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Dallas History: Topics
John Neely Bryan
John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas, was born on December 24, 1810, in Fayetteville, Tennessee. He became a lawyer there. In 1833, he moved to Arkansas, presumably to recover from cholera. He lived with the Indians for a time. Later, he was involved in several business ventures in Van Buren, Arkansas. He made his first trip to Texas in 1839, to survey the area, and came back to settle in 1841.He was married in 1843, and he and his wife, Margaret, had five children.
By the early 1850s, Bryan's alcoholism caused him to lose much of his respectability. In 1852, he sold his remaining land to Alexander Cockrell. In 1855, Bryan shot a man for insulting his wife. Thinking he had committed murder, he fled to the Creek Nation. Once informed the man had lived, he didn't return to his family for six years. Bryan traveled across Colorado and California, probably looking for gold. He returned to Dallas in 1861, and volunteered for the army, but was discharged in 1862 because of poor health. Once back in Dallas, he became somewhat involved in community affairs again and tried to farm. In 1877, he was committed to the State Lunatic Asylum and died there on September 8, 1877.
John Beeman Family
The Beemans were one of the central founding families of Dallas. The family originally came from Illinois. They had settled in Bird's Fort, a military camp 22 miles northwest of Dallas. The Beeman clan included four families, nineteen children, and four single men. The Beemans made several contributions to early Dallas. Bryan borrowed Beeman's wagon so he could get the supplies for the first store in the new town. In 1850, John Beeman began a small money lending business. William Beeman rode 140 miles to secure the official court order for the creation of Dallas County. James Beeman was elected justice of the peace for Dallas County in 1846.
Peters Colony was the name for a large empresario grant in North Texas. William Peters led the group of twenty investors from England and the United States. According to the contract, 200 families had to be settled in 3 years. The empresarios were allowed to keep up to half the settler's land grant as payment for their services. They had trouble settling the land and requested several extensions of their contract.
When the contract expired in 1848, the land was now open, and new settlers began to come. The older settlers began to become angry that the company had half of their land, and demanded that the Texas government fix the situation. However, this angered the stockholders. A compromise gave each side more time to claim the land, but the settlers were still unhappy. The compromise was later amended, but it took more than 20 years for all land titles to be settled.
For Whom Was Dallas Named?
Over the years, there has been a lot of debate about the name Dallas. We know that Dallas County was named for George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States at the time of annexation. However, all that is known about the origin of Dallas for the name of the city is that John Neely Bryan named it for "his friend, Dallas" There are several candidates for whom this friend might be.
The town was known as Dallas early in 1842. At that time, George Dallas was a practicing lawyer in Philadelphia. He had never been very far west, and Bryan had never been very far east, so it's doubtful they ever met. One theory is that the town was named for Commodore Alexander Dallas, a brother of George, who was combating piracy in the Gulf of Mexico. Another theory is that the town was named for Walter Dallas, who fought in San Jacinto, or his brother, James, a former Texas ranger. After the war, they had received land grants in McLennan, Hill, and Burleson counties, which are close enough that Bryan might have know them. Yet another candidate is Joseph Dallas who came to Cedar Springs in 1843, from Arkansas. It is assumed that they knew each other in Arkansas, and Bryan invited his friend to Texas. However, the truth is that no one is sure whom Dallas is named for, and the answer will probably never be discovered
Alexander and Sarah Cockrell
The Cockrell family moved to the Dallas area in 1847. In 1852, Alexander Cockrell purchased the part of John Neely Bryan's homestead that included the Dallas townsite and Trinity River ferry. They moved to Dallas, and Alexander opened a sawmill, lumberyard, gristmill and freighting business. Since Alexander could neither read nor write, his wife, Sarah, kept the books. In 1855, he replaced the Trinity River ferry with a toll bridge. In 1858, Alexander was killed in a gunfight with the city marshal, Andrew Moore. His wife continued to run the family business.
Sarah's business ventures grew with Dallas. In 1859, she opened the St. Nicholas Hotel under her own management. In 1872, a company she created built an iron suspension bridge over the Trinity at Commerce Street. This bridge linked Dallas with all the major roads south and west, and is called Sarah's greatest contribution to Dallas. Later, she opened a major flour mill and began to deal in real estate-buying, renting and leasing property across Dallas. In 1884, she opened the Sarah Cockrell Addition, a residential subdivision.
Sarah died in 1892. At her death, she owned almost a fourth of downtown Dallas and several thousand acres in Dallas County. She is often called Dallas' first capitalist.
The La Reunion Colony
La Reunion began in 1855 as an experimental, utopian community of French immigrants to the United States. Their leader, Victor Considerant, wanted the colony, based on the philosophy of Charles Fourier, to share in the profits proportionally to the amount of work they had done. However, the colony was doomed almost from the start. The immigrants were not farmers, and the land picked was not even ideal for farming. A harsh winter and summer droughts compounded their problems. Eighteen months later the colony was abandoned. Many of the colonists moved to Dallas, and became leading citizens. Accomplishments of former La Reunion colonist include: Julien Reverchon, leading botanist; Allrye Bureau, children's song writer; and Ben Lang, who became mayor of Dallas.
