Alexander Cockrell, businessman and city builder, was born in Kentucky on June 8, 1820, to Joseph and Sally (Hunt) Cockrell. In 1824 the family moved to Johnson County, Missouri, where Cockrell's mother died while he was still a boy. When he was fourteen, he left his father and made his home with the Cherokees, learning their culture and language. He also learned the stock business. Cockrell first came to Texas in 1845 following runaway slaves. After service in the Mexican War as a courier under Benjamin McCulloch, Cockrell settled in Dallas, engaged in the stock business, and hauled freight with ox teams from Houston, Jefferson, and Shreveport. He married Sarah H. Horton (see COCKRELL, SARAH HORTON) on September 9, 1847, and established a claim on 640 acres in the Peters colony, situated ten miles west of Dallas on Mountain Creek. On August 7, 1852, he purchased the part of John Neely Bryan's homestead including the Dallas townsite and the Trinity River ferry concession.
The Cockrells moved from their White House Ranch to Dallas on March 21, 1853, the date the purchase became effective, and began operating a brick business, one of the variety of Cockrell enterprises that established the main lines of trade and development in Dallas. Assisted by his wife as bookkeeper (Cockrell was unable to read or write), Cockrell operated a sawmill, lumberyard, gristmill, and freighting business. He replaced the toll ferry with the first bridge across the Trinity River, which was authorized in 1854. The bridge and causeway gave the inhabitants of Hord's Ridge (now the Oak Cliff section of Dallas) better access to Dallas. To protect his toll bridge, Cockrell acquired hundreds of acres of land on the river. He built and rented several houses and store buildings and in 1857 began building a large and fine hotel, the St. Nicholas. On April 3, 1858, Cockrell was killed in a gunfight with a city marshal, Andrew M. Moore, leaving his widow with four children. Another child had earlier died in infancy. Cockrell was buried in his wife's private cemetery and later was moved to Greenwood Cemetery in Dallas.