Emile Remond

Emile Remond

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.

Fold3_Page_2_Compiled_Service_Records_of_Confederate_Soldiers_Who_Served_in_Organizations_from_the_State_of_Texas
Service record of Emile Remond (here listed as “Reimond”) in the Confederate Army. Cards like this one were created by the US Record and Pension Office in the early Twentieth Century, using original muster rolls and other documentation of military service. Source: Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Texas, National Archives and Records Administration.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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Under the Bridge

Under the Bridge

Below me, the Trinity River (unless that was a little creek; I’m still not exactly sure) passed through the deep shade of an ancient and unstable looking railroad bridge. The water was misted with chill and reflecting back the last rays of the sun. In this mood, not a powerful one, when the water is just silver sky, and all innocence, it does make the US Army Corps of Engineers look unreasonably pig-headed about strict flood control requirements. It lazed under several weather-beaten bridges, until it finally ended up underneath my bridge, on which VIP’s (I guess), or workers, or party planners, or security guards were walking, looking small: some promenading like people who are going to be entertained, and some, like workers, hurrying on business on the bridge, whose delicate lines against the darkening sky would end up in the camera . . . not quite as sharp and cool as they had been in life.

I don’t know what made me take pictures of the piers. I wonder sometimes if I just love concrete. Plus, the shadows were deeper underneath the bridge than elsewhere, and I wanted dramatic light. Through the piers, I saw the city, bright under the sun. I hadn’t expected this parting shot to show just how the light had been at the end of that day, most beautiful of all.

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

I was running with my tripod, and my impressions of the bridge photo taking session are mostly of different kinds of light. The workmen’s lot was bare dirt. There were some inexplicable mounds of concrete, and a train track on one side. Behind the lot, the sun was setting over downtown, glinting off every surface, reflecting and re-reflecting off the glass city. The farther the sun dropped, the more golden the shining light. The shadows cast by the buildings were deep, however, and cold; the last stray bits of winter collected there, and every blade of grass was cold.

At the edge of the parking lot, a mound that could have passed for a low hill rose steeply and precisely. I didn’t recognize it as a levee. You can live in Dallas for years and never realize that it was built around a powerful river that floods and needs to be held back. The hill/levee was choked with brambles and clinging thorns: a mournful lot of these. Up the hill I went, ignoring the thorns, slipping on the scree, until I could look over the edge, across and down a field that was unnaturally green, past a strange platform surrounded by a fence with ‘KEEP OUT’ on it. I had a good vantage point. I could see lots of police cars. And a few helicopters. And the odd bird, strikingly silent and agile in the company of helicopters, and nearly blending in to the sky.

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Dallas celebrated a weekend of Bridge-o-Rama when the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge opened March 3. This very expensive, ethereal white bridge (well, ethereal and white when the sun is in its proper place in the sky) was designed by Santiago Calatrava, and has been variously described, by various posters to Unfair Park, as a vanity project; “a bridge to nowhere” (“nowhere” being La Bajada, a Latino neighborhood in west Dallas); “a bridge to somewhere”; “the stupid fake suspension bridge”; “an amazing addition to the skyline”; a kind of Eiffel Tower; “a world-class bridge”; and “a giant dildo”. Sorting this out is not very important to me, luckily.

I took bridge pictures on the evening before the public celebrations. There was a VIP banquet that night, with people parking on a workmen’s lot close to the piers on the bridge’s northern, glitzy end. I’d first tried to shoot from the southern end, but that part was closed off completely. One of the policemen stationed on Singleton Avenue assured me, though, with a rank southern partisanism that came pretty close to poetry, that if I could have taken pictures from the southwest side, those would have been the very most beautiful pictures that I could have taken, as the view from the southwest was the very best view, and the southwest part of the bridge was the best part of it. But in the meantime, this was forbidden, so I got over to the north side, near some bail bond establishments. A security guard let me through, only after hesitating and working over the matter. If you’re taking pictures of things that people approve of, your camera can sometimes be your pass, I think. Anyhow, he said, “You can only park here if you have an invitation. But I might not see you park here if you just go in and take your pictures and get out”.

La Réunion Cemetery

Walter J King 1 Edit

You couldn’t tell that La Réunion Cemetery was beautiful until you were inside it, looking out. It was chained shut. I climbed over the fence door, where an extra metal bar allowed more footholds and there were no sharp link ends on top. My daughter was small enough to take the dog’s route, pushing herself on her back through a hole under the chain link, and keeping up an anxious patter about fire ants–not unreasonably—and about whether the Chihuahua was rabid. It had left the cemetery and was barking at her from a safe distance: that dog, approaching and retreating in a dance without dignity, and my daughter scooting backwards into the cemetery, also without dignity, deeply interested two boys who were hanging over the back of their fence. They watched for a long time, very quietly. Perhaps they hoped the dog would bite her. It would be something interesting.

IngridRunning

When Ingrid got in she went leaping around in the grass, which was enticingly green and tufty. She apologized once for leaping on a grave, but it was probably under a tuft of grass. The cemetery looked made for such spring lambs. It would never be so pretty at any other time of year. There were big clumps of white flags, always the first irises to bloom and the ones that fade the quickest. No matter if the soil gets as hard as bones by July, and if acres burn down, and the drought proves prayer proof, the white irises come back every spring in old cemeteries all over Texas. It was mid-March now, and the flowers, always sort of wet and fragile at their best, were in every stage from birth to death, from new blooming, to mushy and curling back, to dried brown and gone.

Sunset Iris Edit

There was a single wine cup wildflower, claret-colored and exquisite. And when the sun started down over the apartments, leaving a pale, streaky sunset sky, the mesquite and the oak tree became dark against it, with their limbs struck up bouncing by the breeze that suddenly came up. You could picture, if you tried, a vast landscape as perfectly made as the little time capsule of undeveloped Nineteenth Century in which you stood.

Irises 2