The Lady and La Salle

La Salle (1643-1687) ~ Raoul Josset

Larger than life, envied in success and plagued by failure, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle may have landed on Texas shores by mistake, but he certainly left his mark. 

Born in France a century after Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked west of Galveston Island, and two centuries before the first shiploads of German immigrants made their way inland from Indianola, La Salle followed his brother to New France (now Canada) in order to enter the fur trade.

Once in New France, he discovered a preference for travel over trapping. Launching a first expedition to the Ohio River in 1669, he spent several years combining business with the pleasures of exploration. In 1682, he traveled the length of the Mississippi River, laying claim to the entirety of the immense drainage basin for France, and naming the territory Louisiana, after King Louis XIV.

Only a year later, La Salle sought and obtained support for a significant new venture. His intent was to sail to the mouth of the Mississippi via the Gulf of Mexico: there to establish a French colony capable of making inroads into Mexico, harassing Spanish shipping, and blocking English-American expansion toward the west.

Unfortunately, La Salle’s fleet of four ships, together with 280 colonists and crew, faced problems from the start. The Saint-François was lost to Spanish raiders on approach to Saint-Domingue. L’Aimable ran aground while attempting to navigate a narrow channel, then broke apart and lost most of the colony’s supplies. Untrustworthy maps resulted in a landfall almost 400 miles west of the explorers’ intended destination; instead of the Mississippi, they found Matagorda Bay.

Circumstances began to breed serious discontent, leading the third ship, Le Joly, to return to France. Then, late in the winter of 1686, the remaining ship, Belle, was driven aground by a squall and foundered on a sandbar off Matagorda Island. Only later would the Spanish expedition of Rivas and Iriarte find the wreck of Belle in Matagorda Bay as they searched for evidence of French intrusion:**

Exploring around Matagorda Bay, which they named San Bernardo, they found the wreckage of La Salle’s bark Belle on Matagorda Peninsula and, in the entrance channel, the rudder post of his storeship L’Aimable, which had run aground while trying to enter the bay.
They nevertheless concluded, because of the shallowness of the bay, that any attempt to establish a settlement here could only have met disaster and therefore no longer posed a threat.
A circa 1689 Spanish map depicting the shipwrecked Belle (“Navío quebrado” or “broken ship”) in San Bernardo (Matagorda) Bay.  Click to enlarge the map, provided courtesy of the Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin

On March 19, 1687, while attempting yet another overland expedition to find the Mississippi and resume his original mission, La Salle and seven others were killed by Pierre Duhaut and an accomplice during an uprising among his own men The few colonists still remaining at Matagorda Bay fared no better. All but a few children were massacred by Karankawa Indians in December, 1688.

Success is no prerequisite for a statue, of course, particularly since dramatic struggle or failure often capture our imaginations more readily than easy success. Still, rising up against the horizon, halfway between Indian Point and Indianola, La Salle seems to gaze across the bay toward the site of his sunken Belle with an air of bemusement: as though wondering how he came to be so honored.

LaSalle Watching Over WWII Troops

This much is certain. The decision to memorialize La Salle’s journeys through Texas by engaging the services of French-born sculptor Raoul Josset was inspired.

Prior to moving to the United States in 1933, Josset received training at the Paris School of Fine Arts and the Lycee of Lyons and Paris. He studied under Antoine Bourdelle, and received the Rome Prize in 1923. His first Texas commission, a striking tribute to the state’s hundred-year history titled Spirit of the Centennial, was placed in Dallas’s Fair Park in 1936. It quickly led to more commissions, including the statue of La Salle.

Many of Josset’s works are dedicated to individuals whose struggles helped to shape the State of Texas: the bronze and granite tribute to Captain Amon King, hero of the Battle of Refugio; an eight-foot bronze of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence; a bronze angel guarding the crypt at Monument Hill, where remains of Texans killed in the Mier-Sommerville expedition are interred. Perhaps best-known is his memorial to the men under Fannin’s command who died at Goliad.

The Fannin Memorial

On the other hand, while Josset’s 1939 statue of La Salle may be the state’s most impressive, it wasn’t the first. Navasota dedicated their monument to the French explorer in 1930, and an even earlier statue was unveiled on Labor Day, 1928, at an Indianola development known as Bayside Beach.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Bayside Beach was a scam. After a group of investors “discovered the beautiful beach at Indianola, they subdivided the barren site and made a house-to-house canvass of the larger cities of the state, selling their findings, and receiving from $15 to as high as $1,500 for a single lot.”

