L' Affaire d' Hog

by C.F. Eckhardt

Jean etcetera Dubois was born in 1809 in the French province of Normandy. His daddy was Jean Baptiste Isidore Dubois, who was a tax collector for Napoleon I, and his mamma was Marie Louise Rose Bertrand, who is rumored to have been the daughter of a baker. Later, for his own reasons, he claimed to have been born on July 4, 1812, and identified his parents as Jean Theodore Dubois de Saligny and Rosalie Bertrand de Broussillon.

Upon his marriage in Mexico in 1863, he signed himself ‘Jean Pierre Elisidore Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, Comte du Saint Empire’. The ‘Saint Empire’ referred to the mostly imaginary ‘Holy Roman Empire’, which is referred to be historians and ‘neither Holy nor Roman, and in no wise an Empire’. There seems to be little doubt that the tile was self-conferred—in the French papers referring to Dubois’ sojourn in Texas, every time he signed himself either ‘de Saligny’ or ‘Compte du Saint Empire’, somebody took a pen and struck through the appendage to his name.

Young Monsieur Dubois, being a social climber if not of note certainly of great ambition, hired himself on with the French foreign office. Most of his superiors seem to have had little patience with his inflated ideas of his own importance, and he wound up it seems, with the jobs nobody would take or even give to poor relatives. That’s very likely how ‘A. de Saligny’, as he signed himself when he was French charge d’affaires in the log hut and mud street capitol city called Austin, got stuck with being the official representative of France in the raw frontier republic called Texas.

Well, whether M. Dubois or Comte de Saligny or whatever he called himself was well-liked in France or not, it was certainly in the French interest to be well-represented in Texas. France had been loaning money to Mexico—a notably risky proposition for much of that nation’s history—and Texas had a coast with fairly good harbors in easy striking distance of most of Mexico’s coast in the event it became necessary to use gunboat persuasion to get the money back. (For the record, it did—several times.) In addition, France had by no means given up on the idea of carving out an empire in the New World—as later events proved—and maintaining a presence in the closest independent Republic to Mexico, the presumed and actual target for French imperialism, was a very good idea.

To trace down the various governments in France that led to the establishment of a French diplomatic presence in Texas would be tedious in the extreme—even the French have trouble keeping them straight. The king at the time was Louis Phillipe, of the House of Orleans, which was an offshoot of the Bourbons, who had been kings of France off and on for time out of mind when their subjects weren’t chopping their heads off or doing them in in other ways. His reign was called ‘The Bourgeoise Monarchy’. He replaced his cousin Charles X, who was booted out in a revolution in 1830, who replaced a republic that was booted out to make room for him, which replaced Napoleon I, who was booted out by most of Europe. At least, that’s about as straight as I’m interested in getting it.

We call the building in Austin where Dubois once live ‘The French Legation’, but that’s altogether too grand a name for it. France sent Ambassadors, who headed Embassies, to places like England, Austria or Russia. It sent Ministers, who headed Legations, to nations of secondary importance, like Mexico, Brazil or the United States. Elsewhere, it simply maintained charges d’affaires, who ranked about with a 2nd lieutenant in the army and had just about as much actual power. A charge d’affaires could conduct routine local business having to do with trade, but if anything of real importance came up he had to contact the nearest Minister—who was, in this case, in Mexico. The house we Texans grandly call ‘The French Legation’ never was more than the home of the charge d’affaires.

Not that it isn’t a magnificent structure—it was at the time unquestionably the finest residential structure in Austin and one of the finest in Texas, and it remains a thing of beauty today. Dubois sent to Europe for the finest materials, and the floors are of European hardwood, the mantels of Italian marble, the wallpaper from France. Jean Dubois was determined, it seems, to live in the best style he possibly could in this raw frontier town, and his home is still a showpiece.

Dubois apparently first arrived in Texas in February of 1839, after an overland trip from Washington, D. C. that would have daunted even hardy frontiersmen. The winter of 1838/1839 was the one of the worst in memory, and by the beginning of December the entire Ohio River, from its junction with the Mississippi to its source, was frozen over, rendering travel by steamboat an impossibility. Dubois, in his first report to France (dated at Houston, February 20, 1839), reported that he had to cross Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi on horseback and by open wagon—certainly down the bandit infested Natchez Trace—and to camp in the snow covered woods, there being no settlements or lodging places on his route. He reported steadily and apparently truthfully on affairs in Texas until May 5, when he returned to Washington. Texas and France concluded a treaty dated September 25, 1839—it’s in a glass case in the Texas Archives in Austin, still with its blue velvet backing and gold seals—and on October 16 of that year Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, the Duke of Dalmatia (what was then known as Dalmatia is now the old Yugoslav/Albanian coast) and a high official in the French foreign service, sent Dubois instructions appointing him the French charge d’affaires in Texas.

