Preceded by thousands of years of varying cultures, the Caddo people inhabited the Dallas area before Spanish colonists claimed the territory of Texas in the 18th century as a part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Later, France also claimed the area but never established much settlement.
In 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain defined the Red River as the northern boundary of New Spain, officially placing the future location of Dallas well within Spanish territory. The area remained under Spanish rule until 1821, when Mexico declared independence from Spain, and the area was considered part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. In 1836, Texians, with a majority of Anglo-American settlers, gained independence from Mexico and formed the Republic of Texas.
Three years after Texas achieved independence, John Neely Bryan surveyed the area around present-day Dallas. In 1839, accompanied by his dog and a Cherokee he called Ned, he planted a stake in the ground on a bluff located near three forks of the Trinity River and left. Two years later, in 1841, he returned to establish a permanent settlement named Dallas. The origin of the name is uncertain. The official historical marker states it was named after Vice President George M. Dallas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, this is disputed. Other potential theories for the origin include his brother, Commodore Alexander James Dallas, as well as brothers Walter R. Dallas or James R. Dallas. A further theory gives the origin as the village of Dallas, Moray, Scotland, similar to the way Houston, Texas was named after Sam Houston whose ancestors came from the Scottish village of Houston, Renfrewshire. The Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845 and Dallas County was established the following year. Dallas was formally incorporated as a city on February 2, 1856.
In the mid-1800s, a group of French Socialists established La Réunion, a short-lived community, along the Trinity River in what is now West Dallas.
With the construction of railroads, Dallas became a business and trading center and was booming by the end of the 19th century. It became an industrial city, attracting workers from Texas, the South, and the Midwest.
The Praetorian Building in Dallas of 15 stories, built in 1909, was the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi and the tallest building in Texas for some time. It marked the prominence of Dallas as a city. A racetrack for thoroughbreds was built and their owners established the Dallas Jockey Club. Trotters raced at a track in Fort Worth, where a similar drivers club was based. The rapid expansion of population increased competition for jobs and housing.
In 1921, the Mexican president Álvaro Obregón along with the former revolutionary general visited Downtown Dallas's Mexican Park in Little Mexico; the small park was on the corner of Akard and Caruth Street, site of the current Fairmont Hotel. The small neighborhood of Little Mexico was home to a Latin American population that had been drawn to Dallas by factors including the American Dream, better living conditions, and the Mexican Revolution.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Elm Street while his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Downtown Dallas. The upper two floors of the building from which assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, the Texas School Book Depository, have been converted into a historical museum covering the former president's life and accomplishments.
On July 7, 2016, multiple shots were fired at a peaceful protest in Downtown Dallas, held against the police killings of two black men from other states. The gunman, later identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, began firing at police officers at 8:58 p.m., killing five officers and injuring nine. Two bystanders were also injured. This marked the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the September 11 attacks. Johnson told police during a standoff that he was upset about recent police shootings of black men and wanted to kill whites, especially white officers. After hours of negotiation failed, police resorted to a robot-delivered bomb, killing Johnson inside El Centro College. The shooting occurred in an area of hotels, restaurants, businesses, and residential apartments only a few blocks away from Dealey Plaza.