John Neely Bryan: Founder of Dallas by Lucy C. Trent


John Neely Bryan was the founder of Dallas, Texas. Back in the early 1840s he became the first white person to settle permanently in what is...

John Neely Bryan was the founder of Dallas, Texas. Back in the early 1840s he became the first white person to settle permanently in what is now Dallas County. It was on his old homestead that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

What you are about to read I did not write. The words below were written long ago by Lucy C. Trent. Lucy Trent was the great niece of John Neely Bryan, a descendant of JNB younger brother William Bryan. Her brother was John Bob Payne, and it was he who illustrated the book. The book was published in 1936, and I found a copy of it in the Grand Prairie, Texas library. I scanned it, and you can see the results below.

I added the table of contents to make it easier to use this post. The illustrations in this post were scanned from the book, with the exception of the photo at the very bottom of the post. That photo is a picture John Bryan and Margaret, his wife.

As a warning let me add that this post is almost 13,000 words long.

Table of Contents

FROM 1815 to 1830

John Neely Bryan: Founder of Dallas

by Lucy C. Trent

"John Neely Bryan: Founder of Dallas" by Lucy C. Trent

This book was published in 1936 by Tardy Publishing Company in Dallas, Texas.


This work of nonfiction was written by Lucy Trent and published in the late 1930. It is a small book, around 12,500 words, and provides some details about his parents, his childhood and upbringing, his siblings, as well as his latter life. It is provide on this website as a courtesy for anyone wanting to learn more about John Neely Bryan, and it compliments nicely the historical novel Founding Father: the Live and Times of John Neely Bryan.

Lucy Trent was great niece of John Neely Bryan, a descendent of JNB younger brother William Bryan. Her brother was John Bob Payne, and it was he who illustrated the book.







It is sincerely hoped that this volume may contribute in no small way to a better understanding and appreciation of John Neely Bryan and that during the Centennial Celebration of the founding of Dallas in 1941, he may finally receive the long denied recognition due him for his MAGNIFICENT ENTERPRISE



Because they have shown me faith, hope and

love. this little book is dedicated

To my dau

ghter, Eileen Adair Critz-Carson,

To my son-in-law, Keith H. Carson,

To my husband, Albert L. Trent.

—L. C. T.


The author wishes to extend her sincere appreciation to Mr. Sam Acheson for his constructive suggestions, when she decided to venture a Legendary story of her great-uncle; to her brother John Bob Payne, for illustrating this work.

She is indebted to Professor Henry Smith, of Southern Methodist University, for reading the manuscript and securing the services of a young editorial aspirant, Mr. George Curtsinger. She commends both to other writers.

The greatest source material has been that furnished by an old Bible and scrap book, kindly lent by cousins, Mrs. Emily Milhous and Mrs. E. F. Shofner, and from stories told by her mother, Mrs. Ada Bankhead Bryan-Payne.

Lucy C. Trent


Woah, Neshoba, old boy, here's where we stop! This is the place for sure!" Thus must John Neely Bryan have shouted to his pony, and bear dog.

In 1841 the little company halted at the forks of the Trinity River. As the last slanting rays of a glorious sun sank into the waters, with the cedrine air tingling their nostrils, a bright new day was presaged for our travelers. The realities of a century of progress, ethereal, shapeless forms, fled through the brain of John Neely Bryan as he slept that night beside the rude smouldering heap that was his campfire, doubtless leaving some delicate impression upon the retina of his conscious mind.

When he awoke, he set planning. In quick succession he saw trees felled, lands cleared, streets and homes built beside the river that brought trade from the south, and a surging teeming, happy people filling the place. Surely in that night of travail--1841--in the fertile brain of one John Neely Bryan—Dallas was born.

The past and present twined in one,

The time between revealing


Bring to

a close one hundred years,

A vision, dream, appealing.

Back of every individual, reported as a self-made man, is his family: father, mother, grandparents, sisters, brothers and others not so closely related, that have contributed to the forming process. His associates, even his chance acquaintances, have left their impression upon him. At last he stands out, fashioned, a self-made man.

John Neely Bryan was an exponent of the above statement. Where the "self" comes in, we hope to portray in the following pages. Mr. Parkinson, the Englishman, accompanying Sam Houston, coming to the settlement in the first years of Dallas, describes Bryan as a backwoodsman. They both knew what that meant —intimate association with frontier life. It meant that one so called had met danger and had overcome it; had been weary and grown rested in the midst of loneliness. That courage had been in the breast, daring in and mind and purpose in the soul.

A backwoodsman excludes the idea of fear, rejects the life that tends to ease and fares forth to experience nature and a Providence he does not always accept, gratefully nor graciously, but at least unrebelli


Mr. Hous

ton's party, including Mr. Parkinson, remained near the settlement for several weeks. Houston was so pleased with Bryan that he enlisted his aid in treating with the Indians.

Character meaning "burnt-in brand," it shall be our endeavor to trace briefly in the following pages, the life story of this man, from his earliest years, when as a child he received his first instructions at his mother's knee, throughout his life, when the "brand" reveals itself—to the last end, when the denouement, the logical conclusion of a life is reached, and the mortal remains have no more need of a designation.


THE Carolinas and Tennessee are held together by ridges, laurel trimmed and azure tipped. The blue green of Ireland, the


heather green of Scotland and the grey green of England, greet the stranger scanning for the first time the panorama-of the Blue Mountains spread out before him. And in the time of our story, this magnificent, rude, ample-breasted earth bore few marks of the hand of man.

Close scrutiny revealed clear, shallow creeks and rivers cooled by hidden mountain springs. The air was scented with the rhododendron, hawthorne and azalia, which, entangled with vines of grape and eglantine made riotious splashes of light on every hillside.

Pine, hickory, tulip and sugar trees were abundant. Bear, deer, turkey and small game multiplied in great numbers. Our sweetest wild bird singers filled the land and vented their delight especially upon the morning and evening air.

John Neely Bryan began life in the depths of those Blue Hills.


HILLSBOROUGH lies oil an eminence in the rolling, uneven land of middle North Carolina. It is one of the oldest settled places of that state. Before and during the Revolutionary War, its settlers came from Scotland and Ireland, some English from Virginia, and later Germans and French. The larger population was of Scotch-Irish descent.

People of like sympathies and tastes have usually congregated together, and the Boones, the Neelys, the Bryans, found a common interest in this part of Carolina. Some of the best blood that flowed in the veins of pioneer stock settled in the Carolinas. Many of these did not remain in the colony long, but pushed westward in a short time.

The valleys and hillsides, farmed over and over, after being cleared, soon became unproductive and taxes being so high, few families could have become independently "well off". The Neely family of this story was what was termed fairly "well-to-do."

As a family, it had played an heroic part in the early settlement and at this time, 1777, comparative quid reigned. The Indians were no longer such a menace This spring, as usual, the Hillsborough folk began early the breaking of land for their crops of corn, tobacco, and flax. With our Neely family, besides the adventure of pitching new crops, a baby was born to their on March 19th. There had been other babies, but none more dainty than this one who was called Elizabeth She was so tiny it was doubtful if she would live.

But time and mother's food soon caused her to grow plump as a partridge, but not large, and she never grew large. At maturity she was less than five feet in height A vivid personality, people turned in passing to loot upon this fair maid and though Hillsborough has beer the birthplace or many lovely, worthy women, it has never given to the country one more to be admired than Elizabeth Neely.

Being of small stature, she appeared younger than her years, but was of a hardy, robust constitution. Early American times bred women of great strength, and all through Elizabeth's life she manifested a remarkable courage and resoluteness of purpose. Her girlhood was filled with the simple joys afforded by the times. Of a musical nature, she played and sang, and withal, gave heed to the learning of how to spin, weave, sew, and knit, besides the more homely arts of the household.

