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Jean Lafitte

A Treasury of Southern Folklore: Stories, Ballads, Traditions, and Folkways of the People of the South. Contributors: B. A. Botkin – author. Publisher: Crown Publishers. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1949. Page Number: 206.

“Galveston Island already had a history by the time Lafitte arrived. Louis Aury, a Mexican “republican” soon to vacate, was using it as a base for smuggling slaves and pilfering ships. Here with a thousand men of mongrel breed under him, making and unmaking captains, Lafitte lived in his Maison Rouge like a lord in feudal splendor. An old French legend has it that the devil built Maison Rouge in a single night. In contracting with the devil for its erection, Lafitte agreed to give him the life and soul of the first creature he cast his eyes upon in the morning. Lafitte then contrived to have a dog pitched into his tent about daylight; so all the devil got out of the deal was a dog.

They called him “the Lord of Galveston island.” He was at this time about forty years old, and is described as being exceedingly handsome, even noble in appearance. He had magnetism, charm, suavity, every quality necessary for one who would run innocently with the hare and at the same time bay lustily with the hounds. He seldom smiled, but he cultivated in a rare manner the art of being agreeable. He set an orderly table with abundance of plate, linen, and choice wines. Generally he went unarmed, but with a nose that sniffed the lightest wind of adversity he could be depended upon to appear at the right moment provided with a brace of pistols and a “boarding sword.” When aroused, he was a desperate man indeed, and he was both an expert swordsman and an unerring shot.

On his lonely island, a wilderness of wild land behind it, a world of silent waters before it, “the Pirate of the Gulf” played host to a train of strange characters. Here–if report be true–came Peter Ellis Bean, who had mustanged in Texas with the filibuster Nolan, who had for six years somehow existed in a solitary cell of a Spanish prison, his only companion a pet lizard, and who had then secured his liberty in time to fight beside Lafitte at New Orleans. Here came “Old Ben” Milam, “war-born,” who had also fought at New Orleans, who was to help Mexico throw off the Spanish yoke, and who was to meet his death leading the Texans into San Antonio. Doctor Long, who at the head of three hundred men had declared Texas a republic–this was years before Austin settled Texas with Americans– came also, seeking Lafitte’s aid in his enterprise. Lafitte was generous in giving “good wishes”–and at the same time reported him to Spanish authorities. Here, too, came half a thousand French refugees seeking an asylum, and Lafitte sent them up the Trinity River, where they established the short-lived and tragic Champ d’Asile–happily ignorant of their benefactor’s plot to annihilate them. The savage Carankawas came to wonder and barter. Their visit ended in blood.

“Spanish doubloons,” said a frontiersman whom Maison Rouge entertained, “were as plentiful as biscuits.” Jim Campbell, one of Lafitte’s lieutenants, who remained on to become a citizen of the Republic of Texas after his master had sailed away, used to tell how Galveston Bay, preceding any dangerous expedition, “was covered with boats seeking select places to bury treasures.” Once from a rich haul, so the story goes, Lafitte took for his own share–though he usually received a “royal fifth”–only a delicate gold chain and seal that had been removed from the neck of a Spanish bishop on his way to Rome. He gave the chain to Rezin Bowie, brother of the famous James Bowie. The Bowies must have been visitors more than once, for we hear of their buying Negroes from Lafitte at a dollar a pound to smuggle into Louisiana. Another man who was to win a name in Texas, L. D. Lafferty, in his old age recalled clearly how in urging him to enlist as a buccaneer Lafitte “frankly confessed that he had enough silver and gold on the island to freight a ship.”