(Reproduced from an
WOMAN CHOSE NAME
OF CITY OF DALLAS
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
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.
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
First Cattle and Hogs.
- April 19, 1925, The
Dallas Morning News,
"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."
Sec. IX, p. 2, col. 1-8.
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