The Neelys were people of culture and refinement, and noted for their hospitality; and poorer friends, who might not in .turn entertainthem, found as warm a welcome as those more favored by fortune.

Though books were few, the educational advantages of Hillsborough then were the best the state afforded and Elizabeth read and reread every available book and paper she could get her hands on. An ardent student of nature, she loved to observe natural forces at work in her daily life, and to this young, inquiring mystic, God did move in a most mysterious way.


"Scratch the green rind of a sapling or wantonly twist it in the soil, and a scarred or crooked oak will tell of the act, for centuries to come.

How forcibly does this figure teach the necessity of

giving right tendencies to the minds and hearts of the young."

-Author Unknown.


"In a neighboring section of Hillsborough, North Carolina, in the year 1773 a boy was born to one of the Bryan families of the colony. This boy was called James.

It is an interesting historical fact that so many .names in our country have gone through a change in spelling and more often, perhaps, of pronunciation. Bryan is one of these, being spelled O'Bryan, O'Brien, Bryean, Bryan and Bryans.

The parents of James Bryan were quite Scotch-Irish and had come to America with high hopes of making more than just a living. They had been able to make a comfortable living in the old country but had been lured away by letters and stories of relatives and friends who had come over on earlier ships to the colonies.

The family had brought some means to its new home, but the results of investment in land had not yielded the returns expected. After several years, though not in debt, James Bryan's family was only moderately "well-off", and this child's future depended entirely on what his hands could earn when he was of age. No financial legacy from forefathers would be his portion! James had little schooling, but was naturally intelligent and learned from the mouths of others, stories of family lore, etc., before he had access to his few books. Quite young he began to draw houses, for the most part, and he drew them as he fancied they should look.

Being Scotch-Irish, he had an instinctive desire to build about the main house, the shelters for the whole living animal life belonging to the family. Convenience seemed to be the idea held uppermost in his drawings. Every house planned was of simple design and good perspective. Always houses were placed on hills or eminences of ground. No low-land setting for dream houses was in James Bry

an's eyes.

Taught b

y his father to tan leather and make shoes, he gradually fell into the habit of asking to be allowed to make the softer, prettier shoes of the family. The rougher, coarser footwear being made by other members of the household. A great dreamer, hardship claimed him and there was time for little else but to eke out a living in endless labor.

"Yet why complain? What though fond hopes deferred

Have overshadowed Life's green paths with gloom—

Content's soft music is not all unheard."



YOUNG James Bryan met and found favor in the eyes of Elizabeth Neely, which was indeed an achievement. She looked on the world with the brownest of brown eyes, large for her face, twinkling, laughing, keen, exemining and yet not too critical. Elizabeth and James met during her late teens and his early twenties. Short was the courtship, short the wooing, for each loved the other almost at first sight.

Young Bryan was erect of carriage, simple of speech. Elizabeth found willing ears to listen to her observations on nature, comments on what she read and observations concerning the times in which they lived. Their marriage took place in the late 1790's, probably '96 or '97. They kept house near Hillsborough until about 1800, when other friends moving westward, they, with their two small children, both girls, Mary and Nancy, came to live at Pendleton, South Carolina. This was about the time of "the great revival." Elizabeth was gloriously converted, a conversion she never denied, and one that made of her a most devout Christian.

Seven happy, hard working, constructive years were lived by this growing young family in Pendleton: South Carolina. James Bryan plied his trade of building houses. So small they were, yet so adequate for the real needs and desires of these early settlers. Would that we today enjoyed the quiet delights of simple, unpretentious homes—as did these pioneers!

About this time, the stretch of country beyond the Laurel Ridge had become almost a paradise to be possessed—or so they thought, many did—in the Carolinas. James Bryan had other and wealthier relatives seeking to invest in land grants in the West. The family had grown with the birth of Thomas, James and Henrietta.

Still westward the peoples go from the Carolinas. The largest migration was during the first twenty-five years of the 19th century.

We know in this day, that with care of the soil, binding ribbons of terraces about the hillsides, putting green nitrogenous matter back into the soil, trading up-growing crops with root-forming ones, alternate years, on the same land, Carolina could always have produced remunerative substances. Her folk need not have sought fairer fields, but the lure of bright prospects further west dazzled their eyes. "Let's move West and start again" was the cry.

The young Bryans were of this group. Together they left Pendleton, South Carolina for more western Blue Hills. This was in the latter part of 1807. By 1808, they had reached the wooded section, along the Elk River in Tennessee. How tedious had been the journey for the company, how slow a day's march, how dim the trail between "the hills" flanked on all sides by close growing cane, trees and vines!

But the dream and the vision held their course true; a dream of beauty and utility, blended to make a home; a vision of desires fulfilled, home with opportunities for the young members to find and work out their own impulses under the best environment.

The Bryans, James and his kinsmen, finally located on Cane Creek, Edward on the upper Cane Creek, James near the mouth where it empties into Elk River. There is no record left of this trek and no draft or paper of the first rock and pole cabins on the bluff. Only by transmitted word of mouth do we know what was done. What mattered their travels to other people; what matter anything, if the family was together! Didn't James have Elizabeth? Didn't Elizabeth have her children? Did not God move with them? Were not all things working together for good to them; for they did love their God.

Elizabeth's devout belief was holding and moulding the family life.

So we find that in 1808, James Bryan records his land. At this time, Tennessee was still in North Carolina. True to Scotch-Irish selection, Mr. Bryan picked high ground for his homesite, with land falling away back from the bluff, for fields, which he later expected to plant in corn, hemp and flax. They were not lowland's people! Most of them had a lifting of the chin, for higher ground living. Then too, one could always see "over" better when high up. The country was so sparsely settled, that "seeing out" was a natural precaution to take, should unfriendly Indians be near. Yet this last scarcely entered into the Bryan calculations, for they had been peacefully inclined toward the Indians. Elizabeth had a pronounced idea that the Indians had never been treated fairly by the American people, and after she became a Christian, this idea grew until she became an apostle of the Indians but always in her home, with her children and husband.

Had she then been able to speak as a woman of today, she would in all probability have championed the Indian cause in the courts of the land. She believed in a free people, and though of a slave holding family, she never believed in slavery; she grieved that the Cherokees, especially, had to leave their homes. She mingled her tears with those of whom she did not know, when West they were forced almost by her door.

The bluff where was once the old nesting place, still shows the place where the cabins stood. Just below the bluff, half-way down, is a cave that calls the frightened ones who live near by to seek shelter in a time of storm. In the olden days it was an Indian "hideaway" for the young members of the Bryan family.

The Bryan cabin on Cane Creek was christened in 1808 with the birth of a baby girl, Eleanor, called Nellie.


BUILDING houses, we have said gave James Bryan extreme satisfaction. How could he, now, indulge in this desire? He was


in a wilderness! You must have people for whom houses can be built. Would they come? That same year, scarcely had their rock houses covered them, before many more pioneers came west. Some settled on Bear and Norris Creeks, many along the Elk River, and beyond, and above and between all these. On Sugar, Duck and Swan Creeks, too, many acres came into the possession of folk from Virginia and the Carolinas, and even farther, New Hampshire and Maryland.

It became apparent that there were enough present to make a town. Records show that two sites were proposed, one near Norris Creek and one near Cane Creek. After much manipulation, the Norris group won the decision, and Fayetteville, Tennessee was plotted, a courthouse square selected, and lots were advertised for sale. It was a great time for this sturdy collection of free and home-loving people to incorporate another Fayetteville.

