Friday, March 14, 2008

This Damn Pole Hated Snakes

Chicken Snake and Rattler

From American Impressions by Kalikst Wolski, Trans. Marion Moore Cleman, CherryHill Boooks, 1968.

In Texas, wooden houses are built on. . . a dozen or more thick, round trunks of trees, two to three feet high, so that to get inside you have to go up a pair of stairs. They do this because, following even the very slightest rain, exhalations from the earth, scorched by the sun, cause fever. The fever is so malignant and persistent that sometimes it lasts seven to eight years, sapping the victim's strength and finally causing death. Since in the villages here they do not build houses of more than one story, they take this way of raising a building, on logs, as a means of keeping it somewhat away from the ground.

Between the floor and the ground. . . you find in these houses in the country a quite large space, and in these snakes of every variety are accustomed to nest. Generally, however, those that make their homes in this space underneath human dwellings are not poisonous. Large, black in color, they are very fond of eggs and young chickens, and this appetite of theirs causes the farmers great loss. In the towns the pigs, which are raised there in great numbers, keep down the predatory snakes, but in the villages you meet them at almost every step.

Several of the varieties of snake found in Texas are poisonous, but the two most dangerous are the rattler, of considerable size and thickness, and a small, slender green one with black markings known commonly as "the little snake."' Take great care not to be bitten by the former, as up to now no cure for its bite has been found and death follows in a short time.... As to the bite of other poisonous snakes, in Houston we were told what to do for these. Anyone traveling in Texas or living in the country where there is danger of being bitten must have with him, ready at all times, a small tinderbox, a piece of tinder, some gunpowder, ammonia, and a flask of whiskey. When the poisonous snake bites, it is necessary at once to suck the spot and so draw out the poison. The spot may easily be detected, as it looks like two small parallel pinpricks. Then you must spread the spot with the gunpowder and burn it, after this covering it with a handkerchief soaked in the ammonia. Finally, drink as much as you can hold of the whiskey, a whole bottle of it if you can.

On our journey, and later in the colony, we had several cases of people being bitten by the green snake with the black markings, one of these being the wife of one of the carpenters, who, when she was washing the linen for the colonists, was bitten. We all proceeded to carry out to the last detail the above prescription and it worked. With a woman, however, it was a more difficult matter. She screamed in terror, for the pain was very great. But despite our urgent admonitions to her to suck the poison from the wound at once, she did not have the courage to put the poisoned finger to her lips. Seeing that time was being lost and that she hesitated to use the means of saving her life, a young medical student from Brussels, who was one of the first to come to Texas with Cantagrel, jumped forward and seized her finger by force and sucked out the poison that had been poured into it. Then he sprinkled the wound with the gunpowder and applied the ammonia. When it came to the point of gulping down the prescribed dose of whiskey, again the woman who had been bitten re­fused to drink more than a small cup of it. Again it was not until several of us seized hold of her, held her head, opened her mouth, and poured nearly half a bottle down her, that we managed to complete what "as necessary in order to save her from a horrible death.”

It seemed to me that this action on the part of the young academic, Roger, dedicated as it was to the saving of the life of a fellow-human being, although an instinctive and natural one, was worthy of more praise than the deeds of those great leaders of armies that for their own self-glorification order numberless thousands of soldiers to be slaughtered.

But to go back to the rattlesnakes. We were warned not only to beware of their bite, but even of their look, which was said to possess magnetic power. We were told all kinds of experiences, that sounded more like the Thousand and One Nights than reality. We put no credence in the stories at the time, but later were convinced that more than one of those we heard were not completely just mere fairy tales.

When we were settled in our colony, there arrived from the state of Ohio a pastor of the Pietist sect by the name of Allen, a man of high culture. Allen had visited earlier the farming colony of the North Ameri­can Phalanx, and came to us in order to look over our settlement with a view to establishing one of similar nature in the neighborhood of Cin­cinnati.

This pastor was a famous shot, and loved to show his prowess, es­pecially on snakes. He never took a step without his gun, and saved the corpse of every snake he shot. One day he was going to Dallas, a town a little more than three kilometers from our colony, and as he was passing through a cedar forest he heard a squeaking sound which seemed to come from some animal. His interest aroused, he began going in the direction from which the sound came, looking sharply all about in order to discover what creature it was had caught his ear. It was not long before he spied, perched on a high tree, a squirrel, sitting strangely rigid and yet turning slowly about in the place where he was, and to which he seemed affixed. For a long time Pastor Allen could not understand the meaning of the terror that, obviously, bound the creature there. Then finally it came to him: the stories he had heard of the magnetic power of the rattlesnake's glance. With disbelief he began looking about, seeking some kind of evidence as to the presence there of the dread hypnotist.

