history was always just and accurate to the last drop we would know
a man named Warren Angus Ferris as the father and founder of Dallas,
but we might have something called the Warwick-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The Warwick Cowboys doesn't have the same ring to modern ears, but
it could've happened and probably would have if not for a drought.
Warren Angus Ferris, born in upstate New York in 1810, left home for
St. Louis when he was 18, eventually signing on with the American
Fur Company as a trapper and fur trader. He provided us with the first
written descriptions of Old Faithful and the other geysers in what
is now Yellowstone National Park, and he left behind a journal that's
the gold standard for scholars studying the Rocky Mountain frontier.
In 1837, he met up in Texas with his younger brother Charles, who
had joined the fledgling republic's volunteer army in 1835. Warren,
who had just drawn what turned out to be an astonishingly accurate
map of the Yellowstone Country from memory, became the state's official
surveyor of Nacogdoches
County, a virtually unexplored wilderness stretching west to the
Various tribes had lived in that country for centuries, and they didn't
encourage visitors, especially those using strange instruments to
take land away their land. Ferris, a veteran of many Indian battles
in the Rockies, took 60 well-armed men with him, splitting them into
two divisions to look for trouble every which way. They traveled light,
lived off the land and keep their powder dry.
not as well-known as his Rocky Mountain journals, Ferris also kept
a record of his Texas experiences, which Susanne Starling details
in her 1998 biography of Warren Ferris, "Land is the Cry!: Warren
Angus Ferris, Pioneer Texas Surveyor and Founder of Dallas County."
Here's how Ferris described present-day Dallas
County in the 1830s:
"Everywhere deer, turkeys and prairie chickens were as thick as ants
on a hill, with bear, panthers, wolves and wildcats keeping in the
daytime to the river and creek bottoms, but after dark issuing forth
to ravage the plains and startle the night with uncouth shadows, and
hideous screaming and howling. I saw in the picturesque regions there
much of the wild soul-stirring scenes with which I had been so familiar
in the Mountains.
"Thousands of buffalo and wild horses were everywhere to be met with.
Deer and turkeys always in view and occasional bear would sometimes
cross our path. Wolves and buzzards became our familiar acquaintances
and in the river we found abundance of fish from minnows to 8 footers.
The prairies are boundless and present a most beautiful appearance
being extremely fertile and crowned with flowers of every hue."
Ferris also did some freelance surveying for a land speculator named
William P. King. The two picked out a nice spot on the Trinity River
for a new town they planned to call Warwick, but a drought put an
end to the plan and the town.
Since the law forbade surveyors from buying the land they surveyed,
Ferris got some land in what is now the Forest Hills section of Dallas
in the name of his half-brother, Joshua Lovejoy.
There he built a gristmill, raised a dozen children with his second
wife and was one of the first cotton farmers in North Texas.
years after Ferris surveyed the area, in 1839, John Neely Bryan,
a former Tennessee lawyer then working as a merchant and town planner
in Fort Smith, Arkansas, found a bluff overlooking a ford on the
Trinity River and hurried back to Fort Smith to let his friends
know he'd found something special.
Bryan was back in Texas in 1841, accompanied only by his friend
and Cherokee guide Ned, a horse named Neshoa (Walking Wolf), a bear-dog
named Tubby and a packhorse. Bryan dug into the bluff and used his
tent to complete a crude dugout shelter. He chose the spot he did
because he was sure it would be a stopping point for steamboats
traveling the Trinity River - and it was.
"One can't argue with Bryan; the Trinity has been navigated twice
since then - and both boats stopped where he said they would," the
late Texas writer and historian A.C. Greene once cracked. As for
why Dallas is named Dallas and not, say, Bryan, we don't rightly
know. Frank Cockrell, a Dallas pioneer, said Bryan told him "the
town was named for my friend Dallas."
Cockrell and many others have always assumed Bryan was talking about
George Mifflin Dallas, who served as James C. Polk's vice-president
from 1845-49. That makes sense when we consider that Polk and Dallas
campaigned on admitting Texas to the Union, and that Polk County
was named for President Polk, and Dallas County was formed on the
same day as Polk County in 1846.
But Bryan was already calling his little frontier town Dallas in
1842, when George M. Dallas was little known outside of his native
Pennsylvania. So what gives? Several plausible theories are out
there, but we still don't know for sure and we probably never will.
As for Warren Angus Ferris, the city bulldozed and paved the cemetery
where he's buried, which is either fitting, ironic or disturbing,
depending on your view of such travesties.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
March 4, 2017 column
Related Topics: Dallas
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