:
TELLS HOW DALLAS
OBTAINED ITS NAME

DOWNTOWN BUSINESS LOT
GIVEN WOMAN FOR HER
SELECTION.

PAID 25c FOR LAND
W. W. Glover, First White Child
Born After County Organized,
Tells of Pioneer Times.

BY W. S. ADAIR.
W. W. Glover, rural route No. 5, box 595, was the first child born in Dallas County after the county was organized.
(...)
“He (John Neely Bryan—ed.) seems to have been at a loss for a name for the town, for he put up a lot as the prize for the person suggesting an appropriate name, he to be the judge of the contest. I never heard how many contestants there were, but it is safe to say that everybody tried for the prize. Mrs. Martha Gilbert, wife of Dr. Gilbert, was declared the winner, and she selected the lot on the northwest corner of Commerce and Houston streets. She named the town for George Mifflin Dallas, Vice President of the United States.

“Nearly every one of the new States had named a county for James K. Polk, the President, and the name had become a trifle stale. Besides, Mrs. Gilbert’s refined ear probably told her that while “Polk” sounded all right as the name of a county, it was awkward as the designation of a town. In other words, it sounded more like an adjective than a sumstantive, and seemed to be in need of something after it to hold it up; whereas, ‘Dallas’ sounds complete and culminating. Thus Mrs. Gilbert has the distinction of not only having been the first white woman to appear in this part of the country, but of having selected the happiest kind of a name for the metropolis of the Southwest.”

Dallas County Archives
19 April 1925, Dallas (TX) Morning News, part 9, pg. 2, cols. 1-8:
WOMAN CHOSE NAME
OF CITY OF DALLAS

STARTED WHEN JOHN NEELY
BRYAN BUILT CABIN ON
BANK OF RIVER.

WAS FIRST EXPLORER
Mrs. Martha Gilbert, Wife of Pio-
neer, Won Prize for Picking
Name for Town.

BY W. S. ADAIR
Dallas may be said to have started when John Neely Bryan raised his Ebenezer, in the shape of a 10x12 cedar log cabin, on the bank of the river at the foot of Commerce street, in 1841.  Mr. Bryan, a Kentuckian, had made his way into the wilderness as far as a rude fort or settlement on Red River, about 100 miles west of Fort Smith. It seems that it did not take many persons to constitute a settlement in those days, and in some instances, a small log cabin was dignified by the name of fort. At all events, the name of this particular settlement did not find a place in history. It is supposed to have been the first stand the white man made west of Arkansas.  Being on the line of the United States and Texas, it may be said to have been the connecting link of the two Republics, from which the first explorations were, no doubt, made into Texas from the North.  Ben F. Christian, who represented Fannin County in the First Legislature of Texas, is quoted as having said that he and Dr. Gilbert penetrated as far as Tarrant County in 1839, and, erecting a fort or log cabin at Birdville, spent the winter there. Birdville, still a village, is accordingly the oldest town in this part of the country. It afterward became a military post, and when Tarrant County was organized, it became the county seat without opposition, since there was no other settlement to object.

Lone Horseman.
To a backwoodsman, Texas must have been irresistibly alluring, as holding all the mystery of the unknown, and Mr. Bryan animated by the spirit of Daniel Boone, set out to explore it. Whether he failed to find a man with sufficient enterprise to accompany him, or whether he preferred to imitate the example of his Kentucky model and make the venture by himself, is not known. According to the best information, he left Red River early in the year 1841.  In compliance with the frontier fashion, he wore a buckskin suit and coonskin cap, with moccasins encasing his feet, and carried a flint lock muzzle-loading rifle, a single-barrel pistol, and a Bowie knife.  Thus accoutered, he pursued his way alone, like a bird feeding, at every moment surveying the landscape to the horizon in every direction. At last, he reined in Walking Wolf, his Choctaw pony, under the shade of a clump of post oaks, near the present site of Baylor Hospital, and there went into camp. A few weeks later, John Beeman joined him. Tradition is not clear as to where and when the two men first met.  One story has it that it was at the Red River fort; another, that Beeman was on his way to Birdville with a view of founding a settlement, when he came upon John Neely Bryan by chance, and was persuaded by him to come to the forks of the Trinity. But, whatever the circumstances of their meeting, Beeman, in a short time, returned to Red River.