What was his surprise when he finally saw him. The snake was lying stretched out on the ground, his eyes glued to the top of the tree on which the squirrel rested. Completely absorbed in the task at hand, that of magnetizing his victim, the snake did not stir in the slightest as the pastor approached, although he was no more than fifty feet away from him. The poor little squirrel still kept up that turning motion, and the whining, and remained there still rooted to the spot. Later, however, the squirrel began moving, down to a lower branch, but still obviously under com­pulsion, held by some spell, and as it moved its woeful cry became softer and softer, as if it were slowly dying. The pastor then looked at the foul serpent, which, with jaws wide open and never taking its eyes for an instant from its victim, began moving slowly forward, toward the base of the tree. Pitying the innocent victim, the huntsman pointed his gun at the horrible murderer, and, as usual, did not fail to hit his mark. The poor little innocent animal, now released from the spell, squealed as if in joy and leapt quickly back to the very branch from which but a moment before it had been drawn down against its will.

A countryman of ours, Dr. Maszke, who came to the banks of the Mississippi in order to study the symptoms of yellow fever and to cure it, and who later fell a victim to the disease himself, also told me strange things as to the magnetic power of the rattlesnake's glance. Dr. Maszke was in the habit of keeping poisonous snakes in his house. And so he ordered a cage made, of enormous proportions, of thick iron rods with more than a dozen partitions, and in this he kept these monsters, observing their habits. Negroes kept him supplied with tenants for this iron house, as they knew how to catch them without fear of being bitten.

For his dreadful pupils the doctor provided food consisting prin­cipally of live rats, also caught for him by the Negroes. The cage was fashioned in such a way as to permit each of the aforementioned parti­tioned off sections to be divided by means of heavy wire into two parts, enabling him to transfer the snakes from one to the other for cleaning purposes, and also for feeding. Into the empty chamber a rat would be placed, and this, as if having a premonition of death, would run to the darkest corner and crouch there without making so much as a stir.

When the barrier had been closed in the partition where the rattle­snake was, and victim and murderer were left alone, together, the ser­pent, no matter how hungry he might be, would always lie very quiet, keeping his loathsome stare fastened firmly upon his victim. After a few minutes of this, which amounted to a silent duel, the rat would begin to let out a fearful cry of terror. Then a few minutes later he would begin to turn about and whine pitifully [as the squirrel had done in the tree], until finally he would advance toward the serpent and become silent. A short time afterward and the rat was in his murderer's throat. In these parts they maintain that the rattlesnake has within himself the power to rob a man completely of all strength, and for that reason warn you to avoid his glance.

Learned men with whom I have spoken since returning to Europe are firmly and completely opposed to any thought of magnetic power being a property of the glance either of the rattler or of any other ser­pent. I can not enter into an argument with scholars as to this: I sim­ply tell as a traveller what I have heard from very well-informed persons living in these regions.

But it is time to return to the camp by the stream where I met so unexpectedly that countryman of mine, whose story of a boot with a snake in it was the cause of this long aside on the subject of serpents.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finicky Frenchmens' and Poles' Fear of Snakes

I can appreciate the early La Reunion colonists’ concern about snakes in North Texas. I live in a 1912 farm house built about one-half mile from the Elm Fork and have seen my share of snakes. The poisonous ones are water moccasins, copperheads, and coral snakes. The most common one around the house is the rat or chicken snake. And I have found one of those little green snakes in my bathroom—with all these nests living under my upraised floor. Also in my bedrooms, one slithering around just a month or so ago.

One of the primary sources of La Reunion history is the translation of the diaries of Kalikst Wolfski, a Polish immigrant who wrote of the early trip of vanguard colonists from Galveston to Dallas and the first months of life in the settlement. We are indebted to the brilliant researcher and translator Marion M. Coleman, who published these translated accounts, first in the history journal Arizona and the Southwest, and then in a book published by Cherry Hill Books, Cheshire CT, American Impressions, a copy of which is available at the TWU library.

