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Little-known French settlement in Texas continues to link cultures and families

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Sorbonne Professor Gabrielle Cadier-Rey in interview by reporter from French Morning Texas, 18 March 2014
Sorbonne Professor Gabrielle Cadier-Rey in interview by reporter from French Morning Texas, 18 March 2014
Marc Pembroke
Sorbonne History Professor Gabrielle Cadier-Rey lecture on Allyre Bureau
photo by Marc Pembroke

The next best thing to a trip to France is a visit to Alliance Francaise. On Tuesday March 18, Alliance Française of Houston sponsored a fascinating lecture by Gabrielle Cadier-Rey, a history professor at the Sorbonne (Universite de Paris IV). For any francophile who loves history, the evening was an astonishing adventure back to early Texas and 19th century France, a world of revolutions, utopias, unbounded optimism, and sober reminders of human frailties.

The event was one of many programs recognizing the international French Cultures Festival during the month of March. The lecture was delivered in French to a full house of local French ex-patriots and Houstonian francophiles.

The topic was the life of Allyre Bureau, Dr. Cadier-Rey's great-great-great grandfather, a little-known “renaissance man” who graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Paris, and entered the French army, and later studied music, ran for Parliament, wrote Spanish love songs and attempted to start a Utopian community in Texas. Bureau became a “disciple” of Charles Fourier, and a contemporary of Victor Hugo and Hector Berlioz. Fourier believed it was possible to develop a more humane social structure, with harmonious, pacifist communities where like-minded people worked together in creative, profitable businesses, where all could be educated and free. Bureau resigned from the army, studied and composed music, wrote books, and undertook a variety of occupations.

Dr. Cadier-Rey included a brief summary of the political history of the times. With turmoil in France and the rise of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (aka Napoleon III) to Presidency many of the reform-minded movements gave up on hopes of changing French society, and dreamed of starting afresh in the newest state of the New World.

The effort to create a community called La Reunion in Dallas was short-lived due to poor management and a “perfect storm” of natural calamities. Nevertheless, the personal accomplishments of Allyre Bureau had a continued influence on his family. Bureau died of Yellow fever in Texas in 1859, and his family returned to France. He apparently home schooled his sons in math, and both became engineers.

The family retained many souvenirs and memoirs of the venture, and more than a century and a half later, Dr. Cadier-Rey undertook extensive research on the life and times of her ancestor. About 20 years ago during her junior year abroad, Shelly Stein took one of her courses at the Sorbonne, and Dr. Cadier-Rey learned that she was from Texas, the two struck a long lasting friendship, leading eventually to the invitation to speak in Houston last Tuesday. Ms. Stein now teaches upper school french at Saint John's School.

Cadier-Rey's masterful ability to weave facts from personal journals, political movements, and technological breakthroughs into a spell-binding story inspired a lively question-answer session and a marvelous networking opportunity. Participants came with their own stories of life or work in France or Quebec, and many had points of contact with other French stories of immigration to New France and French-speaking communities in Western Canada, Maine, and Louisiana.