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Explored Texas With
Indian Guide
(Interview of John Neely Bryan, Jr.)

By W. S. ADAIR

JOHN NEELY BRYAN, JR.

     John Neely Bryan, Jr. of Charlie, Clay County, eldest son of John Neely Bryan, who built the first house at Dallas, was a visitor in Dallas last week.  "I was born here January 9, 1846, six months before the county was organized, and W. W. Glover, now living on Dallas rural route No. 3, was the first white child born in the county after it was organized," Mr. Bryan said.
     "My father, who was of Irish descent, was born in Lincoln County, Tennessee, December 24, 1810," Mr. Bryan continued.  "At that time, Tennessee may be supposed to have been something of a wilderness, but to the frontiersman, it had become effete.  My father crossed to Arkansas in 1827.  He knew the language of several of the Indian tribes, and this knowledge, and a wide acquaintance with the Indians, enabled him to get into the Government service in connection with the Government trading post at Preston, on Red River, now in Grayson County.
     "The Indians brought to Preston the most glowing accounts of the region lying south of Red River, which filled my father with a desire to explore it.  It seems that he was unable to find a white man to accompany him into an unknown region, inhabited by hostile tribes. He found many who were interested and who expressed a wish to invade it, but when the time came, it invariably turned out that they had exaggerated their readiness for the plunge.  Finally, in 1839, my father entered Texas with a single Cherokee companion.  He explored the country for a considerable distance, west and south, but selected the forks of the Trinity for the site of his projected settlement.

Used Neolithic Plow.
     "I do not know that he erected a monument of any kind on the spot to notify the world 'to keep off,' but rather think he did not, since he could have had little fear of trespassers.  He returned to Preston, wound up his affairs there, and in 1841, set out alone to seek his fortune in Texas.  He rode his Indian pony, Neshobia, or Walking Wolf, carried a flint-lock rifle and a knife, and was followed by his bear dog, Tubby.  Arrived at his destination, he erected a cabin of cedar logs on the bank of the river near the Commerce street bridge.  With the exception of such communication as he may have had with wandering Indians, he was alone for more than a year.
     "He pitched a crop of corn where the courthouse now stands.  He made a plow of pieces of bois d'arc timbers spliced together, cut strips of buffalo hide for harness, and made Walking Wolf pull the plow.  It was a very primitive way of tilling the soil; such, as we are told, was in fashion in Neolithic times, 20,000 years ago.  I remember the plow well, for it lay about our back yard until I was almost grown.  Bois d'arc, you know, is as enduring as flint.
     "About the time my father had fairly established his settlement, or rather, hermitage, or perhaps earlier, the Government established an army post at Bird, now in Tarrant County.  The post was named for Major Bird, commandant.  Fort Bird was inclosed on three sides, by the water of a horseshoe-shaped lake, which made a natural moat for the stronghold, and the loopholes were so placed, as to render the open heel the very last place an attacking party would select.

First Settlers Very Welcome.
     "Major Bird, it seems, had found the solitude of the wilderness oppressive and was trying to induce white settlers to locate near him.  In 1842, he got wind of a party of emigrants form Illinois, coming into Texas, via Preston.  He immediately dispatched a squad of soldiers to intercept and invite them to Fort Bird.  It appears my father had his ear to the ground, too, and catching the rumblings of the wagons of the emigrants, set out to meet them.
     "The soldiers beat him to them, but he managed to secure an interview with them before they had unloaded their wagons at Fort Bird, and, by what arguments, I know not, he induced them to visit the forks of the Trinity before deciding on a location.  Whether he out-talked Major Bird, or whether the powers of the air, as ever since, were then looking after the Bryan settlement, there is no way of knowing, but certain it is, that in a few days, the immigrants broke camp at Fort Bird and moved to the Bryan settlement.
     "John Beeman, Adam Haught, Tom Ratton and Howard Cox headed the Illinois party.  The following year, 1843, my father was married to Margaret Beeman, daughter of John Beeman.  The next party of settlers to arrive in this part of the country, located at Farmers Branch, but I can not be certain as to the year.  The Marshes, the Mooneyhans and the Keenans, were in this party.
     "After the accession of the Beeman party, my father established regular trade relations with the Indians.  He brought from the trading post at Preston, beads, red calico, and such other merchandise as attracted the Indians, and exchanged them with the Indians for dressed buckskins and buffalo hides.  The Indians were experts at dressing hides.  The buckskins prepared by them were a standard commodity, and the buffalo hides, which they dressed with the hair on them, and decorated with various designs in paint, on the inside, were no mean achievements in art, and were in great demand.  The Indians had a weakness for loud colors.  They were ready to pay any price within their power for red calico, but would hardly accept as a present, the paler colors.  The commerce between the settlement and Preston was carried on by means of pack mules.