From Coleman’s translations:

May 4, Today, early. We went up to the big house and sat down with our companions for breakfast at the long table. Except for the two who had been selected to do the cooking and the two who share the duties of serving , there was room at the table for all, with no one left out. . . . We were anxious to follow right from the start the regulations worked out in that colony, hoping later to be able to make ever better ones of our own. After a long chat at the table, about ten o’clock we separatd to rest a little on our beds. Very great heat began to persecute us, and from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon it was not fit to work. . . . In general, in the whole of Texas this period of the day is devoted to resting. Whatever work, whether of hand or mind, is done in the morning from four until ten, and then resumed from three until evening. Everything would still have turned out well, if it had not been for the sight of those unbearable snakes, which were hard to get used to. Just in this
one day we have killed more than a dozen of them.

Illustration from the book

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Clues to the Fort Location

For several weeks, I've been studying references to determine the approximate location of the La Reunion administration building, also called the Governor's Mansion, the fort and the "big house."

I ran across this explanation yesterday:

The La Reunion colonists originally all lived together in a communal village of stone buildings located at the brow of the escarpment, just to the west of where Hampton Road now suddenly starts its downhill descent [just to the east of Cement City near the intersection of Hampton and West Commerce].

This information comes from a gentleman named Jim Burns. Go to page 2 of this link:

You'll also find a very interesting description of the early years of the colony from a letter written by Max Reverchon in 1857.

According to Santerre, in White Cliffs of Dallas:

After its erection this building was used for all the meetings of the directors and the colonists, and also as a fort in which to assemble the women and children whenever there was danger of an Indian raid or attack.
. . .
During the life of the colony only a few instances can be recalled where the Indians became troublesome. No doubt this was due to the large number of colonists. The Indians were very cautious in attacking the settlement, only making an occasional raid when most of the men were at work in the distant fields. Usually these Indians were driven away by the old men and the women, but not until after making inroads on the poultry, and sometimes driving away a few cattle or horses.

On one of the raids, so it was afterward told, the women barricaded themselves in the fort and one of their number had thrown hot water upon an Indian brave who attempted to break into the fort through a small window. According to the many stories afterward related to the colonists, it was at time necessary for all to retire to the fort or to their small homes in order to stand off the marauding bands and to prevent them from burning the buildings. These stories, which were often retold in various versions, while doubtless true, their authenticity has been rather difficult to verify.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jack Ruby and the Shit-Filled River

And the city got Jack Ruby who speaks of a time when he was recently in town from Chicago, "I was running the concessions at the Longhorn Ballroom forDewey Grooms, selling beer and setups to all those thirsty Country music fans from dry Oak Cliff come pouring from their homes over the river to drink, to listen to Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Hank Thompson. Down in Trinity River Bottoms they'd come to the Longhorn and to the Big D to hear Groovy Joe Poovy, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis. They'd come to the neon honkytonks. You could just about always smell the shit-filled river down there. Man, if there was a big rain you could feel it swelling like it might burst out of its banks, up and over the levee to rage down Industial Boulevard. If it kept raining on a Saturday night and the waters got over the levee half the working men in Dallas could be swept away. Down here was the real cultural life of the city and I wanted to be a part of it."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Salon Under the Cedars

Many of the colonists at La Reunion were well educated. Julie Considerant even organized a salon in a cedar brake along the banks of the Trinity. This was a place where colonist could meet and discuss the ideas of Fourier, Proudhon, Cabet, Sue, Hugh and other writers and philosophers. Some colonist had brought extensive libraries which later ended up in various university libraries in Texas.
La Reunion Remembered, 150th Anniversary, 1855 — 2005, by Jim Forster
In the Early 1850s On the River with Madame Considerant

Despite her physical labors during the day Julie Considerant, wife of Victor Considerant, founder of the utopian community in Dallas, La Reunion, attempted to enhance the cultural and intellectual atmosphere at the commune. Not far from the housing complex, along the banks of the Trinity River, she found a clump of old cedar trees that formed a pleasant and secluded shelter from the hot sun. Under these cedars, on the rough frontier, Madame Considerant established a salon, and there she received all the colonists who wished to get away in the evenings and enjoy exchanging ideas and pleasantries. Kalikst Wolski, a Polish emigrant at the colony wrote in her (sic) diary: "In her cedar salon the floor was covered with a rug of natural green, for here the grass was always fresh, as it was shaded from the sun's burning heat. Above were the branches of trees spreading wide, their thick, broad leaves refreshed from time to time with benevolent dew. As a ceiling we had the clear, ever pleasant vault of heaven. The moon--or millions of glittering stars what shone so brilliantly--took the place of a lamp. In place of the tones of a piano, we had the pleasant twittering and harmonious singing of masses of birds which had chosen the place as their headquarters; and instead of chairs, hammocks were hung from tree to tree, or there were nets of thick twine on which, rocking slowly back and forth, one could be free from the unpleasant visits of snakes, always crawling in uncounted numbers everywhere." Often these gatherings lasted to a late hour, even until one or two in the morning, in the salon of that cedar grove were extraordinarily captivating and often highly erudite conversations, though more often the talk was of a light and witty nature, with anecdotes exchanged back and forth.

