Monday, 25 May 2009

La Reunion - The French Settlement in Dallas by Susan C.

Six flags is not just the name of a theme park! It is the number of flags that have actually flown over the State of Texas. The flags of Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, the U.S. and it's own Lone Star flag, have been hoisted above its' old missions, settlements and forts.

Not long after Texas was admitted into the Union in 1845, once again, the French along with Swiss and Belgians, came to Texas and in particular, to Dallas, to begin a settlement. In the years between the French Revolution and the Second Empire, social unrest triggered new thought. Ideas about a Utopian way of living and thinking were spreading across Europe.

Victor Prosper Considerant was one of the leading democratic socialist "Utopian" proponents. Living in exile in Belgium due to his opposition to the coup of Napoleon III, Considerant began to plan for such a Utopian settlement in Texas. The settlement was to be based on the economic theories of Francois Marie Charles Fourier, which was a loosely organized commune with participants sharing profits based on individual productivity and the amount of capital an individual invested. "Fourierism" had already reached the US. A settlement had already been started in Massachusetts and New Jersey by 1843.

Considerant traveled to the US from Belgium, stopping in New York where he obtained a letter of introduction to Major Merrill, commandant at the army post at Fort Worth. Considerant proceeded to travel down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, up the Arkansas River and from there he crossed through Indian Territory and into Texas on horseback. He followed the old Preston Trail through Texas and reached the area near the settlement of Dallas. He continued to search for the most suitable spot for the settlement and continued on to explore the area along the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. (During the 2009 Dallas Meeting collections tour, we will be traveling on Preston Road, which follows the route of the old Preston Trail.)

Finally, Considerant returned to the area near Dallas. It was there, he thought he'd located the region with the perfect climate and ample resources for his venture. He returned to Belgium to form the new company and solicit funding. In this pursuit, he wrote two publications with specific plans for the Texas settlement, the French version being called Au Texas and the English publication being called The Great West, both printed in 1854. He also included accounts of his travels, the vast wilderness he'd traveled and his enthusiasm over the simple life of the Indians. Considerant envisioned the eventual creation of many European settlements throughout the Southwest that would eventually partnership in business matters and promote common culture and education.

In 1854 in France, Considerant formed the European - American Colonization Society in Texas and raised 500,000 Francs from members interested in investing in the venture. Those investing in the venture were to make a 6% return. With the newly raised funds, Considerant sent F. Cantagrel to Texas to purchase land. Cantagral made the journey and bought 2,080 acres, slightly to the West of Dallas and he also made arrangements for the arrival of the first wave of immigrants.

Members were stock holders, but not all stock holders made the journey. Of the near 2,000 Europeans interested or investing in the venture, approximately 200 actually made the journey. The colonists crossed the Atlantic in 60 days and landed at New Orleans. From there, they sailed to Galveston. From Houston, the Europeans were supposed to navigate the Trinity River to Dallas; however, the region was suffering from a drought and the river was unnavigable. The colonists had to instead travel by ox drawn wagons for 26 days to reach their final destination. Dallas residents, having declared the day, June 16, 1855, a holiday, greeted the newcomers who were dressed their foreign attire and some wearing sabots.

The first colonists arriving at La Reunion, the name of the new settlement, began to clear land, build stone houses, as well as, build a community store and community restaurant. The first brewery in Dallas County was constructed and an immigrant named Reverchon, who was a scientific farmer, taught some residents how to deep farm and graft fruit trees. By 1856, the colonists were making soap, candles, ran a laundry, a smoke house and kept bee hives.

More colonists arrived over time and numbers reached somewhere between 350 - 400 people, nearly half the number of Dallas residents.
Most arrivals were artisans, jewelers, weavers, shoemakers, etc., and were not as well suited to the new life style as they should have been.
The oldest colonist to arrive in Texas, was La Pere Lagogue. The aged Lagogue served as a soldier under the first Napoleon.

In the second year of La Reunion the drought continued, and a severe winter in 1856 froze the Trinity River. It became necessary for settlers to look outside of their colony for employment. Many began to teach school or music or seek jobs in their trades.
Investors began to ask about their investments and eventually, investors asked for a receiver. On January 28, 1857, one of the heads of the society gave formal notice that the colony had been dissolved. La Reunion colonists began to leave, some moved to New Orleans, some moved back to Europe and only a few remained at La Reunion.
The cattle, sheep and some land was sold to Confederates, but the money was worthless by the time it reached Europe.

Remnants of La Reunion are almost gone. A few Dallas streets honor some of the colonists at La Reunion including, Swiss Avenue, Nussbaumer, Boll, and Cantegral, though misspelled by the City, along with La Reunion Parkway, French Settlement Road, Bastille Road and La Tierre. The train station in downtown Dallas was named Reunion, as is the nearby sports arena and hotel. A city park was named after Reverchon and it is near proximity to the Stoneleigh Hotel where Dallas Q Meeting 2002 attendees stayed.

The small La Reunion cemetery remains on Fish Trap Road, the trail to the fish traps set along the Trinity by colonists. Among those buried in the cemetary are the remains of Pere Lagogue.
The historical marker in the cemetery reads: "Burial place of French, Belgian and Swiss settlers brought by Company for European - American colonization in Texas. This site was on road from La Reunion to willow fish traps set by the colonists in the Trinity. Early burials in this cemetery included aged French grenadier Pere Lagogue, also a young child of Colony Director, F. Cantagrel. The Company failed, but certain families remained including the Loupots, Remonds, Reverchons and Santeers. They became business and cultural leaders in Dallas area and used this cemetery as late as 1939 for family burials."

The sketch, at the top of the page, made by graphic artist Fred Kamacker during the 1920's, is of one of the c.1854 La Reunion stone houses. A cement factory occupied the site years later and now most of the acreage is covered with large warehouses and industrial buildings.

See photographs taken from a high point on the old settlement looking toward downtown Dallas and the Trinity River. Reunion Tower is the sphere-shaped building looking like a golf ball on a tee. Reunion Station and Reunion Arena are also nearby.

For additional stories of individual La Reunion colonists, visit:


  1. And now, a new non-profit formed in January 2006 called La Reunion TX is creating a residency for the arts on a 35 acre plot of land very near where the original colonists settled. Totally green. Low impact design. Future plans include a community garden on site and accommodations for artists working in all media.

    Check it out:

  2. Pics in order: 1920's sketch of remains of a La Reunion home, Dallas skyline from area of La Reunion, Street signs in La Reunion area reflecting history of the French settlement, Grqaves in La Reunion Cemetery, Cemetery's Historical Marker, Before the storm - Dallas skyline, Reunion Tower at far right, from area of settlement.

  3. Got WAY behind on reading the blog..and just now catching up! This was SO intesting. I knew that six flags had actually flown over Texas, but didn't know the background or about the settlement. Very interesting!

  4. I was disappointed that the cemetery gates were locked. The cemetery looked sadly neglected. Is there a day or time when it's open to the public?
    Bill Boone