DALLAS COUNTY’S First Settlers

THE FIRST fifteen years of Dallas, as it grew from the arrival of John Neely Bryan in 184 I until its incorporation as a town of some three hundred settlers in 1856 – must have been much the
same story.There were the casual visits of hunters and trappers on their way through the region (later to sell their pelts and pick up supplies), the increasing flow of homesteaders, bearing all their worldly possessions – comparing reality with the reports that had lured them, making the momentous decision whether to stay or to wander further.

Nancy Hughes Cochran Among First Settlers

Nancy Hughes Cochran Among First Settlers

The Beemans and their ten children who came in April, 1842, were followed by Thomas Keenan, Preston Witt and Alexander Webb and their families, and before the year’s end the John J. Coxes arrived. In 1843 came William M. Cochran and by December, Elder Amon McComas and his three grown sons, and George L. Leonard, George W. Glover and John Grigsby with their wives and children. Other members of the Cox family arrived in 1844 and so did the Isaac B. Webbs, the Camerons, the Jenkins and the Rawlins. If most of these newcomers were scattered about the neighborhood rather than actually on the banks of the Trinity in the settlement, they looked to Dallas and Dallas prospered by them. Gradually a shaggy little community of log cabins began to spread haphazardly back along the paths and wagon trails that led to the river crossing. They stood among the stumps of small cedars and scrub oaks that had been cleared from the land and they swam deep in the annual crop of rank weeds.

The first permanent settler to break the sod in cultivation was John Beeman‘s son, W. H. Beeman. He probably planted his corn “Missouri style,” which was to make a dent in the ground with the blow of an axe, drop in the seed and close the hole by pressing down earth with the foot. Few early settlers had any conception of the real fertility of the heavy black waxy soil of this region, for the implements they had, such as homemade
wooden plows fashioned out of a tree fork, of which Mrs. Bryan spoke, were too light to work it effectively. Home seekers assumed the sandy lands of east Texas were far superior for agricultural purposes. But the advantage in the Dallas area, of the unlimited pasturage for cattle was obvious, and as the country was filled with early settlers, stock raising around the town, as well as throughout north Texas, became the principal occupation. The chief drawback was that now and then there were devastating prairie fires
“that cleaned the whole country of the only substance for cattle and buffalo and deer; antelope and everything that existed on native grass.” When the land began to be seriously used for crops,
it required prairie plows with five yoke of oxen to pull them and cultivation was usually done with the old-fashioned bull tongue and half shovel plows.

Bryan planted his first crop on the site of the present courthouse and it was ruined by a herd of buffalo which came across the prairie, trampling the young plants into the ground. Buffalo were
numerous in this region, and while no buffalo were found east of the Trinity after 1846, an ample supply of their meat came in from the west for some years. Dried buffalo tongues were a part of
every freighter’s cargo and a buffalo hunt was held not far from Dallas at late as 1860.

Billingsley, who arrived in 1842, notes in his diary:

About the first of June the buffalo came in from the western plains and the plains were alive with them. Deer, antelope, wild horses and wolves were numerous. Bear and wild turkeys and
all kinds of wild varmints ranged the bottom and thickets of the water courses.

Courtesy The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John W. Rogers.