Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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April 12, 2008

Stringer - How did Dallas get its name?

The origin of the names of some Texas cities is rather easy to determine. For example, Houston honors Texas war hero Sam Houston, while Austin is named for Stephen F. Austin, who brought the first Anglo settlers to Texas in 1823. The naming of Dallas is another matter, however.

The general consensus is that the city was named for George Mifflin Dallas, who was born in Philadelphia in 1872. Dallas had a distinguished career, serving as mayor of Philadelphia, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, and also Attorney General of that state. In 1844 he was elected vice president of the United States. He was placed on the ticket with Democrat James K. Polk of Tennessee. In his campaign, Polk promised to annex Texas into the Union, which occurred in early 1845. Such a move made the Democratic administration quite popular among Texans, accounting for the naming of the new settlement founded by John Neely Bryant.

Some dispute the naming of Dallas in honor of the vice president, however. Evidence indicates that Bryant was calling his new town Dallas as early as 1842, two years before George Dallas’ election as vice president. Challengers maintain that Bryant had not even heard of George Dallas before 1845.

If the town was not named for George Dallas, then who is its namesake? Other possibilities include the vice president’s brother, Commodore Alexander James Dallas, who served a tour of duty in the United States Navy which included an assignment along the Texas Gulf Coast. That experience established a tie with the Lone Star State. Other possibilities include Walter R. Dallas, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto which secured Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. His brother, James R. Dallas, an early Texas Ranger may also have been the namesake. Still others contend it was named for Joseph Dallas, who arrived in the new settlement from Arkansas in 1843. Since Bryant had come from Arkansas to Texas, it is possible the two may have known each other prior to their Texas connection.

The official Texas Historical Commission marker erected in downtown Dallas in 1936 names Vice President George M. Dallas as the honoree, so that should settle the issue. But obviously, not everyone agrees with that assessment.

—————

Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation.

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