Dumont, Arrie Ella Elgar (1861–1943)

By: Tommy J. Boley

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Arrie Dumont, West Texas pioneer and sculptor, daughter of Lewis Steptoe and Elizabeth (Benson) Elgar, was born in Lee County, Mississippi, on July 3, 1861. She attended school in Johnson, Parker, and Young counties, Texas, from 1868 to 1877. She married James Thomas Bird, a Texas Ranger, on September 9, 1877, and the couple moved west to what is now King County to participate in the great buffalo hunt of the late 1870s. In 1881 they moved to adjoining Dickens County, where Bird became a line rider on the Pitchfork Ranch, and the following year they moved on to Cottle County to live on a line camp on the Ross Ranch. The couple had three children. One of them, Capp Jay Bird, later built the first telephone, phonograph, and radio in Cottle County.

Ella Bird began to model in clay as a child in 1867, an experience about which she later wrote, "this was the beginning of what my life career should have been, clay modeling, first step to sculpting." As an adult she worked with the porous gypsum plentiful in the area. She yearned for training to develop the talent further. She became known throughout the area as an expert seamstress of custom-made buckskin gloves, vests, and pants, for which she was paid. In her autobiography she expressed frustration at her inability to develop "a talent which would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as a world of pleasure to me." After the death of her husband, she remained a widow for nine years, living in several dugout homes with her children.

On December 29, 1895, she married Auguste Dumont, a Canadian immigrant, in the Paducah, Texas, First Baptist Church. The couple resided in Paducah and had two children. After a broken leg limited her mobility in 1907, Mrs. Dumont began making plaster casts of statues, busts, and smaller pieces-mainly floral decorations-for sale. She imported models from Los Angeles, and her business flourished, especially during the Christmas season. She once paid a doctor bill with a sculpted napkin ring decorated with flowers and topped by a squirrel holding an acorn. She carved the tombstone of her first husband, a five-foot-high, flower-filled model church building now in ruins in Quanah due to the effect of the elements on the porous "gyprock." She also sculpted a Bible (ca. 1887) as an heirloom for her children, but its location is unknown. A large vase, typically decorated in a floral motif, is the only work in gyprock that remains in the Dumont family. The remainder of her sculptures were either stolen or destroyed in a storm at the Bird home at Buck Creek near Paducah in 1895.

One of the Dumont children, Auguste Elgar (Frenchie) Dumont, was postmaster in Paducah for twenty years. The Dumonts supported the Republican party. Ella became a widow again in 1915. In 1927–28 she wrote her autobiography, which she attempted for the rest of her life to have published. She was active in the Order of the Eastern Star and in women's service clubs. She died and was buried in Paducah on April 10, 1943. The autobiography was finally published, along with documented research, by the University of Texas Press in 1988.

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  • Visual Arts
  • Sculpture
  • Women
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Tommy J. Boley, “Dumont, Arrie Ella Elgar,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dumont-arrie-ella-elgar.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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