Adolphe Gouhenant was Fort Worth’s first Renaissance man. Born in France in 1804, just five years after the French Revolution, he is remembered today by his anglicized name, “Adolph Gounah.” Gounah made his mark early: He was dead two years before Fort Worth incorporated, dead five years before the first railroad came to town.
Adolph Gounah was an artist, daguerreotypist (photographer), language and music teacher, physician, fencer, winemaker, and Texas’s first state geologist.
And he was a gypsy. Gounah immigrated to Texas in June 1848 in the second wave of members of the short-lived French utopian colony New Icarie in Denton County. The colony was founded on Peters Colony land six years before La Reunion utopian colony was founded in Dallas County by French, Belgian, German, and Swiss immigrants.
When the New Icarie colony failed in 1849, Gounah moved thirty miles south to the Army’s new Fort Worth, where he had a Peters Colony land grant northeast of the fort in today’s Samuels Avenue area. Gounah also befriended fort commander Major Ripley Arnold and gave Arnold’s children lessons in French, riding, and music. Gounah also gave the fort’s soldiers lessons in fencing.
He also may have been the Frenchman of Frenchman’s Well.
This 1850 census lists the Arnold household at the fort. That year two of the Arnold children, Sophia and Willis, died. Gounah had them buried on land belonging to Middleton Tate Johnson. Three years later Major Arnold was killed at Fort Graham (near Hillsboro) in a duel with fort surgeon Josephus Steiner. Two years later friend Gounah again rose to the occasion. He and Johnson and other Masons had Arnold’s body disinterred and returned to Fort Worth for burial next to Arnold’s children. Gounah later bought the land from Johnson’s estate. That land, together with an adjoining parcel donated by Baldwin Samuel, became Pioneers Rest Cemetery. (Streets bordering the cemetery are named for Gounah and Samuel.)
An 1850 General Land Office certificate for Gounah’s Peters Colony land grant in Fort Worth.
Gounah also lived in Dallas. By 1852 he had opened one of the first art studios in Dallas on the courthouse square. In his “art saloon” he painted, made daguerreotypes, taught French and Spanish and a half-dozen musical instruments. The saloon also served as a Masonic lodge hall, dance hall, and Sunday school. Even district court sessions were held there. Gounah was paid $7.50 per court session for the use of his space.
On July 7, 1852 Charles DeMorse of the Northern Standard newspaper of Clarksville (northeast Texas) wrote of his visit to the art saloon: “. . . we proceeded to the Saloon and found a dance in full operation, in which besides the ladies and resident gentlemen, were participating Maj. Arnold, the gentlemanly commandant of Ft. Worth, and Maj. Young, the Sutler for the post. We found the main room of the Saloon large enough for two sets at a time, and in a little recess at one side was an honorable member of the legislature playing the violin assisted by Mons. Gouhenant. The Saloon itself was draped with flesh-colored canvass [sic], and pleasantly lighted, and to the best of my ability, I represented the City of Clarksville upon the dance floor.”
From Dallas Gounah moved on. By 1856 Gounah and wife Elizabeth were living in Pilot Point, Denton County, where they raised cattle and horses. In 1859 Gounah was convicted of dispensing quack medicine. In 1866 he was listed on a federal tax assessment roll as an “apothecary.”
By 1870 Gounah was listed on the census as a “doctor of medicine” in Pilot Point. About that time he was also appointed state geologist.
And it was about that time that he had a dream one night. The dream so affected him that he recorded it in his diary, later found by his family. In the dream Gounah was traveling to Washington, D.C. in his new capacity as state geologist when he fell while boarding a railroad car in some town in Missouri and was severely injured. Gounah dreamed that he was cared for by brothers of the Mystic Tie (a branch of Masonry to which he actually belonged) and by the Sisters of Charity. Gounah dreamed that he died and that the next day his wife Elizabeth wept over his body.
This clip from the Springfield, Missouri Weekly Patriot of April 27, 1871 bears out part of Gounah’s dream.
In The Bohemian, a magazine published in Fort Worth from 1899 to 1905, local historian Judge C. C. Cummings and Alex W. Robertson wrote in 1900: “Dr. Gounah met his death while on his way north . . . after leaving the Sherman House, at the place stated. Was cared for by the Mystic Tie fraternity and Sisters of Charity as noted by him in [the dream recorded in] his diary. His wife came, as stated, and he was buried there by request of his will and his remains yet rest there. The Sisters of Charity is a feature the least likely of any to occur in verification, for no such order resided there [in Springfield] then, but they happened to be there temporarily on a visit for some ulterior purpose of locating their order there.”
This clip is from the Dallas Weekly Herald. Gounah died on April 30, 1871 and indeed was buried where he had dreamed he would die. Sometime after 1885 his family provided his grave in Springfield’s Hazelwood Cemetery with a headstone of pink granite left over from construction of the capitol building in Austin.
(Photo from Find A Grave.)