Some had come from near and around Fayetteville, North Carolina. That was a shipping point for all the country round about, Hillsborough included. They were still following tradition in continuing names.

Among the first to buy lots was James Bryan. He bought lots on two sides of the square, on the old Shelbyville Road that ran through the proposed town. It is supposed this old road was a part of the Indian trail, that led south to Natches, Mississippi.

We might remark in passing that today that seems the most logical route from North to South through the town.

The land was full of cane, so thick that it required much grubbing to be rid of the long time natural growth. The writer on a recent visit to this place found the daughter of an Irishman telling of how her father was one of the cane grubbers.

James Bryan was ready to offer his services as a carpenter, and build, build, build! His own house he began first. It was two miles out to his country-bluff home, and he wanted his family near to his work Building went on apace, and soon Fayetteville was ; thriving little town. Mr. Bryan built one house just above the old "Town Spring." This spring had been the resting place when Jackson passed through, taming the Indians. That was in 1800, and is so marked today.

When Fayetteville was laid out, water was furnished from nearby springs. This particular spring also furnished water for the tan-yard that was soon started after Fayetteville had hung out its shingle.


It was an artistocratic little town, with its first shingle. Being on the Indian trail and Shelbyville stage route, also the high road from east to west, through the Southern part of Tennessee, it "caught" many travelers. Some of the best families of Scotch, Scotch-Irish, English, a few French and German came; these from Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Hampshire.

The environment afforded the younger generation was above the average for the times. They lived in well organized clans commonly known as families, and received all their necessary information from the proper sources, the father and mother. They labored together in the fields and shops by day and spent the evenings about the fireside in mutual enjoyment of family life. They had what it takes to make a strong, healthy nation—plenty of backbone, which is something that, although we are not lacking, we just fall short of, because we do not hang together.

A favorite fireside song was "The Mac's and the 0's, which was sung to the tune "Granuail":

When Erin was found by the Mac's and the 0's,

We never can learn for nobody knows;

Old History says they came over from Spain,

To visit old Granuez and there they remained.


Erin my darling Granuail,

The land of potatoes, of milk and of meal;

Famed in battle your sons of renown

The Sprig of Shilella will never lay down.

The Harp of Old Erin was carried and wore,

By Fedlin O'Connor and Roger O'Moore,

McArthur, McArty, O'Tooley, O'Connell,

Fitzgerald, McGerald, O'Rane, McDonald.

The following verses were written by James Bryan Hill, Nephew of John Neely Bryan:

I'd sing of all others could I think of the name,

Of McCord, McGumpsey, of soap making fame;

McDavid, McPhail and Larry O'Bryan,

Fitzpatrick, McClain and Father O'Ryan.

McLaughlin, McKmney, McNelly, McGuire,

McDaniel, McErwin, McKinzie, the squire,

McGarvey, McGatha and Peter Mahan;

With Roger Killmarten, the gem of the clan.

Visiting in Fayetteville today, though the majority of the older settlers or decendents have gone to other places, one may find many still remain of the old cultured stock. Though progressive, Fayetteville still retains an atmosphere of earlier days and even with its paved streets, the stranger feels inclined to drive slowly that the quiet dignity of its home life may find a responsive echo in the heart.

"It takes a heap o' livin' in a house to make a home" becomes a vital thing in the life of the child growing up, religiously or otherwise. John Neely Bryan was brought by his father and mother to the house of the Lord at an early age. The Bryans were Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, and as such the Sabbath and its sanctity was taught their children. The saying "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it," does not mean that intervening years may not be stray years, but that the "old man" will come back.

Elizabeth had already had several children but John Neely was as new as any of the rest, and so welcome!

Doctors were few in 1810, in Lincoln County and when he fretted it would be no stretch of the imagination to suppose that the soothing effect of catnip tea was resorted to, and he was allowed to lie passive in a home-made cradle long hours while his mother performed her many homely duties. One thing is sure, he was the delight of his sisters, Mary and Nancy, his seniors by some ten years. But he was considered somewhat of a nuisance by Thomas and James. With his sisters' spoiling care, he grew by spanks and kisses, alternately, to find himself by assertions and demonstrations, a lordly ruler.

Mary and Nancy grew rapidly and soon became very popular young ladies. Henrietta, somewhat younger, soon shared in their social life. To attest their popularity, in old scrap books belonging to their children's children, may be found numerous invitations, such as:

"Washington Ball at Bell Tavern, February 13, 1823; Tea Party given by students of Fayetteville Academy, August 31, 1819; Ball at Major J. P. McConnell’s, August 29, 1815; Jackson Ball, Fayetteville, January 4, 1826; Ball in Nashville, Tennessee, in honor of General La Fayette, April 7, 1825;" and many others.

FROM 1815 to 1830

FAYETTEVILLE, Tennessee was five years old in 1815 and so was John Neely Bryan. He was beginning to remember stories, scenes, facts, people, many things. Just the year before, 1814, still another boy had come to round out the family circle of Bryans: William Carroll Bryan. This baby immediately occupied the center of the fireside stage. John Neely felt that he was set aside somewhat, and young though he was, he remembered a transfer of affection of not alone two sisters but of two older brothers; he surely had lost his world; poor little five-year-old, unintentionally made to feel the pangs of heartache!

With some children, losses are soon forgotten, but not so with John Neely. Though they loved each other, he always believed that William had his place. Probably there was an element of truth in that belief, because it is reported that in her old age Elizabeth's preference was strongly for William Carroll, her youngest son, however much she tried not to show it.

But how could she help that? William had such a fund of wit and always tried to please her. He bough her pretty, ruffled caps which she liked so to wear, but she would say, "Yes, William, they are so beautiful let's put them in my drawer, let me wear the ones ~ knit." (No manufactured caps could have been more beautiful than Elizabeth's finely knitted ones). This was always at his command when his mother became serious and quoted the Bible to him, he would say "Yes, Mother, but doesn't God want me to laugh and sing, doesn't He want music? Surely, God doesn't like long faces. He does not want unhappiness. I like to dance. I like motion with music." With that, he'd lit' her from her feet and with scarcely a touch to the floor waltz her around the room. John Neely was more reflective.

John Neely and James had many tastes in common and spent much time together. Unlike their brother, Thomas, who was a good, sweet-tempered youth, they resented correction and had no desire to imitate the virtues of the older and more devout brother. Of the many chores that fell to their lot, no doubt the most sought after, was that of carrying the corn to the mill on Elk River, which meant a jaunt away from home. They took turns at it, John Neely going one week and James the next. Later, another mill was erected on Cane Creek which was much nearer the Bryan's corn-patch.

The finding of an old Roman coin by their sister, Henrietta, caused John Neely and James to make many excursions and numerous diggings. Henrietta found the coin probably between the years 1812 and 1814, when she was about six years old; her father was digging the foundation for a house and Henrietta, playing around, found the coin.

The whole town knew of the find and boys of the neighborhood hoped to find many more like this. It brought to mind stories of pirates and Spanish gold, and many were the stories woven and told about the fireside, that probably the "'Old Stone Fort" held buried treasure. A big scouting trip was hatched up by the Bryan boys.


THREE FORKS seems to have been a cabalistic name in John Neely Bryan's life. The first "Three Forks" to play a part in his life was in Coffee or Bedford County, Tennessee, where it heads up Duck Creek. When he was riot more than 17, John Neely had the good fortune to go on a jaunt to this point.

There are few more romantic spots and none more mysterious or hard to explain than the Old Stone Fort. He had heard of it and like most boys, determined to investigate and learn all he could, perhaps find buried treasure. He and James had relatives at Winchester and Manchester, two settlements near the fort, and so they set out.