Unfortunately, few if any of the lots fronted the beach. Some lay on the mainland. Some were submerged in Powderhorn Lake. Still others were hidden beneath the bay, along with the old Calhoun County courthouse, Fort Esperanza, and La Salle’s unfortunate Belle.

Nevertheless, when Maury Maverick and state representative Pat Jefferson asked Nora Sweetland to create a La Salle statue for the new development, she agreed. A Depression-era budget forced her to use concrete laden with shell, a mixture that made constructing a sword impossible.  But Representative Jefferson provided an old family sword and, in the end, it was a fine statue.

Nora Sweetland & Friends Pose With La Salle

Unfortunately, her statue lasted only a few years.  After a 1930s storm left it in pieces, the statue was decapitated under mysterious circumstances. La Salle’s head disappeared, along with the sword. Today, only the base and boots remain: a puzzle for visitors to the nearby cemetery where the statue finally came to rest.

It’s hard to imagine Nora shedding many tears over her cut-off-at-the-knees statue. She was a woman ahead of her time, and she had things to do.

Her engagement with life started early. Writing for the Waco, Texas History Project, Terri Jo Ryan says:

When she was 15, Nora [neé Currie] went to Waco with other suffragettes to march around the courthouse and hand out literature.
“There in the window of a general store on the square was a big sign that said, ‘Decent women do not want to vote,” Currie said. “I picked up a rock the size of a golf ball from the walk and threw it across the street and smashed that window. Then the other girls did the same thing.”
A sympathetic judge told the store owner that if he pressed charges, the suffragettes should sue him for libel for implying that they weren’t decent. He didn’t file charges.

Whether Homer Marlar knew of Nora’s feistiness is hard to say, but they married in 1917, when both were twenty-three. They had three children –Evelyn, Nolan, and Macie — and then divorced.

Before long, Nora remarried: this time into a notable Texas family. Her new husband, Henry W. Gammel, was the son of H.P.N. Gammel, a famous Austin bookseller and compiler of Gammel’s Laws of Texas.

After emigrating from Denmark, H.P.N. Gammel arrived first in Chicago, then in Galveston. After walking from Galveston to Austin, Gammel “built a shelf between two chinaberry trees, at Eighth Street and Congress Avenue, where he bought books for five cents and sold them for ten cents, reading and learning from them in the meantime.”

Eventually, that boyhood passion led to the establishment of one of the first book stores west of the Mississippi: a store known for specializing in literature, law, and Texana.

Click for a full-page view, and a sense of Hans Gammel’s humor

Walking from Galveston to Austin was quite an accomplishment, but it was another early experience which cemented Gammel’s place in Texas history. In the words of Dorothy Gammel Bohlender:

He was still a newcomer to Texas when, in 1881, the old Capitol in Austin burned. From the debris scattered on the Capitol grounds, young Gammel gathered wet papers and charred documents, loaded them in a wagon, and took them to his home. He and his wife gradually dried the pages on clotheslines and stored them with their belongings.
Years later he sorted and edited the crinkled papers, then published them, beginning in 1898, as the famous first ten volumes of Gammel’s Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 [now available online].
The work won immediate acclaim, and with the addition of other volumes in later years, the set came to be a basic item in law libraries across the state.

Nora’s new husband had followed his father into the book business. Henry moved to El Paso in 1907, to manage the Gammel store there. By 1909, he was serving as a Deputy Sheriff. On January 18, 1909, the El Paso Herald noted Deputy Gammel’s return from Big Springs, where he had gone to claim one Mrs. Frank Johnson and return her to her husband. According to the report:

Mrs. Johnson is the woman who ran away from her husband last Thursday, according to the husband’s charge, in the company of L. K. Powell…
Friday, a message was received from Big Springs announcing that the couple had been caught and were being held. Johnson refused to provide the money to bring Powell back to this city, but he paid for Mrs. Johnson’s transportation, and deputy Gammel went after her Friday night.

