Part 7 in a series on Dallas history.
The little community called Dallas that grew up around Bryan’s settlement was not yet four years old in February 1845 when the United States Congress voted to annex Texas as a state of the USA. John Neely Bryan made a quick trip to Austin to lobby for a separate county organization for Dallas. Under the Republic of Texas, the area east of the Trinity had been part of Nacogdoches County with a county seat 175 miles away.
Bryan’s request succeeded and Dallas became the provisional county seat when the state and its new county governments were organized early in 1846. Although there’s some doubt about the origin of the name of the city of Dallas, it seems clearer that the county was named for George Mifflin Dallas who at the time of annexation was Vice President of the United States.
Although Bryan succeeded in getting a separate county organization for Dallas, the question remained open as to which community would become the permanent seat of the county government. Farmers Branch and Cedar Springs were both larger than Dallas, but Farmers Branch was not close to the center of the new county. Both Cedar Springs and Hord’s Ridge wanted to be the county seat as well as Dallas. Bryan played a clever ploy at this point. A couple of years earlier he had his land professionally surveyed, and the surveyor drew him a plat for a speculative future city divided into lots. Bryan used the surveyor’s plat at this time to promise lots to be used for county government. Even with this, it was a close call. Two elections were held in 1850. The first eliminated Hord’s Ridge by clear majority. The second selected Dallas as the county seat over Cedar Springs, but only by a few votes.
Despite his labors on behalf of Dallas, John Neely Bryan was a pioneer with itchy feet, always on the move. He went away to California in 1850 and came back a year later without any gold. In 1852 he sold most of his Dallas land including the ferry and other businesses to Alexander and Sarah Cockrell. The Cockrells had settled on a 640-acre ranch on Mountain Creek (now southwest Dallas County) including the area still called Cockrell Hill. They kept the ranch but moved to Dallas to take possession of Bryan’s properties early in 1853. In the next year Alexander Cockrell secured permission to build a 520-foot covered bridge across the Trinity, which was completed in 1855. He built the bridge with cedar timbers and he also constructed a plank road through the Trinity bottom for access to the bridge.
Alexander Cockrell’s bridge illustrates one of the cardinal issues faced by the City of Dallas through its history up to the present time. The Trinity River in this area seems meek enough, more like “the Trinity Ditch” or “the Trinity Puddle” most of the time. But then the rains come and the rains fall and bring water down the branches of the river from the north and the west, and the Trinity bottom becomes a vast, raging flood. Dallas history is punctuated by episodes of Trinity flooding. Cockrell’s cedar bridge survived only three years. In 1858 Alexander Cockrell was shot and killed in a gunfight, and shortly after his death, a flood destroyed the west end of the bridge, rendering it unusable. It was back to the ferry for fifteen years until Cockrell’s resourceful widow Sarah built a better bridge for Dallas. The Dallas area suburb of Cockrell Hill in the southwestern corner of the county was named either for Alexander Cockrell or his cousin Wesley Cockrell, and Cockrell Hill Road in Oak Cliff takes its name from the name of the Cockrell Hill community.