Don’t expect to find a statue depicting a founding father of Texas with a name like Jebediah Dallas in the midst of a plaza downtown. It was John Neely Bryan who established a settlement near the area’s only passable natural ford of the Trinity River in 1841. Why he didn’t favor self-aggrandizement and call the place Bryan or Neelyville or Johnstown, we don’t know. Bryan left behind no documents explaining his decision. He also died in the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in 1877, so it’s hard even to trust the few accounts that claim he’d named the city for a friend.
It was once assumed that “Dallas” honored George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States during the Polk administration, but then someone realized the town existed several years before that Pennsylvania politician rose to national office in 1845. (Confusing matters, Dallas County, established in 1846, is almost definitely named for the then-VP.) Other possibilities include George’s brother Alexander, a U.S. Navy officer stationed in the Gulf of Mexico during the 1830s; Walter Dallas, who owned land near Bryan’s holdings; James L. Dallas, Walter’s brother; and Joseph Dallas, who lived in the Cedar Springs area.
Or maybe Bryan was an amateur etymologist, and he just liked bestowing a name that, traced to its Gaelic roots, means “place by the meadow.” Anyway, we’ll never be sure. Which grants us the freedom to define “Dallas” for ourselves. All we can say with certainty is this: now that you live in Dallas, you hate Houston, and Austin hates you.