14 Handsome Bachelors Arrive in Wooden Shoes

On April 26, 1854, the vanguard of French settlers arrive in Dallas

"Their arrival had created a lot of commotion and excitement all over the village.Was it due to the fact that they were quite strangely dressed in their linen blousesand wearing those strange shoes? I would have to say probably not since it was the middle of the afternoon and most of the men would not have been in the cabins during that time of day. It was more likely due to the fact that there was an extreme shortage of bachelors in the area and now for the first time in a long time all of those young, and I’m sure many of the older, ladies had a chance to view fourteen young bachelors all together in one location. The vanguard soon departed the tiny village."
[Foster also disputes that the La Reunion colonists stuck out because of their shoes. According to him, half of the Dallas settlers wore wooden shoes.]

La Reunion Remembered, 150th Anniversary, 1855 — 2005, by Jim Forster

Meeting a Black Kitty With White Stripes on the Way from Galveston to Dallas.

Eloise Santerre says that her family has managed to keep alive the story over all these years about one of the older party members finding a beautiful black kitten with a large white stripe running down both sides. The Frenchman thought that it must be a wild kitten, but shouldn’t present any sort of a problem since it was so young, so he picked up the kitten and took it over to the camp for the small children to play with. The children soon began to yell, scream and run in all directions. A strange, but strong odor quickly filled the air. She said that the smell almost drove them crazy and that was the last time anyone in that family wanted to play with one of those black kittens with a white stripe down the side.

La Reunion Remembered, 150th Anniversary, 1855 — 2005, by Jim Forster

A Culinary Delicacy

After the cold winter [of 1856], the colonists experienced a long drought and their wheat crop just wilted and died. The next year was just a bad. It was the year of the plague of grasshoppers. The colonists just joked and and laughed, saying it was the seven plagues of Egypt. The grasshoppers completely destroyed their wheat crop. Their native Texas friends despised the grasshoppers, but the older colonist ate them with great gusto. They even made sauces from the abundant supply of grasshoppers.

La Reunion Remembered, 150th Anniversary, 1855 — 2005, by Jim Forster

Madame Considerant’s Masochism and Suicidal Impulses

Madame Considerant probably kept her husband from complete mental collapse during these trying days. Julie Considerant had always been a source of strength and a faithful ally to her husband. Far from hindering his work, she encouraged him in his socialist activities. In 1842, for example, during a political crisis in Paris, she wrote to him declaring:

“Your entire life must be consecrated to the movement and I will hang myself immediately if I cause you to take a false route. . . . The more rugged the path, the more necessary it becomes to take such a path.”

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Was He Bipolar? Considerant's Melancholy and Suicidal Thoughts

Once at La Reunion, amid the anarchy and conflict, a deep depression seized him. As his former optimism turned to defeatism, he became sullen, withdrawn, and totally negative toward the adventure. Under rigorous psychological strain, he succumbed to a severe nervous malady which incapacitated him for long periods of time. In this mental and physical state, Victor Considerant, who only a few months earlier had proclaimed a new social order, contemplated suicide. With much pain and self-effacement, he wrote:

“In the midst of all the ideas which seized my mind, of all the kinds of pain which hacked at me, of rages which filled my desperate thoughts, I was incessantly ruled by the same impulse: write to Europe that all is ended by an immediate liquidation and commit suicide."

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Snakes Did Some In

The hot Texas summers produced many types of discomforts which the Europeans were totally unable to manage, one in particular being the abundance of snakes. One inhabitant reported that they killed a dozen snakes in one day during the summer, and that the snakes alone drove several colonists away.

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Texans Did Em In

Dominated by fear and prejudice, the people of Texas insured the collapse of La Reunion by refusing to participate in the experiment and by prohibiting needed grants of land.