Early Schools.
     "There were not more than six or eight families here, when I started to school.  I can not now recall the name of my first teacher, but the second, who, for some reason now unknown to me, I remember well, was Professor Elijah Spellman.  The schoolhouse, a log affair, of course, was at the present intersection of Elm and Ervay streets.  Later on, my teacher was Harry Peak.  After that, Mr. and Mrs. Meyers kept a school.  Mr. Meyers taught the boys, and Mrs. Meyers, the girls.  Mr. Meyers' initials have escaped me.
      "My earliest recollections are mixed up with Indians camped all around the settlement.  They came to barter furs and hides for the merchandise of the white man.  It was slow business clinching a bargain with Indians.  They did not consume the time in haggling; the trouble was, they simply could not come to a decision.  I do not recall that there was ever any trouble between the Indians and the settlers.  I often saw herds of buffalo grazing on the hills west of the river, but never a single buffalo east of the river.  But, my father told me that when he first came, he killed buffaloes east of the settlement.
     "I distinctly remember when Dallas was incorporated in 1856, and Dr. Samuel Pryor was elected the first Mayor.  I suppose the contest over the location of the county seat served to impress the events of the time on my memory.  Cedar Springs, Duncanville, Hord's Ridge and Dallas were all candidates for it.  When Dallas was finally selected, my father donated the site for the courthouse and ninety town lots, with the stipulation that the county seat was forever to be located here.

First Courthouse.
     "At the time of the election, my father had a crop of corn growing on the courthouse square, and, in order that his corn might not be destroyed, the courthouse, a round, cedar log affair, 14x14 feet, was built on the northeast corner of the lot.  There were no churches here at the time, and the courthouse served for several years, the double purpose of a courthouse and a church.  When he first located, my father got a headright survey of 320 acres of land, and when he married, he took, as was his right, an additional 320 acres, contiguous to the first tract.  This body of 640 acres was bounded on the west by the river, and roughly on the north by Gibbs street, which is just north of the brewery, whence the line ran south through E. M. Kahn's store, the old Dallas Club Building, the Dorsey Building, through the old Masonic Cemetery, thence to Wall street, and on Wall street to Alexander street, and to the river.  The Dallas News block and old Windsor Hotel block are on the original Bryan headright survey."
     During the Civil War, John Neely Bryan, Jr., served as a member of Company B, Nineteenth Texas Cavalry, Parson's Brigade.  He saw fighting at Pleasant Hill and Yellow Bayou, La., and at Poison Springs, Ark.  "I left Dallas in 1872 to engage in the cattle business in Uvalde County," said Mr. Bryan. "The Kickapoo Indians were still on the warpath in that region, and in 1872 and 1873, the ranchmen and cowboys had a number of brushes with them, but no encounter rising to the dignity of a pitched battle.  I located near Charlie, in Clay County, in the early '80s, and have since lived there, engaged in farming and stock raising.  My brother, A. L. Bryan, lives near Fort Sumner, N. M., and my sister, Mrs. Lizzie Dillon, lives at Milton, Ill.  My father and mother had five children, two of whom died in infancy.
     "The original Bryan cabin was moved by me to Markham's Ferry, eleven miles southeast of the city, for a farm dwelling.  I, afterward, sold it to W. J. Rupard, who moved it to his farm, east of Dallas, and in turn, sold it, along with the land, to Josiah Pinson.  The Pinson farm was finally acquired by Dr. R. C. Buckner as a location for the Buckner Orphans' Home.  The cabin was preserved by Dr. Buckner, and I understand it is still intact at the home."

- June 25, 1922, The Dallas Morning News,
Fiction Section, p. 6.
- o o o -

Transcribed by M C Toyer, 3 February 2001 - All Rights Reserved.