Place He Was Looking For.
With the postoak grove as a base, John Neely Bryan explored the surrounding country in search of a site for the town he was bent on founding. He marked an oak tree on the bank of the river at the foot of Main street as the center of the town.  And, by way of further warning to all comers that the land was taken, he erected the historic cabin, on the north side of Commerce street, between Houston street and the river, and abandoned the camp at Baylor Hospital. The land he marked off for his town was no better than a pile of loose sand, to all appearance, liable to slip and dump the town into the river in case it ever got top-heavy, and was thus subject to all the classic drawbacks of a sandy foundation for architecture. But, that did not bother a hardy pioneer in search of thrills.  The following spring, John Beeman returned and built a log cabin on White Rock Creek, where the Texas & Pacific Railroad crosses that stream. Then came Dr. and Mrs. Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert was, accordingly, the first white woman to view the site of Dallas. Having provided a home, John Beeman, once more, went to Red River and brought the family. His daughter, Margaret, became the wife of John Neely Bryan.

Something Out of His Line.
While Mr. Bryan was at home in the role of backwoodsman, it seems that he did not know so much about towns. Try as he might, he could not light on a name that seemed appropriate, and he must have thought others would encounter as much difficulty as he had met with, for he offered pick and choice of the lots in his town to anyone who could suggest a suitable name, he to be judge of the contest. There is no record of the details of the contest, but it is safe to assume that everybody tried for the prize.  The outcome was that Mrs. Martha Gilbert, wife of Dr. Gilbert, was declared the winner, and that she selected as her prize, the lot on the northwest corner of Commerce and Houston streets. James K. Polk, was President of the United States at the time, and Mrs. Gilbert’s reason for selecting the name of the Vice President, George M. Dallas, instead of that of the President, is left to conjecture, but, in Macaulay fashion, may be easily arrived at.  Every one of the new States named a county for the President and the name Polk had become much hackneyed.  Besides, as a word to stand alone and on its own feet, Dallas sounds much better to even the dullest ear, than the word Polk, which seems to be thin, and in need of something to support it. Mrs. Gilbert, thus, has the distinction not only of having been the first white woman to appear in this part of the country, but also of having selected the name of the metropolis of the Southwest.

They Find Out by Trying.
John Neeley Bryan Jr., now living at Charlie, whose photograph, grouped with that of his wife, accompanies this story, was the first child born in the village of Dallas. The settlement having been solidly established by the events of a marriage and a birth, new people began to trickle in. As they began to trade and traffic, they perceived that the county seat, Nacogdoches, distant 200 miles, and without so much as even a road leading to it, was too far away for the dispatch of business.  Clearly, the thing to do was to set up a new county.  But, nobody in the settlement had ever had any experience in erecting new counties, and there was some confusion of tongues as to how to proceed. Mr. Bryan, in the true spirit of the pioneer, suggesting that they learn by trying, called a mass meeting, the purpose of which, he, as chairman, announced to be to elect a man to represent the proposed county in the Legislature.  John Beeman was elected by a rising vote. But, he was refused a seat in the Legislature, on the ground that there was no such county as he pretended to represent. Nor, did his explanation help him much.  The Representative from Robertson County, which was separated from Nacogdoches County by the Trinity River, and which seems to have occupied all the out-of-doors that was left out of Nacogdoches, however, came to his rescue, and making him understand that his constituent had committed the old blunder of putting the cart before the horse, proposed to introduce a bill providing for the new county. Mr. Beeman came home and, when the Legislature adjourned, he made a horseback journey to Franklin, the county seat of Robertson County, to get a copy of the statute authorizing the organization of Dallas County. In July of the same year, 1846[?], the first election was held.

A few years after the county was organized, the Bryan cabin was moved to Markum’s Ferry, now Elam station, where it was pressed into service as a farmhouse. Sometime later, it was purchased by Billy Rupard and moved by him to a tract of forty-four acres he had acquired, east of the city. The late J. T. Bolton, rented the land and occupied the cabin as a dwelling.  James E. Bolton, son of J. T. Bolton, was a small boy when his parents lived in the cabin, in 1879 and 1880, and was present when the land was purchased by the late Dr. R. C. Buckner for the Buckner Orphans’ Home.  The cabin, still in a fair state of preservation, is inclosed within a larger building at the orphans’ home.