What they found was an enclosure of perhaps thirty-seven and a half acres. About the whole place there was no sign of life, except birds, squirrel, and other small animals that had made their abode there. The line of defense was curved, a ditch seeming to be inside the decaying wall. A ridge of loose stones was all that remained of the wall. This was across the gorge. It would indicate that the Fort was of Indian origin, for it was cunningly contrived but showed little knowledge of advanced warfare.

Big trees were growing inside the Fort. Some, on being cut, showed rings that would indicate their age at four hundred and twenty years. That was before Columbus discovered America.

When Tennessee had first been settled, this old fort had been found to be on the great Indian highway from the South to the-North. Not very far off is an Indian mound which, up to that time, had not been disturbed.

On this trip James and John Neely found what to them seemed valuable minerals, iron pyrites, in the shale rock. Their pockets were filled and many plans made for gold digging and the finding of other precious metals. Imagine their disappointment on their return, to be told that it was but "fool's gold". Anyway, in the back of John Neely's brain the idea remained, that he would some day go in search of gold.

A romantic vision held his fancy.

It is a hard task to strip great men of their honors. Yet little boys—great men afterwards—do much the same things that nearly all little boys do. One or the other of them always got a good soaking when water was being carried up from the spring, and although they probably didn't go so far as to push the "widow's chickens in the pond," or ever get into serious mischief: they were real boys! Sometimes they ran away after school to swim, hunt and fight, and many times went to sleep under the cudgelling of the village preacher. One religious service they did like to attend was "Camp Meeting". The Methodists and the Cumberland Presbyterians held very convincing ones, near Fayetteville. These two boys should have been Methodists because they acted out one of the articles of that faith, "falling from grace." At these revivals they would sit far back or outside, for fear of being "convicted of sin" by those forceful men of God.

The following song was a favorite with young and Old:

Come tell of your Ship and what is her name'

Oh, tell me, Happy Sailor,

Say who is your captain and what is his fame?

Oh, tell me. Happy Sailor.

She's the old Ship of Zion, Hallelujah,

And her Captain's Judah's Lion, Hallelujah.

Come tell of your crew, from whence do they come?

Oh, tell me, Happy Sailor.

And why do you lead them from their home?

Oh, tell me. Happy Sailor.

They are chosen, called and happy, Hallelujah,

And have left the land of folly, Hallelujah.

Many were the verses that followed, and they were all sung at the revivals.

The early schools of Fayetteville were pay schools. John Neely and James attended the Male and Female Academy and


later, in their teens—1825—they went to the Fayetteville Military Academy. About this time John Neely began to work in the printshop of Ebenezer Hill who became his brother-in-law. It was great sport to be about the printing office. All the news was garnered there from far and near and John Neely gleaned considerable information on a wide variety of topics. He found politics of prime interest, and such men as James K. Polk, Felix Grundy, Andrew Jackson and Thomas H. Benton became heroes to him.

From time immemorial, young boys have found great difficulty in constraining themselves in the matter of their play, the students of a military academy being no exception. They were a group of stalwart young huskies, varying in age from fourteen to seventeen years. Boys that age, good boys, are scarcely old enough to perpetrate any serious mischief, and too young to realize the often dire consequences of their apparently harmeless pranks. The following tale might have had a less happy ending:

A great black bear had been seen near the town but had so far eluded capture. In their "hide out" in a hollow near the town, some daring imaginative mind conceived the idea of giving the townsfolk a good scare. It was quite simple. Some bearskin rug would serve adequately to produce the desired effect. And so, after a general assembly, during which a carefully formulated plan was laid out, John Neely was sent for the Bryans' rug, as theirs was less likely to be missed. He returned to the rendezvous with the purloined bearskin where its reincarnation took place, and a right fine specimen of beardom stood before them.

For two days Bruin lay in wait while he was properly talked around. Numerous scouting trips were made, during which the smaller boys were permitted at least a glimpse of the great beast. Their timid hearts still beating with the excitement of having seen a real live bear, they ran to their homes and related in breathless accents the account of their adventure, and with each telling this remarkable bear, who had not only been accorded a second birth but actually roamed about their own Fayetteville, grew and grew and before long assumed such proportions that the whole populace was aroused to a considerable pitch at the danger imminent, especially to the women and children.

At last, on the evening of the second day, a hunting party was organized. Armed with rifles, hatchets, clubs, stones and various means of attack, they set out, fully intending to mete out an end to old Bruin. It had all been carefully planned beforehand that the searching parties should converge at the town spring about the same time. It worked!

When the parties were nearing the spring, someone yelled, "He's here by the spring." And sure enough, in the gloom of the hollow, a giant black form could be seen moving in the bushes. All of the parties arrived almost as one and Bruin was immediately attacked from all sides.

Mrs. Bryan doubtless had something to say to her youngsters about the bearskin rug being ruined, and although it isn't recorded, the authors of this crime were probably discovered and punished, but only for having made the townspeople the butt-end of the joke.

When John Neely was about sixteen, Jackson came to receive the plaudits and laurels of his friends in a Fourth of July celebration. Pulaski, Tennessee, had been accorded the privilege of having this celebration. General Jackson then came on to Fayetteville, for a dinner and speaking at Crooked Springs. Hon J. H. Morgan welcomed General Jackson and Jackson replied in like manner, closing with the following words: "It is a source of the highest consolation to receive from a portion of my fellow citizens, so numerous and respectable, and who have been in so great a degree the witnesses of my conduct, a testimonial so flattering, as their entire approbation."

The dinner was under the supervision of Major McConnell with James Bright, Esquire, presiding, assisted by General Greer and B. Clements, Esquire, Vice Presidents. Many toasts were given. Some are quoted:

Fourth of July, 1826—The Jubilee of Freedom: "May the principles which gave birth to this festival be acknowledged in all their purity by those who celebrate the day fifty years hence.

The Next President: "The voice of the people has proclaimed General Jackson as the individual who, by his faithful services, and superior abilities, is preeminently entitled to preside over the destinies of his country."

General John Coffee: "His achievements and important public services are too numrous to be particularized—they receive the cordial approbation of hi' countrymen."


General Coffee: "Lincoln County, the hospitality of her citizens is only surpassed by their patriotism and gallantry."

General Jackson: "The General and State Governments, may all their functionaries feel a just responsibility to the people and not over-lap the pale of their respective constitutions."

Archibald Yell, Esquire: "Our distinguished fellow citizen, General John Coffee, and the night of the twenty-third."

Captain H. Robertson: "James K. Polk, our representative in Congress, may his political course meet the approbation of the American people."

David Thompson: "May the farmers continue to raise cotton as it not only serves for an article of commerce in peace, but will answer for ramparts in war."

Colonel 1. Holman: "Let us with one heart cleve to, and support, our own government. It is one of our own forming and ought to be administered by men of our own choice!"

The pleasures of the day closed with a ball at the Fayetteville Inn. The Bryans, Hills and Lairds, were among the invited guests of the evening. In attendance, elegance and beauty, the exhibition had not been surpassed and would vie with like entertainments in much larger places. General Jackson and his whole suite were present, entering heartily into the festivities. John Neely Bryan and his friends of like age, students from the Military Academy, looked on, from the outside and wished that they were men, just like Andrew Jackson.

In later life, these two great men, Jackson and Bryan, had occasion to disagree on a great many topics, particularly, the Indian question. Bryan's sympathy for the Indians and his understanding of their problems was attested to by the fact that General Sam Houston enlisted Bryan's aid in treating with them.

