Founder of Dallas, Texas:  

John Neely Bryan

My family on my father's side has been in Texas since it was a Republic, starting with my third great grandfather, John Neely Bryan, who founded the town of Dallas.   He was a native of Fayetteville, Tennessee and he attended the Fayetteville Military Academy and after studying law was admitted to the Tennessee Bar.  Around 1833 he left Tennessee and moved to Arkansas, where he was an Indian trader, and with a business partner laid out the town of Van Buren, Arkansas. 

Bryan had visited the Dallas area in 1839 looking for a place to create a trading post. After finding a good spot at the forks of the Trinity River, he returned to Arkansas to settle affairs. In November 1841 he returned to Texas, where he learned that a treaty had forced half of his prospective customers, Native Americans, out of North Texas. Bryan decided that a trading post was no longer feasible, so instead he established a permanent settlement, which eventually became the burgeoning city of Dallas.  .  Bryan was very important to early Dallas — he served as the postmaster, a store owner, a ferry operator (he operated a ferry where Commerce Street crosses the Trinity River today) and his home served as the courthouse.  In 1844 he persuaded J. P. Dumas to survey and plat the site of Dallas and possibly helped him with the work.  Bryan was instrumental in the organizing of Dallas County in 1846 and in the choosing of Dallas as its county seat in August 1850. When Dallas became the county seat, Bryan donated the land for the courthouse, and in order to encourange settlement of his town, he gave away a number of lots to prospecitve settlers.  As Dallas did not have a navigable river to transport goods, it was an early challenge to the settlement of the town.  In 1843 he married Margaret Beeman (pictured with Bryan, at left), a daughter of the Beeman family who settled in Dallas at Bird's Fort. The couple had five children, and one of them, Luther,was my great, great grandfather.  In 1849, Bryan went to California during the gold rush, but returned within a year. In January 1853 he was a delegate to the Texas state Democratic convention.

In 1855, Bryan shot a man who had insulted his wife and fled to the Creek Nation. The man he shot made a full recovery, and Bryan certainly would've been informed, but still Bryan did not return to Dallas for about six years. During that time he traveled to Colorado and California, probably looking for gold. He returned to Dallas in 1860, in time to take part in a brief military expedition against the Comanche Indians.

At the age of 51, Bryan joined Col. Nicholas Darnell's 18th Texas Calvary regiment in the winter of 1861 and served with the unit until late 1862 when he was discharged due to his old age and poor health.  He returned to Dallas in 1862 and again became actively involved in community affairs.  In 1863 he was a trustee for the Dallas Male & Female Academy.  In 1866, during a Dallas flood, he was very prominent in aiding those affected.  He also chaired a citizens meeting that pushed the Houston & Texas Central Railway to complete the rail line through the city, and presided at a rally that sought to get full political rights for all ex-Confederates.  In 1871 and 1872 Bryan became one of the directors of the Dallas Bridge Company, which built the first iron bridge across the Trinity River.  He also stood on the platform at the welcoming ceremonies for the Houston and Texas Central Railway when the first train pulled into town in mid-July 1872.  A large marker bearing the name "Bryan" and displaying two "Citizen of the Republic of Texas" medallions honoring John Neely Bryan and his wife stands in the Riverside Cemetery at Wichita Falls, TX.  It overlooks the graves of Margaret Beeman Bryan (1825 - 1919), her son John Neely Bryan, Jr. (1846 - 1926) and other family members. 

Confederate Headstone for John Neely Bryan at the Austin State Hospital grounds 

By 1874 Bryan's mind was clearly impaired, though it is not known exactly how.  Family lore has it that he was an alcoholic and one has to wonder if he imbibed too much rot-gut whiskey in the gold fields!  He was admitted to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in February 1877 and died there on 8 September 1877.  He is believed to be buried in a now-unmarked grave in the southeast quadrant of the Austin State Hospital Cemetery, although some believe he is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls, Texas.  In 2006, family members from across the country held a ceremony to dedicate the confederate headstone in his honor at the Austin State Hospital grounds, at right.  

The Sheriff

Minor Lafayette Woolley & Jennie Lou Bryan Woolley

John Neely Bryan's granddaughter, Jennie Lou Bryan married my great grandfather,  Minor Lafayette Woolley (who was known as M. L. Woolley).  M. L. Woolley was Sheriff of Fort Bend County during the late 1800's & early 1900's off and on for close to 30 years.  M. L. Woolley was born in 1866 in Lee County, Texas and he married his first wife, Rebecca Wilson in 1886.  After Rebecca's death in 1896, he married Jennie Lou Bryan (daughter of Alexander Luther Bryan, known as Luther, and son of John Neely Bryan).  They had 7 children, Oma, Violet, (called "Sister") Norma (called BeBe), Zora Dell, Miner Lafayette Jr., Luther Dee (called Dee), and Truman Woolley.  Woolley served four terms as Sheriff of Fort Bend County, and when he was Sheriff the family lived in the Sheriff quarters of the (now) Fort Bend County jail.  Family stories state that he never had to hang anyone (the gallows is still located on the third floor of the building, now occupied by the Richmond Police Department).  The Woolleys first settled in Needville, but when the 1900 storm destroyed their general store, they moved to Richmond and established a general store on Thompson's Road across the street from where the current Episcopal Church is located at Thompson's (FM 762) & Austin Street in Richmond.  That store was flooded when the Brazos River came out of its banks, in the early 1900's.  Their home was located where the current Del Webb subdivision is on Thompson's Rd or FM 762 in Richmond.  My grandmother was one of 10 children, and they grew up living on the first floor of the historic Fort Bend County jail in the small Sheriff's quarters whenever my great grandfather was serving as Sheriff.  My great aunt, Zora Dell Cole, my grandmother's younger sister, was the first woman deputy in Fort Bend County and District Clerk for many years.   The photo below shows the family on the porch of their house in Richmond.