While John Neely Bryan Jr. was the first child born in the settlement of Dallas, W. W. Glover was the first born after the county was organized July 10, 1846, and Mr. Glover was born twenty-one days later. Mr. Glover, who lives on Rural Route No. 3, Dallas, speaking of early times, said: “Mother often told me, as a little fellow, of the Indians.  When she came to Dallas, the Caddo Indians were located down about Caddo Lake, and part of the Cherokee tribe lived on lands granted them by General Houston in Nacogdoches County. Both tribes passed to the north of Dallas on buffalo hunts, and to the south, on bear hunts. The Delawares, located north of Red River, ranged as far south as Dallas, and were very friendly. They were armed with rifles and were the terror of the Comanches, who had only bows and arrows.  The settlers were always glad to have the Delawares near them, since they knew there would be no danger from the Comanches, as long as the Delawares were about. Delaware Frank, chief of the Delawares, was always a welcome guest of the settlers.

Wild Horses Good for Something.
“But, there were no Indians in this part of the country in my time. The ground everywhere was still white with the bones and skulls of buffalo, but there were no live buffalo this side of Fort Worth, although now and then, a few scattering ones wandered as far in as Grand Prairie. Wild horses, too, had, for the most part, retired, for the settlers tried to exterminate them on account of their bad example. The gentlest plow horse, getting among them, became, in two days, the wildest of the bunch. Some people made it a business to kill wild horses and to boil the oil out of their flesh. Horse oil made the finest soap grease in the world, and it was used extensively by tanners in dressing leather in early days. There were several factories in North Texas for rendering up the fat of wild horses, and hunters killed wild horses for their fat, just as they killed buffaloes for their hides.

First Cattle and Hogs.
“At first, cattle died almost as fast as they were brought to Texas. Calves born here, generally lived, but were feeble and degenerate. The Cherokee Indians had a species of small, woolly cattle, by crossing imported cattle, with which settlers finally established a breed that could withstand the climate. There were descendants of these Indian cattle all over the county, until I was almost grown.  The first hogs introduced consisted of twenty-five or thirty head, driven by my father, George W. Glover, from Red River, early in the ‘40s. Having no feed for them, he turned them loose in the river bottom above Dallas, where there was plenty of meat, to shift for themselves.  But, the wolves and the panthers soon killed or scattered them, and he lost them. It was, however, no great loss as long as there were plenty of [boars].  From what I could hear, these hogs were razorbacks, with the speed of jack rabbits. They grow to a great size, provided they were permitted to live eight or ten years.”

1 October 1925, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “John N. Bryan Founded City 84 Years Ago,” part 3, pg. 4:
How Dallas Was Named.
Dallas was not then so called. It appears from records of the past to have been known at first as “Three Forks.” This came from the fact that the settlement was located just below the confluence of three forks of the Trinity River. The name Dallas, in honor of George Mifflin Dallas, Vice President of the United States under the administration of President James K. Polk, was given the town by the pioneer, John Neely Bryan. Mr. Bryan and Vice President Dallas were warm personal friends and in tribute to the friendship Bryan christened the settlement Dallas when, at the increase in population, he decided to lay off a town site and formally launch the new settlement.

28 July 1926, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 4:
Dallas—Uncle Ben Christian, now of Whitesboro, Grayson County, furnishes an interesting legend of the founding of Dallas. The story is that John Neely Bryan, who was one of a party with Wilson Gilbert, transferred from command of English’s fort, now Bonham, to Bird’s fort, near the present site of Fort Worth, came in December, 1837, to the place where Dallas is now located, when Bryan stuck a hatchet in a tree and declared his intention of locating there. Bryan asks Mrs. Gilbert to name the town he proposed founding and she, being a Pennsylvanian, suggested that it be named Dallas, after the then prominent statesman, George M. Dallas.

26 February 1933, Dallas (TX) Morning News, sec. 2, pg. 1, col. 2 headline:
Historian Finds Dallas Perhaps Named for Hero of San Jacinto
Traces Friendship Between Southwest Pioneer James R. Dallas and John Neely Bryan, Founder of Village


12 March 1933, New York (NY) Times, “Texas City Trying to Find Out Which Dallas It Was Named For,” pg. 6E, col. 5:
DALLAS, March 9.—This city is wondering now in exactly whose honor it was named. Professor Herbert Gambrell of Southern Methodist University raised the question recently with his discovery that the city may not have been named for George Mifflin Dallas, Vice President of the United States in 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union.