John Neely Bryan was only thirteen years old when Ebenezer Hill began to edit and publish the "Village Messenger" in Fayetteville, Tennessee. Hill was born in Mason, Hillsboro County, New Hampshire, October 14, 1791. In his late twenty's he came South to Alabama, thence to Fayetteville where he published the "Village Messengr" from 1823 to 1828.

Ebenezer Hill was a man of letters, a graduate from an Eastern college. When he came south, he brought an alert, positive, assertive mind in the small wiry frame of a man. As the editor of a country-town paper he wielded a wide influence. In 1824, he married John Neely Bryan's best loved sister—Mary Tate (called Polly) Bryan.

A boy of 14, John Neely again realized that his place had been usurped by an invader, but, then, he looked at things a bit differently from what he did at the age of five, when his brother, William Carroll, was born; and he was struck by Ebenezer Hill's honesty of purpose, endurance under strain and his unobtrusive manner.

Very early, Ebenezer's fine mind made its impress upon him. Encouragement to study was given him by Mr. Hill. Suggestive lists of books to read were made for him, and even employment given. In those days boys had or made little money, and as John Neely was industrious, he was sought after for jobs, more than most boys of the same age. Mr. Hill was the prime factor in the movement of starting a circulating library in the town. In 1825, he began to publish, "Hill's Almanac" which he continued for nearly forty years. It was sold by the single copy, dozen or gross, throughout the mercantile establishments of that part of Tennessee, North Alabama and Mississippi.

From 1829, for a few years, he published "The Western Cabinet" with John H. Laird, another brother-in-law of John Neely.

As an experiment in his later years, he brought silk worms into the country and succeeded in producing silk, but his efforts resulted in no established industry. Mr. Hill's passion was distributing the news of the day, giving full views to his ideas of life, politics, etc., in an editorial way.

John Neely Bryan learned many valuable lessons from this fine man.

John Neely was so anxious to study law that he used every opportunity to absorb all he could on that subject. Lawyers in those days were exceedingly helpful to young students. Books were lent freely and the young men "sat in" on many notable cases. A great many shining lights graced the Fayetteville bar. They were strong, vigorous thinkers and Fayetteville soon became a veritable legal battleground for many prominent lawyers of North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Among the earliest ones were Honorable C. C. Clay of Huntsville, Alabama; Thomas H. Benton; Judge Haywood of North Carolina; Nathanial Green and dozens of others as noted. There was one, a Mr. Coulter whom John Neely liked particularly well. Besides being a lawyer, Mr. Coulter was also very fond of fishing. He is supposed to have studied out his cases while participating in the sacred rites of Isaak Walton. John Neely liked to carry the bait and listen to his gossip of the bar. Mr. Coulter had a well cultivated vocabulary of cuss-words and used them to good. advantage. Many other men did the same, but Mr. Coulter, being a lawyer and a fisherman to be respected, John Neely endeavored to emulate the example, and doubtless with some little success as Elizabeth seems to have been considerably distressed at her son's ability. Being a most practical mother, Elizabeth was also a psychologist of considerable accomplishment. She theorized that if her boy were allowed thoroughly to saturate himself with his new-found habit, he would doubtless feel the fetid breath of satiety before long, and stop with the starting. In those days, ipecac was used as an emetic; Elizabeth used the ipecacuanhic treatment.

The young culprit was instructed to repeat all the profanities used in his daily practice, and to continue until his store and imagination were exhausted. The mother, whose ears were buffeted by one surprise after another, sat, a stern, unrelenting pilot at the helm of her ship, probably unable to credit the remarkable amount of information young boys manage to acquire, particularly on subjects that aren't any of their business. At last, an utterly vanquished, inarticulate little boy stood before her, the faintest smell of a brimstone word was sickening.

Elizabeth didn't disclose her method, but somehow it was soon noised about and she was acclaimed a physician -par excellence in the practical eradication of profanity from little boys.

Another man whom John Neely loved was George W. Jones who exerted a great deal of influence on young Bryan for the good. Jones was a great man who, when John Neely knew him, worked in a saddlery and later became a prominent political figure.

At the age of eighteen, John Neely Bryan felt that he was a man and should become possessed of property in his own name. His savings from his trades with the friendly Indians, besides his earnings at the print shop had brought him the sum of nearly one hundred dollars. A lot was offered for sale by David Barclay of Fayetteville, and Hugh Pettit of Tuscumbia County, Alabama, cabinet-makers. John Neely Bryan records his deed to this lot—No. 71, in the town of Fayetteville, in the July term of court, 1828.

He did not long own his first proud possession, giving it to his father who, after the family moved to Jackson, Mississippi traded it to his son-in-law, Ebenezer Hill.

A small company was organized in Fayetteville, in the spring of 1828, to help finish up the Seminole war in Florida and John Neely, having disposed of his small possessions, enlisted for three months. He had a good horse; a dappled roan mare named Nancy, a Fayetteville made saddle, a "brought on" pair of boots, nankeen breeches and corresponding accessories.

The company was made up mostly of young men; John Neely, himself, was only eighteen. They were assured there would probably be but little fighting, but the "power of the whites" in battle-array, was to be used to curb any new outbreak, and to cause an early movement of the Indians to the west.

When the company reached Southern Georgia, just entering Florida, the members found they would be mustered out at Jacksonville. Quiet had already been secured by the advanced troops, longer in the field, and the Fayetteville company was 'allowed to return home as desired.

John Neely and his friend, Ed Booker, from a neighboring settlement, decided to return home through South Carolina, northeast Georgia, and by Ross' Landing. Ed, several years the senior of John Neely, but a robust, witty, "devil-may-care" sort of man, really appeared the younger of the two. Just over the line, in South Carolina, in fording a shallow stream, both mounts hit a bed of quicksand, and the fright attendent to this experience made them, ever after, wary of experimenting with crossings. The struggle of the horses left them trembling, when, at last, they were freed.

Bending to the Northwest, the route was to lead them through his father's old home town, Pendleton, South Carolina. There, two or three days were whiled away with meeting the family and friends left when the Bryans moved to Tennessee, back in 1808, twenty years before. John Neely had never known them but had been told by his parents of his kinsmen, and had promised his mother that if he had the chance, he'd stop on the way home. He found his father's old home, and many were the acquaintances that sought information about Tennessee.

The girls, his cousins, begged the young soldiers to "stay over" and a party would be given for them. In those days it was no trouble to arrange a party. A runner went around and told everybody. Music was always on hand, free for the asking, home made and full of invitation to dancing feet. It is reported that Ed Booker won his way into the hearts of many that night. No one could say so many funny things, no one could get so many partners for the dances. In fact, they made up a song about Ed Booker because he could move his feet so fast and in so many directions, all at the same time:

"Oh, Mr. Booker, come dance this step

Oh, Mr. Booker, do

.Etc., etc."

It still remains a folk song to this day.


LATE one afternoon, having ridden further than usual for the day, they came, almost without noting the change, upon a more beguiling view than had captured their senses for many miles. From the rise of the trail they looked down upon a beautiful valley, where fell before them, blanket-like, several small farms. It was June and to the receptive spirits of the young adventurers, all the world seemed fair, war a lark and it was good to be alive. They had been in no hurry, stopping wherever fancy dictated, and the fires in the valley below, started for supper, attracted them. For some time, John Neely's mare had been limping and he hoped to find some friendly Cherokee to tend her. Young Bryan was kindly disposed toward all animals, and was particularly careful that he caused them no unnecessary suffering; it must have pained him considerably that his good Nancy limped.