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Considerant’s Prejudice for and Ignorance of the Native Populations

Considerant met Brisbane in Batavia, Ohio, near Cincinnati. On April 30, 1854, they began their tour of possible settlement sites in Texas, traveling by boat down the Ohio to the Mississippi, then up the Arkansas to Fort. Smith. Considerant described Fort Smith as the “complete civilization, young, alert, and flourishing.” By horseback, he and Brisbane rode through Oklahoma Indian territory, which he described as “rude and savage. Entering northern Texas, the beauty of the geography waxed Considerant ecstatic:

Nature has done all. All is prepared, all is arranged; we have only to raise those buildings which the eye is astonished at not finding; and nothing is appropriated nor separated by the selfish exclusiveness of civilized man; nothing is cramped. What fields of action! What a theatre of manoeuvres for a great colonization operating in the combined and collective mode! What reserves for the cradle of Harmony, and how powerful and prompt would be its development, if the living and willing elements of the World of the Future were transported there! A horizon of new ideas, new sentiments and hopes, suddenly opened before me, and I felt myself baptized in an American faith.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Considerant's Politics

Although Considerant’s analysis of nineteenth-century society was almost identical with that of Marx, their solutions were radically different. According to Considerant, the answer could be found I a pacific and evolutionary reorganization of society. He believed that Fourier’s phalanstery was the social and economic unit which would provide the solution. In the phalanstery approximately three hundred families would combine their efforts to provide sufficient food, clothing, housing, education, and social enrichment. Although everyone would be required to work, all vocational endeavors would be rotated among various inhabitants according to preference and natural aptitude. The principal activities would be those of agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and domestic economy; art, science, and education: self government and social intercourse. Regarding the political structure, Considerant propounded a system of pure democracy based on universal suffrage and direct legislation.

Considerant made it clear that Fourier’s system was not a form of communism. He believed in the equality of opportunity but not in equality of remuneration. These communes were to depend upon private capital, and private property holdings could be retained. The phalanstery would serve simply as the tenant. Profits would be distributed through a system of dividends allocated to the members in proportion to the amounts of capital, skill, and labor contributed to each. At the end of the year, the value of all production would be divided three-twelfths for skill, four-twelfths for capital, and five-twelfths for labor.

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Was Considerant a Feminist?

He began to deviate slightly from pure Fourierism. He came to realize that nineteenth-century man was not fully prepared intellectually or emotionally for a viable experiment in phalanstery living. First, the nation must be brought to an improved state of social harmony through a system of political democrat and government regulation and control of the economy. Man must be educated and prepared through an evolutionary process. As Considerant became increasingly involved in French politics, he advocated such practical reforms as state welfare programs for the poor, the orphaned, and the aged; government ownership of the means of the means of communications and transportation, particularly the railroads; a state system of long-term, low-interest rate loans; arms reduction; separation of church and state; freedom of the press; free and compulsory public school education; state cultural programs; penal reforms; the unification of Europe; universal suffrage, including women; and female social and economic emancipation. He was the only member of the national assembly in 1848, who demanded that women be given the vote in the new French civilization. Throughout this period he consistently refused to associate with any communal experiment.

Source: Rondel V. Davidson, "Victor Considérant and the Failure of La Réunion," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (January 1973).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Poor Oak Cliff and West Dallas

There have been many theories advanced about why [Considerant] chose this particular area. The land which he bought was much less fertile than other land, even in the surrounding area. Much of the colony land was heavily wooded with cedars. It included a large portion situated on the Austin Chalk formation, from which one of the main ingredients to cement is now extracted. The land was a bad choice for the site of a community that was to depend on agriculture. There was a lack of springs; water was obtained from places where it seeped through fissures in the rock formations. As these spots were often lower than the surrounding land, the water obtained from them was not wholesome. The lack of good natural springs was to take its toll during the summers of severe drouth that followed the colony’s established

The lands might have been chosen because of their similarity to the lands in the best wine-growing regions of France.

Source: The decline and fall of La Réunion, Anne Mallory Bond. Thesis (Senior)--Rice University, 1961. Reserved holding, Dallas Public Library.

The Promise

Considerant recruited colonists from Europe by appeals to identity with the Chosen People and their desire for a promised land:

The redeeming idea sleeps in the Captivity of Eqypt. Let it awaken! Believe, and the land of realization, the Promised Land is ours. One strong resolution, one act of collective faith and this country is conquered.

I bring you the news of salvation. I show you the way, and I propose the inauguration. Let us only unite in purpose, and little as the outside world may dream of it, the new social era will be founded.

Fishtrap Cemetery

Here's some good background on the cemetery. Note the origin of the name "Fishtrap."

Source: Blain, Samuel Shannon. La Reunion: A Fourieristic Colony Founded by Colonists from France, Switzerland and Belgium in Dallas County, Texas, 1971. Reserved holding at Dallas Public Library.

Click on each picture below to enlarge so it is readable.

Gathering Text Chunks

My purpose here is quick and dirty gathering of text and graphic ideas, relationships and source info.