Gouhenant, François Ignace [Adolphe] (1804–1871)

By: Paula Selzer

Type: Biography

Published: October 12, 2020

Updated: November 4, 2020

Adolphe Gouhenant, French revolutionary, entrepreneur, utopian leader, artist, daguerreotypist, and frontier doctor, was born François Ignace Gouhenant in Flagy, Haute-Saône, France, to Jean-François Gouhenant, and Jeanne-Françoise Arragon on February 18, 1804. His parents were farmers, and his father was appointed town mayor of Flagy in 1805. The couple had three children: Marie Scholastique, who died at a young age; Marguerite-Antoinette-Virginie; and François Ignace. Jean-François hired a school teacher who lived and taught primary school in the Gouhenant home because there was no school house in the village of Flagy.

When Jean-François died in 1819, fifteen-year-old François Ignace left home to earn money to support his mother and sister. By the age of twenty-three, he was working as a droguiste in Lyon and sold items used for medicine or dyeing and provided pigments for local artists and the thriving Lyonnaise silk industry.

He married Jeanne Durand on December 6, 1827, and they had three children. Their first son, Adolphe was born in 1830, but he died a few hours after his birth. (Gouhenant later took his son’s name as his own, but the exact date is unknown.) Their second child, Anastasie, was born in 1831, and Ernest was born in 1832.

Gouhenant used his wife’s dowry to finance the building of a “temple to the arts and sciences” on Lyon’s Fouvière Hill. The 100-foot, four-story tower was to be used as an astronomical observatory, studio space for artists, scientific workshop, exhibition hall, and natural history gallery. The tower was completed in 1832, but Gouhenant had overextended his resources, and the contractors sued him for outstanding debts. Broke and defeated, he left Lyon.

After leaving Lyon, Gouhenant became involved in workers’ rights and advocated fair wages and universal education for artists and craftsmen. In 1842, as a regional labor organizer, he led a group of Toulouse workers in a procession for one of the men who had been killed in a protest the previous year. The workers wanted to have a memorial Mass for the man, but the archbishop would not allow it. As the crowd began to grow agitated, Gouhenant successfully implored the group of men to remain orderly. Ultimately, Gouhenant purchased a tombstone for the man with his own money.

From the early 1830s to late 1840s, he was a follower of noted Icarian communist Étienne Cabet. While Cabet promoted political change through peaceful means, Gouhenant became more entwined with revolutionaries who sought to overthrow the monarchy by more violent methods. The authorities put him under surveillance for several months until he was arrested on January 27, 1843, and charged with conspiracy. He was imprisoned for seven months in the Toulouse prison and finally brought to trial on August 21, with eleven other co-defendants. The trial lasted ten days, but the prosecution failed to prove its case. The jury foreman answered “no” forty-one times to questions regarding the guilt of the accused on four crimes, including conspiracy against the security of the state, proposal to participate in a conspiracy, unauthorized association, and unauthorized possession of war weapons. All but one of the defendants were released immediately.

By 1848 Étienne Cabet was making plans to establish an Icarian settlement in Texas, and he appointed Gouhenant to lead an advance guard to settle the utopian community in Peters Colony. Thus, at the age of forty-four, Gouhenant left his wife and children and emigrated to the United States with sixty-eight other Icarians aboard the Rome. They left France on February 3 and sailed to New Orleans, then steamed up the Red River to Shreveport. From there, they walked 200 miles west and founded the settlement near present-day Justin, Texas. A second wave of Icarians finally arrived in late summer, but the group was much smaller than anticipated, and Cabet’s venture was running out of money. The second group also brought news that Gouhenant had offered evidence to prosecutors in exchange for leniency during his imprisonment in Toulouse five years earlier. This was the last straw for the Icarians, who had been working the land for three months and were exhausted and very sick from mosquito-borne illness. A few of the men had even died. They turned their anger on Gouhenant, and he fled in fear of his life. The remainder of the Icarians from both the first and second advance guards abandoned the settlement.

Gouhenant took refuge at the farm of Texas Ranger Samuel Pritchett and stayed there about a year. From there, he went to the newly-established town of Fort Worth where he became friends with Maj. Ripley Arnold. Gouhenant instructed the officers as well as Arnold’s family in French, drawing, music, sewing, and other activities. Because he had come to Texas prior to July 1848, he was entitled to receive a certificate for 320 acres under the Peters Colony contract. He chose a parcel of land just north of the fort. When two of Major Arnold’s children died in 1850, Gouhenant buried them on his land. (The exact boundaries of his land were later disputed. Early survey notes were lost, and Gouhenant ultimately split his 320-acre land grant into two 160-acre plots, the second one near the present-day Fort Worth Zoo.) Part of Gouhenant’s original land grant became Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

In October 1851 Gouhenant moved to Dallas and purchased from John Neely Bryan town Lot 4 in Block 7 located at the corner of Commerce and Houston streets on the south side of the courthouse square. Here Gouhenant opened the first art gallery and daguerreotype studio, which he named the Arts Saloon, in Dallas. There he painted pictures and photographed some of the town’s earliest citizens, including John Jay Good, Samuel Jones, Alexander Cockrell, and others. The Arts Saloon was also the scene of community dances, Masonic dinners, church services, and even district court proceedings. Charles DeMorse, editor of the (Clarksville) Northern Standard, visited the Arts Saloon in 1852 and noted that Gouhenant “exhibited to us some specimens of his painting, in both oil and water colors, some of the latter decidedly beautiful.” A unique fixture in the nascent town of Dallas, he collected fossils, made wine, and played several musical instruments. He also purchased a dozen town lots in Dallas over the next few years. Gouhenant was the first man to become naturalized in Dallas and took an oath of citizenship on May 16, 1853.