The path led off through a thick fringe of wood near a rock cliff, something like forty or fifty feet high. As they rode beneath it, they began softly answering the call of a whip-poor-will. Suddenly there was a crackling of twigs, a shower of small rock ahead, and a figure fell into the path before them. It was an Indian girl and she was up and off again before they could dismount. Almost immediately she fell and they knew she was hurt. When they came up and spoke, she understood and answered in English that was almost as good as theirs. She explained that she had been picking berries up on the side of the cliff and when she heard them coming had leaned out too far and the limb to which she was holding, broke off.

Upon examination, they discovered that her left ankle was either badly sprained or broken. Ed was sent for her basket while John Neely prepared to take her home.

She was so fair John Neely knew she wasn't a full blood. Her hair and eyes were dark brown and a few freckles dotted her nose and cheeks. She was clad in a speckled calico dress, and about her head was a red band with a many-colored star worked in relief in front. Her hands, stained with wild berries, were small and shapely and so were her feet. John Neely thought he had never seen a lovelier girl in his life than the one who sat on the ground before him.

Ed soon returned with the basket and they started out, following her directions. John Neely had lifted her upon Nancy, and, as he joked, there were now two limps.

She asked their names and they in turn asked hers.

"Elizabeth Neely Adair," she replied.

John Neely gasped: "Elizabeth Neely? That is my mother's name. How did you come by it?"

"I don't know," she explained, "But my grandfather was a Scotchman from North Carolina and named me for some friends of his. He had married my grandmother, a Cherokee princess, and they all came over here a long time ago. His brother married a Cherokee too and their families are here." She paused for a moment and John watched her fine face now blanched with pain.

"My grandfather used to sing me to sleep with, 'Blow Gently Sweet Afton', 'The Campbells are Coming', and 'Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot'. I love the stories he used to tell of Scotland and North Ireland. My mother's a Cherokee so I've an Indian name too. I was born where I live now, just about sundown. Look, you can see the sun setting through the hills! My mother looking off there before I was born, vowed that her baby, if it were a girl, would be a star like the one we see now hanging by the sunset. That is why this band is on my head with a single star in front. My Indian name is 'Star Light.'."

Pondering, John Neely walked beside her. It would be nothing but natural to record that he looked at the "Star" more than twice before reaching the cabin.

As they neared her home, the people about the place dropped their work and came out to see the strangers. John Neely boldly lifted Elizabeth from the saddle and

started toward the group. She explained to her brother, Jim, that she had fallen and hurt her ankle and that these friends had been good enough to bring her home. She introduced them around and they invited John Neely and Ed to stay a while with them. Her mother soon intervened to attend the fast darkening ankle of her child. Elizabeth's cousins, two husky young bucks, led them away to their own cabin and her father cared for Nancy.

In a few days, Nancy was quite over her lameness but Elizabeth still had to be lifted about. John Neely was on hand for the occasional "lift". Ed showed himself a good friend the whole time, even if he too felt his heart missing beats, on gazing at Elizabeth; he reckoned she had no eyes for him—they were all for John Neely, and he laughingly bestowed his glances, humor and chivalry on all the maidens and squaws alike. He was a greater favorite at the end of the week than was John Neely, who had "specialized."

On leaving, they both took with them large rolls of skins which John Neely was to trade for John Adair, at the better Memphis post. John Adair promised to meet his agent at Ross* Landing in August. Elizabeth was still unable to walk, when they left. She scarcely knew it, but her pretty little hands held fast the burning first love of a boy's warm heart, and for always.

Stopping at Ross' Landing, they told of the meeting to be held there in August and moved on. It was July before Fayetteville was reached.

John Neely's mother was most overjoyed to see him. His mates had been home over two weeks and no word had come from him. He talked much of the Pendleton visit, his kin, their hospitality, and Ed's popularity, but the "Valley of the Star" and his romance were touched upon only lightly. His mother pondered and wondered and as weeks passed on, she began to question him a bit closer, but he always evaded the issue.

Summer passed quickly, as the trip to Memphis, Tennessee filled the days, and he was back by the middle of August, ready to report to John Adair, at Ross' Landing. Mr. Adair was sick with chills, when time came for the trip, so Jim and Elizabeth came instead, to meet John Neely.

No loved one could have exacted more than the love John Neely showed when at last they met. Even Jim was impressed.

All too soon their farewells were said and distance and memories lay between them. Elizabeth did not live very long after this meeting; she died from the injuries sustained when she fell from the cliff.


IN 1833 a great tragedy befell the family in the form of a devastating fever which carried off James Bryan, Thomas, the


devout brother, and three of Thomas' children.

The Reverend Thomas Bryan had been a member of the First Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church which convened at Gallatin, Copiah County, Mississippi in 1832. When he had occasion to accompany his brother on mission trips, John Neely strayed off to barter with the Indians while Thomas dispensed the Gospel.

Having studied law primarily in order to treat with the Indians on a legal basis, Bryan made the acquaintance and friendship of the chieftains of many tribes during the period his trading carried him between Memphis and New Orleans. He learned enough of their language to engage in conversation with any of them. It is traditionally reported in the family that Bryan could walk into the camp of Choctaw, Chicksaw, Cherokee or Creek and be received as a brother. His diplomacy was truly remarkable.

Among his Indian friends, Jesse Chisholm, the Creek Chief, was one of the best he ever had. John Ross, whose side of the controversial Indian question was espoused by Bryan, was more than just an acquaintance. Bryan was a frequent visitor at Malmaison, the home of Greenwood LeFlore. A Choctaw, at least on his mother's side, his keen mind, coupled with considerable trading ability (and a discerning eye when it came to measuring up another trader) generally found him on top when the bargain was closed, justice doubtless having undergone a slight miscarriage. LeFlores arrangements, with other Indians perhaps less fortunate than himself, were always opposed by Bryan.

Mushulatubbe was another whom Bryan enjoyed as he was a shrewd trader; their barter becoming a veritable battle of wits from which it is doubtful if either of them ever emerged victorious.

His trading with the Indians had become so well known and so agreeable, it is thought they may have given him the sobriquet of "Colonel" as he was rather too young to receive such a commission in the army, and in a letter from David Thompson, dated March 30, 1839, who was projecting a coal mining venture, through the Spadra Bank, he writes to John Neely in Van Buren, Arkansas, addressing him as "Dear Colonel." In the letter, court affairs are discussed, business arranged for settlement by Bryan, and messages to his daughter given. John Neely was requested to bring all his letters and papers when he came down to the mine. He was also informed that Richard Thompson of Benton County, Arkansas will be there to "close" the sale, when he (Bryan) pays $2800.00 in cash for three hundred and twenty acres of land in Chicot County. The deed was recorded later. Incidentally, the coal mine begun then at Spadra, Arkansas, ?839, is still in operation.

During the time John Neely Bryan was practicing law in Van Buren, Arkansas, and attending to legal business for his friend, David Thompson, we find that he was still meeting, trading and maintaining his friendship with the Indians. He believed their mode of life was ideal and all but adopted it, his doctor having advised him to lead an out-of-door's existance, a few years earlier, during a long illness.

Friendship was "a. binding together" for him, a stimulating influence, the best commodity for making and closing trades. The Indians when they are friends, believe that nothing can break or mar that relationship.

It is a sad fact to relate that the Indians as a whole imitated the vices of the whites much more readily than they did their virtues, and gambling and drinking became rampant among even some of the most civilized tribes, the poor Indian paying dearly for a satisfying of his newly acquired habits.

A group of Cherokees had been settled continuously on Piney Creek, near the mouth of the Illinois river, for five or six years. For a short time in 1839, many were at Double Springs on Fourteen Mile Creek. A few Creeks still remained near Petit Jean Creek, south of the Arkansas and frequently during 1838 and 1839, Bryan transacted business with these red men.