Dubois was apparently in England at the time. In his first report to the Duke of Dalmatia, dated at Greensborough, Georgia, January 3, 1840, he says that he departed England on board the steamer Liverpool on November 16, 1839, and arrived in New York on December 5. A 20 day winter crossing of the North Atlantic was by no means a remarkably long one for the era. His next dispatch was dated at Houston, January 19, 1840. By January 30 he was in Austin, and reported to his boss that he’d encountered Indians who made hostile demonstrations just outside the capitol city.

There weren’t many places to stay in Austin in 1840, and for a very short time Dubois picked perhaps the worst one he could have found. It was a Hotel-restaurant-tavern located near the present site of the ‘French Legation’ house in Austin, and it was owned by a man named Richard Bullock.

Mr. Bullock seems not to have been the most pleasant sort of feller—contemporary descriptions of him recorded before his encounter with Dubois describe him as an overbearing, loudmouthed bully who did his best to cheat travelers by overcharging them at his inn, a man who padded drink bills on his customers, and the sort of feller who’d try to suckerpunch a man if he thought he could get away with it. He apparently overcharged Dubois severely for both food and lodging. Dubois protested the excessive charges and Bullock replied by cursing and threatening him. The Frenchman then appealed to the Texas Secretary of State, who reviewed the bill and agreed that the charges were outrageous. He suggested what he considered a fair payment, which Dubois offered Bullock. Bullock replied with more profanity.

Dubois then suggested that the charges be reviewed by two independent parties, one to be named by Bullock, one to be named by Dubois. At first Bullock refused, then finally agreed. The two independent judges reviewed the bill and suggested that Dubois owed even less than the Secretary of State thought was fair, which enraged Bullock even more. Bullock refused to accept the lower amount, and when Dubois suggested a second pair of impartial judges, he refused again and began to malign the Frenchman to all and sundry.

Lest anyone think that M. Dubois was the good guy, think again—he was the worst example of what a snooty self-proclaimed aristocrat can be. The Texas government tolerated him—otherwise, it seems to be difficult to find anyone who admitted liking him. The stage was set for what is known in Texas as ‘The Pig War’.

All right, what really did happen between Bullock and Dubois? Dubois actually stayed at Bullock’s Inn only from July 24, 1840, through July 28. On the 28th he rented a house in Austin, and on the 29th he moved into it bag and baggage. Bullock charged him $25.25 for stabling an unspecified number of horses for 2 1/2 days plus an additional $50 for stabling 5 horses for 4 days, $2.50 for one day’s food and lodging for a coachman, $60 for ‘M. de Saligny’ for ‘one month’s room and board’, the same amount for two servants for the same period, $30 for a female slave for a month, $12.50 for 5 days’ food and lodging for Dubois’ secretary, $18.75 for stabling the secretary’s horse, $14.75 for expenses for two more slaves, and $40 for storing Dubois’ trunks for a month, for a total of $323.75 in United States money (which was worth considerably more than Texas money). Allegedly Dubois paid $200 of it and was given a receipt by someone in Bullock’s employ—a receipt which Bullock refused to acknowledge—and offered Bullock the remaining $123.75, but it was refused.

Bullock obviously continued to follow and to insult the Frenchman at every opportunity—so much so that, at Dubois’ insistence, the Texas Congress actually passed a law making it a misdemeanor to malign or insult the representative of a foreign government. In addition, the Texas government seemed to be taking sides with regard to l’affaire Dubois et Bullock’. Lined up in Dubois’ camp were the president, Mirabeau Bounaparte Lamar, and—strangely enough—Sam Houston, who usually waited to find out what side of a quarrel Lamar would take so he could take the other side. On the other side were David G. Burnet, the provisional President in 1836 who still had a lot of influence in government, James S. Mayfield, the Secretary of State (and therefore the single individual in Texas Government with who Dubois absolutely had to deal), and John G. Chalmers, the Secretary of the Treasury. Chalmers, in fact, was the one who went bail for Bullock after the hog-shooting and eye-punching incident.

According to Dubois’ reports to France, Lamar, who spoke fluent French, referred to these men at one time or another as mais les miserables (damned scoundrels) and coquins, which can be translated ‘knaves’ but is actually a much stronger term than that. It is a matter of record that both Lamar and Houston—who strongly disliked one another—hated Burnet. (None of which sounds a great deal unlike Texas politics a century and a half or so later.)