The Ku Klux Klan
When the Ku Klux Klan first appeared in Dallas in 1868, its presence was hardly noticed. All of that changed in the 1920s. American society had changed after World War I, and the Klan capitalized on people's fear. Over 13,000 people were reportedly members of the Klan in Dallas, including the district attorney, the sheriff, the police commissioner, the police chief, judges, doctors, lawyers, bankers, ministers, businessmen and journalists. Overall, the presence of the Klan was widely accepted, even as newspapers reported kidnappings, beatings, and even the branding of "KKK" on one man's forehead.
In 1921, a massive parade of 789 Klansmen sparked a furious editorial by Alonzo Wasson in TheDallas Morning News. From then on, the News, led by George Dealey, began an extensive campaign against the Klan's power. It reported on Klan violence occurring throughout the country, reprinted a series of critical articles by the New York World, and wrote many anti-Klan editorials. However, the Klan's influence kept spreading. A mass swearing-in of new members was held in Fair Park in 1922 and 1923. In 1922, every Klan-endorsed candidate won. Advertisers began pulling their ads from the News, members cancelled subscriptions and boycotted any companies that kept advertising in the News. It began to appear that they might go bankrupt, but the News did not back down.
In 1924, the power of the Klan began to waver when their candidate did not win election to the governor's office. This failure, combined with the people's rejection of the Klan's violence and bigotry, caused the Klan to decline in Dallas. The extensive battle the News fought against the Klan is often regarded as one of journalism's greatest triumphs.
The Trinity River
When John Neely Bryan first staked his claim on the prairie, he viewed the Trinity River as full of possibility. Surely, it would be possible for steamboats to come from the coast to his new settlement, making Dallas a port town. However, the Trinity's water flow was not dependable. This dream remained for over 130 years, but was only met with varying degrees of failure.
Debris blocked some of the river's flow, and in 1843, Bryan set fire to some of it, hoping that this would open the area for navigation. It didn't work. In 1852, James A. Smith built a flatboat, loaded it with cotton bales and left Dallas. In four months, he had only gone 70 miles. Then the river became too low, and the rest of the cotton was shipped by wagon to Houston.
In 1867, attempts resumed. Captain James McGarvey piloted a boat from Galveston, and a year later, it arrived in Dallas. This was deemed a great success and communities all along the Trinity allotted funds to clear the river of debris. Dallas built a steamship, the Sallie Haynes, which made several trips along the upper reaches of the Trinity. Then the ship sank, and there was no rush to replace it.
In the 1890s, a group of Dallas businessmen formed the Trinity River Navigation Company. In 1893, the steamship Harvey arrived during a great celebration, even bigger than the one that had greeted the railroad. For the next few years, the Harvey existed as a pleasure boat, taking day trips to McCommas Bluff. By 1898, the boat was sold.
People continued to pour money into improving the Trinity. By 1915, the federal government had spent $2.1 million on the river. However, eventually it was realized that the cost to make the river fully navigable was impractical. After the flood of 1908, it became apparent that the river needed to be tamed. City planner George Kessler had proposed that the Trinity River's course be moved farther west through the use of levees. In 1930, work on the project began. The river's course was moved between one-half and three and a half miles west of its original course. The project took three and a half years and required the moving of 21 million cubic yards of dirt.
In the last forty years, the idea of navigating the Trinity has occasionally reemerged. Now, the idea of Trinity navigation has been accepted as impossible.
The State Fair
Fairs have been a part of Dallas life since 1859, when businessman set up displays. By the 1880s, the Dallas fair was a yearly event. Grand plans were made for the 1886 fair, which was to be held at a new site in East Dallas (today's Fair Park). Some business leaders disagreed with the East Dallas location and formed their own fair. Both were held at the same time, and surprisingly, both were a success. The following year, the two fairs combined, and the tradition of the State Fair of Texas began. However, the fair had many financial difficulties, and in 1904, the city of Dallas bought the fairgrounds for use as a public park. In 1936, Dallas hosted the Texas Centennial Exposition. Most of Fair Park's present buildings were built for this special event at a cost of more than $15 million. Thousands of visitors came to Dallas to celebrate. The following year, the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition was held. These expositions left a lasting legacy: the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the United States.
The Dallas Morning News printed its first edition on October 1, 1885. The paper was an offshoot of the Galveston Daily News, and was an attempt to make the Galveston News the state paper. News stories were sent by wire, making this the first newspaper chain. The papers were then shipped by train to surrounding communities. They soon bought out the Dallas Herald (no relation to the Dallas Times Herald), the oldest newspaper in the city. Under the leadership of George Bannerman Dealey, the News quickly became a leading newspaper. Businessmen no longer had to rely on papers from St. Louis for national and state-wide news.
In 1888, two smaller evening papers, the Dallas Daily Times and the Dallas Daily Herald, merged to form the Dallas Daily Times-Herald. The Times-Herald knew it couldn't compete with the News on national news, so its focus became local news. The paper came out in the afternoon, and often featured late-breaking news items. The paper changed management many times, but always kept its focus on local events.
However, by the late '80s, the competition between the papers had become too much. The Times-Herald closed in 1991, due in part to being an afternoon paper, the loss of advertisers, and the recession of the late '80s.
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