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Contrary to popular belief, there's no oil in glitzy, status-conscious DALLAS . Since its foundation as a prairie trading post, by Tennessee lawyer John Neely Bryan and his Arkansan friend Joe Dallas in 1841, successive generations of entrepreneurs have amassed wealth here through trade and finance, using first cattle and later oil reserves as collateral.

One early group of European settlers of the 1850s a group of French intellectuals and artists known as the La Reunion co-operative had to pack up and move on after a series of summer droughts and a harsh winter; the few who stayed would include a future mayor of Dallas. The city still prides itself on their legacy of arts and high culture.

The power of money in Dallas was demonstrated in the late 1950s, when its financiers threw their weight behind integration. Potentially racist restaurant owners and bus drivers were pressured not to resist the new policies, and Dallas was spared major upheavals. The city's image was, however, catastrophically tarnished by the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and it took the building of the giant Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in the 1960s, and the twin successes of the Dallas TV show and the Cowboys football team in the 1970s to restore confidence.

After a slump in the late 1980s, the Cowboys are back in the big time, though their off-field antics have provided the nation's papers with some anti-Dallas copy once again.

Competitive with Houston, and smug about its cowtown neighbor Fort Worth, Dallas boasts of its ''sophistication'' and its ''old'' wealth. For all that, the stuffiness is tempered by a typically Texan delight in self-parody, and there's still fun to be had if you know where to look especially in the alternative Deep Ellum district, with its superb restaurants and nightlife.


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