Texas: Dallas

Jun 9, 2022 | Texas

It was brought to my attention that some readers couldn’t open a hyperlink I included in last month’s post, so I am posting the article for those who are interested in knowing how did Dallas get its name?

It’s a bit of a mystery, actually. Who exactly is Dallas named after? Well, it turns out it’s not a simple answer.

The downtown skyline and Margaret McDermott Bridge

The downtown skyline and Margaret McDermott Bridge(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Claire Z. Cardona

The city was named by founder John Neely Bryan, but where the name “Dallas” came from is a bit of a mystery.(City of Dallas Municipal Archives)

That got us thinking: Who exactly is Dallas named after?  But as it turns out, the answer isn’t all that straight-forward.

“It’s fascinating,” said City Archivist John H. Slate. “It’s the great riddle that everyone would like to solve.”

Dallas founder John Neely Bryan, a trader and lawyer among other things, first visited Dallas in 1839 and returned a couple of years later to settle on the east bank of the Trinity River.

By the time he had died in 1877 at the State Lunatic Asylum, he had dubbed the city Dallas but left no concrete explanation for why he chose the name, according to the city of Dallas website, which details some of the possible origins.

Frank M. Cockrell, a pioneer who knew Bryan, recalled him saying “the town was named for my friend Dallas,” the city’s site says. But which friend?

Cockrell guessed that it was George Mifflin Dallas, the U.S. vice president during the James Polk administration. But that Dallas is the man Dallas County is thought to be named for.

There’s no evidence that Bryan knew George Dallas, who had no real connection to Texas, and the name of the city predates the county by a few years (Dallas and Polk counties were created the same day in 1846), the city says.

Other possible contenders: George Dallas’ brother Commodore Alexander James Dallas, a naval commander stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. Then there’s Walter R. Dallas, who fought at San Jacinto, or even his brother, Texas Ranger James. L. Dallas.

Another guess is Joseph Dallas, an Arkansas man who lived in a county adjacent to one Bryan lived in. That one seems like a bit of a stretch.

“Bottom line is no one really knows,” Slate said. “There’s quite a bit of speculation but none of it is borne out by any actual provable facts. This is probably one of the biggest conundrums in the city — no one really knows why it’s called Dallas.”

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