Seeing the remnant of a once prosperous people in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi driven westward, he suffered with them in the losses they sustained. No one in viewing dispassionately from the far vision of years, our many treaties with the Indians, can but realize how unfairly they were treated. But Bryan was true to his innate sense of justice and mercy and always played fair with them. He might have wept with John Howard Payne, as he penned these lines at Ross' Landing, in Tennessee, just before the Cherokees came West:

"0, soft falls the dew, on the twilight decending,

And night over the distant forest is bending,

And night over the distant forest is bending,

Like the storm spirit, dark, o'er the tremulous main.

Is it the low wind through the wet willows rushing,

That fills with wild numbers my listening ear?

Or is it some hermit rill in the solitude gushing

The strange playing minstrel, whose music I hear?

‘Tis the voice of my father, slow, solemnly, stealing,

I see his dim form by yon meteor, kneeling

To the God of the white man, the Christian, appealing,

He prays for the foe of the dark Cherokee.

Great Spirit of Good, whose abode is in Heaven,

Whose Wampum of peace is the bow in the sky,

Wilt thou give to the wants of the clamorous ravens

Yet turn a deaf ear to my piteous cry?

O'er the ruins of home, o'er my heart's desolation

No more shalt thou hear my unblest lamentation,

For Death's dark encounter I make preparation

He hears the last groan of the wild Cherokee."

In the summer of '39, scouting down the Kiamichi River and over the mountains of the same name, Bryan went as far as Coffee's Trading House, on Bois D'Arc Creek. Returning to Van Buren in the fall, he made a trip to Memphis, Tennessee to see his brother, Dr. W. C. Bryan and his mother, Elizabeth, who had come from Jackson, Mississippi. William Carrol had married Miss Clara Eddins Golightly of Athens, Alabama and Bryan made his new sister-in-law a present of an Indian blanket. To William Carroll, he gave a fine bearskin rug and to his mother, he presented a pair of painted moccasins. These were, in later years, given to her little grand-daughter, Ada Bankhead Bryan, for her birthday present. This trip was made primarily to have his teeth cared for by his dentist-brother. There is a story in the family that he was a very poor patient, often exclaiming during the drilling and grinding process "Why William, what in the — are you trying to do to me?" Both got angry but this was not exceptional, for Bryans, all, had tempers. It took a week or more to complete the treatments and there was no charge for professional services. While together, each brother begged the other to come and live near by, to Memphis, on the one hand and the "West" on the other hand. Bryan sought to make his headquarters there in Memphis but the spirit of adventure was in him and the restraint thrown around him proved irksome. He seemed always kicking against the pricks of regulated life and was torn between the fires of inherited training and the loose, free living usually indulged in at border towns, so neither accepted the other's invitation.

Bryan bought and traded for lots in Van Buren, Fort Smith and land at Spadra, also in Chicot County, as well as in Lewisburg, Arkansas. He seemed to have acquired extensive properties' in these places and owned them for several years. While in Van Buren, he had occasion to trade with the Indians at "Three Forks," Indian territory. This is the second three forks of his life story.

In 1835 or '36 Bryan had made trips into Arkansas as far as Pine Bluff. Some reports make it Little Rock or even Red River. Back in Van Buren in 1839 and all but eaten up with wanderlust, another scouting trip into Texas was started in 1840. It was much further extended and this time an old crippled Creek Indian chief, Ned by name, accompanied him. He was older than Bryan and his seasoned judgment proved of infinite value. Their friendship had grown out of Bryan's kindly treatment of the Indian when he had been injured. So impressed was Bryan on this trip with the outlook for future development, that he determined to return to Van Buren and Fort Smith and make preparations to stake out a large tract of land in Peter's Colony. He discussed his dreams with Ned and the good Indian agreed to come back with him, but he died before Bryan returned to Texas.

There were many arrangements to be made, but when a pioneer's blood surges with wanderlust, winding up business becomes a secondary consideration. On returning to the posts, he found both teeming with newcomers but no white man wanted to venture on the proposed trip. Colonel Bryan was undaunted and proceeded to make preparations. He bought a good pony, —gray in color—the Choctaw word is Neshoba, meaning "Grey Wolf". The same word in Cherokee means "Walking Wolf", so we might suppose that his pony was a walking, gray wolf. Because his dog was of a somewhat rotund and yet an aggressive nature, he was called "Tubby" for old Chief Mushlatubbee, of the Mississippi Choctaws.

Bryan's pack was not large, but it contained all he needed. He was equipped with blankets, rifle, hatchet and knife. Only a frontiersman like Bryan knew what to take and what to leave. He wore a striped homemade hunting shirt of wool, loose sack, trimmed with red fringe. He had a leather over-jacket and leather leggings, close fur cap came low over his head and a scarf of bright colors was wound about his neck.

Bryan could scarcely wait to again come near the Trinity, the third "three forks" in his life story. He made an uneventful journey and as fall swept into the winter of 1841, he pitched camp by the Trinity bluffs and called it home. A rude pole hut served as his first shelter. And Dallas was begun.

There remains no doubt in our minds today why the present site of Dallas was selected as a suitable place to build a town. The rich soil would yield fine crops of cotton, corn, potatoes, and pumpkins and there was a river to trade on, the Trinity (meaning God-head).

Bryan must have wished for Elizabeth Adair to help him make his dream come true. Together they would have made a fine beginning.

The first years were hard, very hard. He had no tools, but that did not daunt him, he improvised some and managed to get a fair crop in the ground. It is reported that his corn was aided considerably by a herd of buffalo that raced through his fields, thinning it out to such an extent that a prize crop was resultant.

Texas, from 1836 to 1846 was an independent state. During these years, France, Great Britian, Belgium, Holland and several German states recognized her as a sovereign state. President Jackson sent Henry M. Morfit to Texas in 1836 to investigate the situation and make a report. Congress recognized Texas March 1, 1837, and the president appointed Alcee LaBranche of New Orleans, Charge d'Affairs, to Texas.

In the Northeastern part of Texas, on the upper Trinity, a stretch of prairie and upland reached for miles with no settlements in sight, just a few Indian camps scattered among chitum, ash, walnut and cedar groves that fringed the water courses.

When springtime came, in 1842 it brought an old acquaintance to Bryan's home, Captain Mabel Gilbert who had often met Dallas' first settler on the steamboats of the Mississippi. Captain Gilbert brought his family, a wife and several children. Mrs. Gilbert entered heartily into the development of the little settlement. She, like Colonel Bryan, hoped Dallas would become, as years went on, a city such as St. Louis, Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg or New Orleans.

About three miles east of the Trinity, James J. and John Beeman settled. They were northerners.

John Beeman had a wife and eight children, two of them were girls, Elizabeth, about 18 years old, and Margaret, perhaps a year younger. It can be presumed that young Bryan, it being spring of the year, naturally looked at these two girls, with wonder and admiration. As is usually the case, the younger pleased his fancy a bit better than the elder. She appeared more easily impressed and seemed to his pioneer heart the embodiment of strength, forbearance and endurance. The long years after proved John Neely Bryan was a fair judge of feminine virtue.

On February 26, 1843, they were married. The whole town turned out for the ceremony. There was no daily paper to chronicle the event but it may be supposed that one was not needed as everyone was present at the wedding.

