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John Neely Bryan

founder of Dallas

John Neely Bryan was born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, on December 24, 1810. After graduating from the Fayetteville Military Academy, he read law and was admitted to the Tennessee bar. Sometime around 1833, he moved to Arkansas, where he became an Indian trader. He and a partner subsequently laid out and founded the town of Van Buren.

John and Margaret BryanBryan made his first visit to the future site of Dallas in 1839. After a temporary return to Van Buren to settle his affairs, he was back in Texas by November 1841, and built a cabin on the east bank of the Trinity River, near what is now downtown Dallas, and established a ferry where Commerce Street now crosses the river. He planned to establish an Indian trading post on the site, but President Mirabeau Lamar had the Texas Rangers move the Indians farther west, taking away his potential customers, so Bryan decided to found a town instead. He rode to Bird's Fort (twenty-two miles to the west, near present-day Fort Worth), and convinced several families to move to his planned townsite. One of those who came to his budding town was Margaret Beeman, whom he married on February 26, 1843; the couple eventually had five children.

In 1844, a post office was established in the town and Bryan was appointed first postmaster, with the privilege of naming the town. It is believed that Bryan named the town for a friend, Joseph Dallas, who had come to the region in 1843. In 1844 he persuaded J.P. Dumas to survey and plat the town. In 1846 he was instrumental in organizing Dallas County, and in 1850 Dallas was chosen as the county seat.

In 1852, Bryan sold all his remaining lots, along with the rights to his ferry, to Alexander Cockrell. By now a terrible alcoholic, he spent the next several years living a less-than-exemplary life. In 1855 he shot a man for insulting his wife. Believing he had committed murder, he fled to the Creek Nation. Although he subsequently learned that the man survived he chose to stay away from Dallas for the next six years, during which time it is believed he traveled across Colorado and California in search of gold. He finally returned to Dallas in 1861, just in time for the Civil War. He volunteered for service in the Confederate Army, but was discharged in 1862 because of his advanced age and declining health.

After resettling in Dallas in 1862, Bryan tried to once again become a prominent and respected citizen of the city he had founded. In 1863 he became a trustee for the Dallas Male and Female Academy. In 1866 he was prominent in his efforts to aid the victims of a flood that had hit the city. He chaired a citizens' meeting that pressed for the completion of the Houston and Texas Central Railway, which came to Dallas in 1872. From 1872 to 1872 he was a director of the Dallas Bridge Company, which erected the first iron bridge across the Trinity River.

By 1877, however, Bryan had become hopelessly insane and was committed to the State Lunatic Asylum. He died there on September 8, 1877.

replica of Bryan's cabinLeft: This replica of Bryan's log cabin stands at Dallas County Historical Plaza (Founders Plaza), less than a quarter mile from the site of the original cabin, which was virtually destroyed by a flood in the late 1800's.

SEE ALSO
Civil War

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Old Northwest >> Gulf States >> Texas

This page was last updated on January 11, 2017.