Dallas was founded in 1841 by John Neely Bryant, the first log cabin settler here. He named the city “in honor of my friend, Mr. Dallas.” It develops that he never knew Vice President Dallas. He did know Alexander R. Dallas, Walter R. Dallas or James R. Dallas, all of whom served in the Texas Revolution.

Professor Gambrell is of the opinion that the town was probably named for one of the three Texas patriots, but that the County of Dallas, formed later, was named for the Vice President.

Google Books
Texas: A Guide to the Lone Star State
By the Writers’ Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Texas
New York, NY: Hastings House
1940
Pg. 226:
The first actual settlement of Dallas began in 1842, when bryan persuaded three families to move to his site from Bird’s Fort, a Ranger stockade to the northwest. Other settlers took up residence in the village, which was called Dallas as early as 1842. The origin of the town’s name is uncertain, one group of historians believing it was named for George Mifflin Dallas, a Pennsylvanian who three years later became Vice President of the United States; another group that the name honored Commander Alexander James Dallas of the United States navy, brother of George Mifflin Dallas; a third that the town was named for Joseph Dallas, a friend of John Neely Bryan, who came to the region from Washington County, Arkansas, in 1843, and settled at Cedar Springs, now within the Dallas city limits. There is no reasonable doubt, however, that the country of Dallas, which was organized (Pg. 227—ed.) in 1846, was named by the Texas legislature in honor of George Mifflin Dallas, who had been elected Vice President partly on the issue of Texas annexation.

Google Books
James Street’s South
Edited by James Street, Jr.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday
1955
Pg. 140:
A strained source even suggests the place was named for Commander Alexander James Dallas of the United States Navy, who saw service off the Texas coast. This Dallas was a brother of George Mifflin Dallas. Even so, it’s mighty thin.

Bryan himself is reported to have said that the name honors “my friend Dallas”. His friend Dallas was Joseph Dallas of Washington County, Arkansas, who, in 1843, settled at Cedar Springs, which is now part of the City of Dallas. That one makes sense.

14 August 1958, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Tolbert’s Texas: Walter R. Dallas Our Nomination” by Frank X. Tolbert, sec. 4, pg. 1, col. 2:
PERSONALLY, we think that this city was named for an obscure character named Walter R. Dallas, who lived down at William Penn in Washington County. Walter was a rough and tough frontiersman, just the type who would be a buddy of John Neely Bryan.

W. R. Dallas was a private in Capt. Robert Stevenson’s company at the Battle of San Jacinto. And after the war, Walter was quite a hero around Washington County.

ANOTHER man that John Neely Bryan might have had in mind was Walter’s brother, James L. Dallas.  James doesn’t seem to have been much of a fighting man. He was a prominent Washington County politician during the days of the Republic, though.

Both James and Walter were nephews of George M. Dallas.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary)Dallas (city name etymology) • Saturday, July 25, 2009 • Permalink


Mr. Popik,

I am grateful to you for your thorough documentation and research regarding the naming of the City of Dallas.

I have been wondering if anything more can be learned about Joseph Dallas who originally came from Cane Hill, Washington County, Arkansas. Have you checked to see if Washington Co. has any clues as to whether the city of Dallas was named for him?

Also, could Martha Gilbert have possibly been an admirer of George Mifflin Dallas when she lived in Pennsylvania, long before he was elected Vice-President? Do you know of any more biographical information about her or where I might look? I have read that George Mifflin Dallas had quite an ego, and is it possible, upon hearing that a city in Texas was named for him that he became all the more interested in that territory by the time he had been elected--which led to Texas’ statehood? Afterall, the church where he is buried in Phildelphia has posted that the city of Dallas was indeed named for him. I’m just wondering if the late vice-president was convinced of this himself upon his death.

Thank you so much for all of your hard work on this subject.

Trey Birkhead
Teacher, Plano ISD
Dallas, Texas

Posted by Trey Birkhead  on  08/06  at  01:20 AM

Mr Popik, i must say this is a brilliant written piece and great information. Thanks for all the effort put into compiling this work/research.

Posted by Moruf @ Mens Cashmere Sweaters  on  02/15  at  10:32 AM

Wow. After so many findings about the “origin” of the name Dallas, the conclusion on who they named it from is still not established. I wonder if they will ever find out in the future.

Posted by Shine  on  01/04  at  11:22 AM

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