Bullock, in the meantime, was making even more of a spectacle of himself than usual, following the Frenchman around, insulting him publicly, and at one point, or so Dubois says in a letter, "openly declared his intention to kill me with his gun the next time he met me." Then came the hogs.

Austin, like many Texas towns in the days before health departments, had a lot of loose animals in it. A lot of those animals were hogs, and some of ‘em belonged to Richard Bullock. Bullock apparently let his hogs run loose, and they began to invade the Frenchman’s yard, barn and kitchen garden; knocking down his fence to get in. According to Dubois in a letter of protest to the government of Texas, "I have for a long time suffered…from the many hogs with which this town is infested. Every morning one of my domestics spends two hours in putting up and nailing the paling of the fence, which these animals threw down for the purpose of eating the corn of my horses; one hundred and forty pounds of nails have been used for this purpose. One day these hogs entered even to my chamber, and ate my towels and destroyed my papers." (For the record, nails were handmade and expensive—that 140 lbs. for nails would have cost the Frenchman about $250 in today’s money.)

Enough was enough! Bullock refused to pen the hogs, he even denied that they were getting into the charge d’affaire’s garden, and went so far to say that if they were, it was the Frenchman’s own fault for not keeping up his fences. The next time the hogs invaded, France went to War. With pistols, a shotgun and a pitchfork, the staff of the French diplomatic presence in Texas fell upon the porcine invaders and killed several, wounding others. No casualties were reported on the French side until later.

Well, here was clear evidence that somebody’s hogs—and some of the hogs in question were unquestionably Bullock’s—had been invading French territory. There were carcasses to prove it.

As legend has it, Bullock later encountered Dubois on the street and demanded "Did you kill my hogs?"

Dubois replied, "Oui, I killed your hogs," whereupon Bullock uncorked a right hook to the Frenchman’s eye.

That didn’t happen—it was one of Dubois’ servants, not the charge d’affaires himself, that Bullock punched out. According to the New Orleans picayune, Bullock struck the servant, "bunging up his eyes and phlebotomizing his nose in a manner to appease the slaughtered innocents." Dubois promptly made an even bigger nuisance of himself than before, and in June of 1842, the Texas Secretary of State requested that the charge d’affaires be withdrawn.

Dubois was replaced by an apparently—genuine nobleman, one Jules Edouard Fontain, Viscount de Cramayel. However, just as Dubois was being withdrawn, Richard Bullock was "carried away by one of those brain fevers so terrible in their effect in this county." Bullock died suddenly, apparently of a stroke, on June 21, 1842.

De Cramayel remained the French charge d’affaires in Texas for the next two years, but once the second Houston administration was out of office Dubois returned to Texas, where he was the French representative when Texas joined the United States.

The career of Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois de Saligny is an interesting one after he left Texas. He continued to climb in the French foreign service, but after the replacement of the ‘Bourgeois Monarchy’ with the Second Republic, he was removed in disgrace for ‘disloyalty’ to the government. Almost immediately on the establishment of the Second Empire under Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, known to history as Napoleon III, he was returned to the foreign service. While Minister Plenipotentiary to Mexico, he was one of the architects of French occupation and what turned out to be the greatest French mistake in the New World, the attempt to establish Maximilian von Hapsburg as Emperor of Mexico.

He was recalled in disgrace in 1863, just about the time the enormity of France’s mistake began to become obvious. He had not, however, suffered financially—there are allegations of ‘financial irregularity’—for upon his return from Mexico he bought a chateau and estate called Le Prieure (The Priour) in the village of St. Martin du Vieux Belleme, in the department of Orne. He spent the rest of his life petitioning various government for back pay, rehabilitation, and a new job in the foreign service.

According to local legend Dubois was, in his later years, a vicious and well-hated man who beat his Mexican wife and drove his only child, Jean Joseph Emmanuel, into the Army at an early age. Young Jean, as befitted the son of a ‘nobleman’, was commissioned in the Army—and apparently used the Army to get as far from Papa as possible. He served most of his career in equatorial Africa and Indo-China, returning to France only after his father’s death in 1883. He was killed in World War I and is buried near his mother in the village where his father’s chateau stands. He never married and left no known descendants.

Don’t look for the grave of ‘Jean Pierre Elisidore Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, Comte de Saint Empire’, known locally as ‘the old count’ there, though—it’s not to be found. According to local legend, the cemetery was moved from the square in the center of town to a location on the edge. The only grave not moved was that of France’s onetime charge d’affaires in Texas. Instead, they left the body where it was buried and simply ‘lost’ his tombstone. Today that square is used for village festivals, and ‘dancing on the old count’s grave’ has become a regular part of the festival rituals.