The origin of the name of the town of Dallas is obscure. 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 Bryan 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. The city, however, is a different story.
No evidence exists 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. Bryan never managed to write down memoirs or reminiscences; he died in the State Lunatic Asylum in Austin in 1877.
For further information on Dallas history, please contact the Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division (7th floor) of the Dallas Public Library and the Dallas Municipal Archives (City Hall, Suite 5D South).
The books cited in this article are available in the Dallas Public Library.
Greene, A. C. Dallas: The Deciding Years; A Historical Portrait (Austin: Encino Press, 1973).
Morphis, J. M. A History of Texas from its Discovery and Settlement (New York, United States Publishing Company, 1874).
WPA Writers' Program. The WPA Dallas Guide and History, ed. Maxine Holmes and Gerald D. Saxon (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992).