The gravestone of La Réunion settler Emile Remond and his wife, Ceaserine Santerre.
Emile Remond had come to Dallas at sixteen, joining his half-brother at La Réunion the summer the grasshoppers ate everything in 1856. The colony was then only about eighteen months old. And it didn’t have much time left. As it turned out, Remond was one of a handful of settlers who never left the area for long, never went back to Europe after La Réunion folded. He remained in the neighborhood of the failed colony after the Civil War, in which he joined the side of the failed Confederacy, apparently as a flag-bearer.
It’s possible that what kept Remond here was his interest in geology. He was a pioneering student of the possible uses of Dallas minerals for industry and profit. The very soil that La Réunion foundered on featured in Remond’s sales pitches about the commercial value of West Dallas resources. When Remond calculated the value of Dallas clay he was thinking about bricks, mainly, “fireproof” bricks made with naturally occurring aluminum. But he was also a booster for Dallas-made sewer pipe to perfect the growing city–and cement. A skilled brick-maker in an era when bricks were still fired by artisans in small batches, Remond may have underestimated the appeal of cement, which required no artistry, and could be quarried by low-paid workers.
A year before his death in 1906, he was interviewed by a writer (uncredited) for The Dallas Morning News, in an article headlined with the zinger “Dallas County Clay”:
“’The Dallas shale formation,’ [Remond] said, ‘is of a cretaceous lignitic semi-carbonaceous combination, containing oil, but not oil yielding, fine grained argillaceous, surface calcareous. Below this it is free of lime, is a sedimentary silt deposit of impermeable schist, unctuous, soapy, heavily laminated, of great density, fine grained, impalpable and soft when fresh. The surface is fossiliferous and metamorphosed, rich in metal (aluminum), a silvery clay, the sonorousness of which is due to the metal.’”1
It would be strange if French-born Remond actually spoke like this. The unctuousness of sedimentary schist and the “sonorousness” of “silvery clay” complete what has to be the most exact and sensual description of Dallas dirt ever to appear in news writing, even in Dallas. With this unreal-sounding quote, Remond seems cheated out of his own realness. The clay is more alive and human than he is, and is sonorous besides.
Morning News articles around the time of Remond’s death suggest that he had become a personage in a small, local way, and worthy of praise, even of mythologizing, as a poor man of vision, a populist hero who had seen the potential of West Dallas dirt even while “[p]ractical [Dallas] business men refused to believe him and declined to entertain his proposition to furnish positive proof if they would provide financial backing.” Cement would create 2,500 jobs, supporting 7,000 people, The Dallas Morning News reckoned.2
In fact, twenty five years after West Dallas was saved by the cement industries made possible by Remond’s mineral studies, the place was still unincorporated, and distinguished from Dallas proper across the Trinity by mud, and no city services, and bad jobs at the cement plants, and a powerful strain of lawlessness. In this slum, Bonnie met Clyde.
Which wasn’t Emile Remond’s fault. He thought that West Dallas soil was unappreciated. Maybe he hoped to make some money off of its profitable qualities. Whatever his vision of the future was, it couldn’t have been Cement City, and the RSR lead smelter within 50 feet of public housing, and the biggest lead Superfund cleanup site in the United States. That would have been a vision of Hell, for which Emile Remond lacked the pessimism.
1(July 18, 1905) “Dallas County Clay: Discoveries Made by Prof. E. Remond After Investigations of Many Years”, The Dallas Morning News, 15. Retrieved from The Historical Dallas Morning News.
2(October 1, 1907) “Results of Remond’s Faith in West Dallas’ Mineral Wealth: Story of the Long and Persistent Efforts Made by Old French Colony Settler to Arouse Active Interest of Men of Money in the Mineral Wealth of the Country Just to the West of the City—Disappointment in the End, but Campaign Conducted by the Faithful One Results in the Establishment of Manufacturing Plants Affording Support to Thousands of People, The Dallas Morning News, 22. Retrieved from The Historical Dallas Morning News.