Aligning himself with the early communist movement, Gouhenant advocated for workers’ rights and was selected by well-known Icarian communist Etienne Cabet to lead an advance guard on a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to settle a utopian colony in North Texas. Despite broken wagons, severe weather, and lack of food, he navigated overland from New Orleans in 1848 to establish a small settlement in Denton County. The community, beset by hardships, ultimately scapegoated Gouhenant and accused him of being a French agent deliberately sent to lead the group to destruction into the wilds, and for this “treason” they shaved his head and beard and expelled him from the colony (which collapsed shortly thereafter).
Gouhenant then journeyed to Fort Worth to teach the federal soldiers French and art, and next to Dallas where he founded the town’s first arts establishment in the 1850s. He set up shop as a daguerreotypist and photographed the town’s early residents. His Arts Saloon was the scene of many exhibitions and dances but ultimately became the high stake in a nasty battle among Dallas’s leading citizens, setting legal precedent for Texas homestead law. Gouhenant’s death in a freak railroad accident left behind mysterious claims that contribute one last chapter to this amazing man’s story.
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Published by University of North Texas Press