John Neely and Margaret built a lovely new house of hewn cedar logs. It had just one room, and the young couple was quite happy in the cedar-built cabin, which served also as post office, courthouse and church and was a general meeting place for the whole town. It was also the first meeting place of the Cumberland Presbyterians in Dallas.*

*Credit must be given Dr. R. C. Buckner, founder of the Buckner Orphanage and the Dallas Historical Society for the preservation of the Cedar logs and restoration of the Bryan Cabin.

One night a band of Indians came to his cabin, expecting to start "cleaning out the town." Margaret begged her husband to have no word with them but after preparing as best he could for an attack, he threw open the door and in the Indian tongue said "Come in, Brother." Their chief recognized kindness and hospitality when he saw it, and entered and talked for a great while. Finally, returning to his warriors the chief said, "This is too brave a man for us to kill. Go!" The little flock of pioneers was saved from further disturbance.

In due course of time, John Neely and Margaret were delighted to have a baby born to them, a boy. They named him "Coffee" after his old friend, General Coffee, of Tennessee, whom he wanted to honor. This baby lived only a short time. It is thought that the first child born in Dallas was John Neely Bryan Jr., but this was the couple's second child.**

**0f the marriage of John Neely Bryan and Margaret Beeman five children were born, including Coffee and John Neely Jr. The others were Ned, Elizabeth and Lather

Mail came at rare intervals to the town—every two weeks—as a rule. Mr. Bryan was postmaster for about four years or until Texas entered the union. He did not practice law here but used his knowledge of it in making his new possessions legal property for distribution.

The town was staked off into lots which were offered for sale. Newly married couples were given lots, this doubtless contributing to the success of the colony to considerable extent, it being an inducement to those seeking homes wherein they might settle down and rear their families.

Bryan presented such a well-defined plan before the legislature that that body decreed that Dallas County be created, that until otherwise provided by law, the town of Dallas should be the seat of justice for Dallas County. Bryan was to hold an election and organize the county. After much debating, a vote was cast and Dallas was definitely selected to be the county seat, over Herd's Ridge and Cedar Hill. The town square was given by Bryan, as also were lots to be sold for the erection of a courthouse.

Until 1845, the little village had been known as Peter's Colony and it was not without reason that the name was changed to Dallas. George Mifflin Dallas was then vice-president of the United States, a splendid statesman, and most certainly in a position to be of service. The honor of having such a promising city named after him would doubtless leave him well disposed to any project in which he might be of assistance that would further its progress. Dallas was well acquainted with this part of the country and was freely consulted by people interested in the growth and development of the Peter's Colony section. And why not? After all, they might some day have need of a post office, and a little diplomacy would stand them in well. This most obvious attempt to find favor in the eyes of the vice-president was without doubt looked upon by him with great patience and understanding, and though the whole plot smacks of feminine artfulness, he knew that these people were honestly endeavoring to build a town wherein they might congregate for protection and ply their humble trades, and they were earnestly soliciting his support in this great undertaking.

Bryan held close his vision that a great city would one day rise from the rude beginnings for which he was responsible. For ten years and more, he promoted every interest that might further the development of the city. He even advocated harnessing the Trinity, (still a subject over which much fierce controversy is waged) that there might be a water course to the sea over which trade might be carried on, and one of the greatest disappointments of his life came when he learned that it could not be relied upon to furnish sufficient water to make a navigable stream.

At one time, Colonel Bryan was visited by his mother and brother, William Carroll from Memphis. Of course, Texas was still a young frontier state. Spurs and boots were needed. The plains were still the haunts of wild horses and cattle, and Dallas was yet in pinafores. The younger Bryan could not be impressed. Memphis, at this time, showed rapid development. But Dallas—there was no water—nothing—what could be hoped for in such a wild, desolate place. After two weeks William and his mother returned home.

He expresses his sentiments to Colonel Bryan in a letter written shortly after, "John Neely, you can take the state of Texas and go —, I'm staying in civilization."

Bryan started out in the cattle business in 1846 and on September 28, of that year, he recorded his mark and brand. John Beeman and John Young recorded theirs also on the same day.



IN '49, when the "Gold Rush" sent thousands of eager, hopeful people into California, Bryan was seized with an insatiable desire to follow the crowd. A few years after, he shot a man and for a while it seemed that he would have to stand trial, but fortunately the man didn't die. Bryan sold his possessions for the sum of $7,000.00 and joined in the mad rush for the West, to wait for the thing to blow over. For several years, he followed a miner's life in California and Colorado.

When the war between the States opened, he returned to Dallas, a broken man. Enlisting for service, he saw action with General Ben McCullough in North Arkansas, at the battle of Pea Ridge. In a year or two he was mustered out, disabled.

William Carroll Bryan died in Memphis in 1862 during the cholera epidemic, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, lot No. 96. The little mother, Elizabeth, died in Jackson, Mississippi, October 22, 1865, when she was nearing her eighty-ninth birthday.

Her passing seems like some baleful dream, incredible, ghastly. Her son, William Carroll, had caused a small water pump to be built for her at his sister's home in Jackson, Mississippi. In her declining years, she became almost blind and it is supposed that one day as she groped in the semi-darkness for the pump, she fell from the high back porch into a hogshead of water and was drowned.

During the reconstruction days, Bryan moved with steady foresight for the best interests of Dallas and Texas people.

On the 17the day of July, 1872, he watched with glowing, dewy eyes; the celebration of the arrival of the first railway train into Dallas; the promotion of which had been a major interest of his over a period of years.

Colonel Bryan also assisted in securing street car service for Dallas. The first car was named after a young beauty of the city but Bryan's friends insisted the second be called after him.

So glowing had been the prospects in the early days of Dallas, that it caused him considerable pain to know that in old age he must become a dependent. He was still grieving over the passing of his mother. Suddenly the break came. His mind began to wander—a great melancholy settled upon him and he was sent to the State Hospital for Nervous Diseases at Austin, where he spent his last days in a cloudy, misty world, from which he never returned.

He died there in 1877.

Thus we have followed from the Blue Hills of the Carolinas and Tennessee to the Bluebonnet plains of Texas, the career of a man whose worth is yet little known. He lies in some unmarked plot and although we may erect no monument at his head, he left an enduring memorial, the greatness which may be measured only with the passage of time.


"History of Dallas County" by John Henry Brown.

"History of Tennessee" by Goodspeed.

"The Cockrell Papers" courtesy Dallas Morning News.

"Laws of North Carolina" (Volume I ) by Haywood.

"Our City: Dallas" by Justin F. Kimball.

Courthouse Records, Fayetteville, Tennessee.

Times Herald, Dallas, Texas.

"Sixty Years in Texas", Jackson.

"History of Cherokees, Starr.


The Dallas Public Library for courtesy and interest

extended the author.

The Fayetteville, Tennessee Library.

Mr. C. F. Higgins, Lincoln County Court Clerk, for

the articles by Mr. R. H. Gray.

Courtesy accorded by Registrar and Deputy Registrar,

F. B. Kelso, Mrs. F. B. Kelso, Fayetteville,


Cossitt Library, Memphis, Tennessee.

Mrs. P. W. Brown and Lee Bryan for Bryan picture.

Miss Rebecca Bryan for Bryan letter and deed.

Miss Mildred A. Jones, courtesies.

Mrs. Ira Beeman, notations.

Mrs. Sue Bryan, reminiscences.

Mrs. E. S. Landers, data.

Mrs. L. P. Harris, data.

Charles Hawkins, family history.

James E. McDermott, typing.

To many other interested helpers.

Thanks to John Little who located this photograph and Charlotte Sprengel for making copies available.



The Evolving Monkey : John Neely Bryan: Founder of Dallas by Lucy C. Trent
John Neely Bryan: Founder of Dallas by Lucy C. Trent
The Evolving Monkey
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