The Woolley family on the porch of their home on Thompson's Hwy (below), site of  the Del Webb subdivision in Richmond

 

Woolley's store at Thompson Rd & Austin Street in the Richmond flood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three of my grandmother's siblings, Bertha (called "Sister"), Willy & Lorena (children with M. L. Woolley's first wife, Rebecca) pose in front of the jail (Left)

 

 

 

M. L. Woolley with Bertha & Lorena (Right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M. L. Woolley family (Left) 

 

 

 

 

Sheriff M. L. Woolley (Right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J. E. Woolley's Club Saloon in Needville pictured with his

father, Virgil Woolley & other family members

 

The Woolley family lived in Needville, & M. L. Wooley's parents are buried in the Needville Cemetery.  My grandmother's uncle, J. E. Woolley, had a saloon in Needville in the early 1900's.  This is a photo of the saloon along with a number of family members, all piled on a wagon.

 

 

 

 

Deputy Dink Hagan, Sheriff Woolley & H. M. Shannon

 

 

 

 

 

THE RANGER

Virgil Woolley was M. L. Woolley's father and quite an interesting fellow in his own right.  Virgil was born in Bibb County, Alabama in 1836.  He left Alabama against his family's wishes in 1854, at the age of 18.  As his family would not provide him with any money for his trip, he left Alabama with one dollar to his name.  He walked from Selma, Alabama behind an ox wagon to Washington County in 42 days.  Along the way, he swam rivers & endured many hardships.  When he arrived at "Old Evergreen" in Washington County, he was employed driving an oxen team wagon hauling freight. He later purchased his first farm for $300 worth of beef hides.  Virgil accepted a position with John R. Baylor as a cowboy driving cattle to Fort Belknap on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River.  While on this trail Native Americans murdered a family named Jackson & took 2 children prisoner who were later recovered by Texas Rangers under Bill Burleson.  He later joined Ford's Rangers & was involved in a battle against 400 hostile Native Americans, resulting in 70 dead Native Americans & the capture of about 400 head of horses.  He had many adventures with Native Americans, one of which took place when he was lost in the Palo Pinto Mountains & attempting to return to Washington County.  He was able to escape & return to marry Martha Ann Boswell on May 5, 1859.  I should note that at the time, Texans were taking over territory previously occupied by Native American tribes, including Karankawa, Caddo, Apache, Comanche, Wichita, Coahuiltecan, Neches, Tonkawa and others.  The Comanche tribe, in particular were very noble warriors and excellent horsemen.  While today I feel sad that this is part of my family history, it happened long before I was born.  It is but a part of the history of the United States, in which outsiders took land from nomad tribes who had occupied the land for centuries, but who could not match the European's weaponry and were forced to vacate their lands.  It is a part of Texas history that we cannot escape.

Virgil joined the Confederate States Army as a member of Company A, Willis's Calvary Battalion, Waul's Texas Legion.  When Washington County was subdivided, Virgil's home was in Lee county & he became a deputy under Sheriff J. M. Brown.  Family history handed down stated that my great-grandfather would say that when Washington County was subdivided, all of the thieves stayed in Lee County.  Once when he was with the Sheriff & other deputies pursuing cattle thieves the Sheriff was shot with 17 slugs made from bar lead.  The Sheriff recovered & was able to return to work and went on to hang or shoot many outlaws as in those days cattle theft was a capital offense because people needed their stock for their very existence.

My great aunt told stories about Virgil, saying the relatives of criminals he had put in jail or killed were always trying to kill him.  She remembered her father M. L. Woolley, telling of  the boys in the family having to take part in standing guard at night in front of the house while his brothers would be at various places around the house & property armed with shot guns, with orders to shoot.  They did this so the rest of the family could eat their dinner!  M. L. had written that for 8-10 years there was never a light in the dining room or sleeping rooms unless someone sat on the porch to watch the house!  I am proud of the history of my family in law enforcement, and service to their state and country throughout their time settling in Texas.

In 1902 Virgil & Martha moved to Fort Bend County & purchased a home in Needville where M. L. Woolley had previously moved.  Virgil farmed there until he died at the age of 75 & is buried in the Needville Cemetery.  My great Aunt Zora Dell said she never knew her grandfather but was told he was a small man, about 5' 8" or 5' 9" tall, of slender build and very agile.  He was a brave & patriotic man all his life.  

 

 

M. L.'s parents

Virgil & Martha Woolley (Left)

 

 

Martha Woolley with an unidentified woman (Right)

Martha Woolley was buried next to her husband in the Needville Cemetery, however she did not have a headstone.  She died in the time of a depression and we suppose no one could afford a headstone.  My cousin & I attempted to find out exactly where she was buried, however records did not show her grave site.  We elected to put a stone next to Virgil since that is what we thought they would have wanted and she now has a headstone. 

 

 

 

Youngest son Truman Woolley in M. L. Woolley's general store 

Sheriff M. L. Woolley

 

 

 

 

  Fort Bend County Jail circa 1904

                                                    

Photo above with M. L. Woolley & family in front of the jail where they lived in the Sheriff's quarters during his terms as Sheriff

Current photo of the Fort Bend County Jail

 

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