Gouhenant was both plaintiff and defendant in numerous legal cases throughout the 1850s. Shortly after arriving in Dallas, he worked for J. B. McPherson. He painted his house, glazed the windows, painted signs, and made a drawing. He also sold him wine, brandy peaches, and other items. In 1853 Gouhenant sued him for $500 for unpaid goods and services totaling $364, plus damages. McPherson contested, and the dispute concluded with the court awarding Gouhenant $122. Later the same year, John C. McCoy filed petitions in Dallas County on behalf of the heirs of the deceased Icarians who had fulfilled at least part of the Peters Colony conditions for land grants. The court named Gouhenant as the administrator of the estates. Gouhenant auctioned the land certificates, and a group of men collectively purchased the land of five Icarians. However, several of the buyers, many of them prominent citizens—Samuel B. Pryor, Trezevant C. Hawpe, Edward C. and Janing M. Browder, William W. Peak, and John Jay Good—refused to pay their promissory notes. Six lawsuits commenced in 1856, and the men were ordered to pay the following year. One suit with the Keen family, however, was not settled until 1863. Gouhenant sued Joseph Anderson in 1856 for trespassing and damage to two of his lots in Block 71. He lost, but appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. The higher court refused to reverse the ruling.

From 1855 to 1858, the Arts Saloon was the focus of litigation. Gouhenant mortgaged it to his friend American socialist Albert Brisbane, but when the mortgage came due, he claimed Brisbane had only given him half the money he had promised. Brisbane sued Gouhenant in district court, and Gouhenant countersued. Alexander Cockrell also sued Gouhenant for an outstanding debt before the justice of the peace. Cockrell won, and while Gouhenant was in Fort Worth, the sheriff auctioned off the Arts Saloon, the Brisbane mortgage notwithstanding. The dispute was finally settled by the Supreme Court of Texas. Judge John Hemphill ruled in favor of Gouhenant and declared that the Arts Saloon was his homestead. The Gouhenant v. Cockrell (1857) decision set a precedent for Texas homestead law and was subsequently cited numerous times well into the twentieth century.

Gouhenant began practicing medicine in the late 1850s. Although he had no formal training, he had worked as an apothecary in France and had studied some of François Vincent Raspail’s early methods to address public health. In 1857 he treated a woman named Juliette (Winny)  Brundage for an undetermined illness, but her husband,  Solomon  Brundage, refused to pay the bill. Gouhenant sued for unpaid medical expenses, and Brundage countersued, testifying that “neither visits nor medicine of said Gouhenant had done his wife any good but greatly damaged her to the amount of fifty dollars.” The justice of the peace ruled in favor of Gouhenant. Brundage appealed to the district court, but the decision was upheld.

After he left France, Gouhenant never saw his wife and daughter again. His son, Ernest, came to Texas in 1853 and later served in the Confederate Army as chief bugler with the Sixth Texas Cavalry. Sometime around the end of the decade Gouhenant moved to Pilot Point and married a young teacher, Elizabeth Martin. They raised cattle and owned two apothecaries. He was now promoting himself as a “doctor of medicine.” It was likely around this time that Gouhenant changed the spelling of his name to Gounah, which was how it was pronounced.

Gouhenant was an active Free Mason in France and at various times was a member of Masonic lodges in Lyon, Marseille, Paris, and Toulouse; he achieved the thirtieth Masonic degree of the Scottish Rite, Knight Kadosh. In 1832 he wrote the preface and published a booklet entitled La Maçonnerie: À tous les Oriens de France (To All the Lodges of France). In it he called for his fellow Masons to set aside their secrecy and bring their debates into the light of day (see FREEMASONRY). In the United States, he joined the Tannehill Lodge in Dallas in 1850 and in 1853 held the office of tyler. In 1861 he co-founded the Ford lodge in Pilot Point with David J. Eddleman and served as senior warden. He was also a man of faith, studied mysticism, and was a follower of the Swedenborgian religion.

In 1871 Gouhenant was on his way to Washington, D.C. Some evidence suggests that he was appointed to a state geological position. However, no formal record of the appointment has been found. He was boarding a train in Springfield, Missouri, and missed his step. His foot was caught and crushed by the train. He died a week later on April 30, 1871. He was buried in Springfield’s Hazelwood Cemetery.

Archives of the Catholic Diocese, Lyon, France. Archives of the Haute Garonne Department, France. Archives of the Haute Saône Department, France. Missouri Weekly, April 27, 1871; May 4, 1871. National Archives of France. National Archives and Records Administration, National Library of France (Étienne Cabet Papers). Paula Selzer and Emmanuel Pécontal, Adolphe Gouhenant: French Revolutionary, Utopian Leader, and Texas Frontier Photographer (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2019). Albert Shaw, Icaria: A Chapter in the History of Communism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, June 1884). Samuel Starr Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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

Paula Selzer, “Gouhenant, François Ignace [Adolphe],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gouhenant-francois-ignace-adolphe.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 12, 2020
November 4, 2020

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