Perhaps Henry tired of such dramatic rescues. Whatever the reason, he returned to Austin, then moved on to Ft. Worth, where he managed another store. At some point in his travels, he met Nora. They married, had two children together, and then divorced. The divorce was less than amiable, and their story far from over.

On October 21, 1931, Nora married for a third and final time. It’s possible she met sculptor Leroy William Sweetland while studying and working at the Houston Art Stone Company, where she contributed to such projects as Houston’s Rialto Theater. Their marriage seems to have been companionable enough, and the fact that they remained married while Nora tied up some loose ends from her former life certainly speaks well of Leroy.

A brief story in the January 22, 1932 Abilene Reporter-News highlighted Nora’s attempt to deal with one issue:

FORT WORTH. Jan 21 — Mrs. Nora Currie Sweetland, 33, poet and sculptress, formerly of Oklahoma City, went to a book store here today with a hatchet, hacked out windows, and explained to police that she “wanted to let them know how serious I was about getting my children back.”
The place is owned by her divorced husband, Henry W. Gammel, who now has their two daughters, and who has this week obtained an injunction against the woman.

By January 29, the Mexia Weekly Herald reported that the stakes had been raised in the court battle:

FT. WORTH (UP) — Mrs. Nora Currie Sweetland, 33, poet and sculptress, who was acquitted of a lunacy charge only to be charged with malicious mischief, Thursday was taken to Groesbeck to face an additional complaint of swindling.
Henry W. Gammel, former husband, filed the lunacy charge against the woman after all windows in his bookstore had been smashed, and a number of books destroyed with a hatchet. Because all witnesses testified the woman was of sound mind, prosecuting attorneys moved for an instructed verdict of Not Guilty.
Gammel then signed a malicious mischief complaint, and Mrs. Sweetland was remanded to the country jail. There, a Limestone County Deputy Sheriff served her with a warrant charging swindling. She is alleged to have given a worthless check to R.M. Gralle, a Groesbeck hotel operator. She denied the charge.

Clearly, Nora had her supporters. By February 23, the Sarasota Herald Tribune was running another AP story out of Fort Worth with the title, “Woman Sculptor Arrested, Uses Cell as Studio.”

Stone walls do not a prison make. Sometimes, they make a studio.
Nora Currie Sweetland, arrested on charges of smashing windows at her former husband’s book store in a dispute over custody of her two children, didn’t let that interrupt her sculpturing.
Fitting up her cell as best she could, she chiseled out two figures while awaiting an insanity hearing growing out of her actions. Freed on this count, she returned to put the finishing touch on the models.
At first, she had only a butcher knife and spoon, furnished by a friendly turnkey, with which to shape the clay. Then, when she started working in plaster, the jailer found her a hammer and chisel. A wash rag from the jail bathroom, wrapped around the hammer head, served to muffle the sound of her blows and prevent disturbing other prisoners.
One of the figures she has shaped while in jail is that of her younger child as a baby; the other is her “Madonna of the Trenches,” symbolizing the Red Cross. Mrs. Sweetland has executed several pieces of statuary for public places in the Southwest.

Once freed from jail, Sweetland’s personal life stabilized and her reputation as the “Madonna sculptor” increased, Her Madonna of the Cotton Fields already graced the Robert B. Green Memorial Hospital in San Antonio, and her original Madonna of the Trenches, a tribute to the Red Cross, had been presented to the Fort Sam Houston base hospital in 1929.

Nora Sweetland with the clay model of her “Pioneer Madonna”

Over time, age and illness brought changes to Sweetland’s life. Though confined to a hospital bed for most of 1964 and 1965,  she resolved to keep working. In August, 1965, she re-created her 1933 Madonna of the Trenches, and another piece, Pioneer Madonna, was unveiled at the Comfort, Texas Historical Museum in 1966.

She also began to write. A small book titled Scraps of My Life included poetry, selections from her column for an unknown newspaper (“Nora’s Views on the News”), and reviews of her sculpture.

Another book published in 1966, And So Flows the Brazos, contains a collection of reflective stories: the memories of a woman looking back over a life filled with the challenges and griefs common to us all.

When I found and ordered a copy of the book for myself, it brought with it a number of unexpected gifts: the faint scent of age; a crumbling, edge-worn jacket; yellowing paper soft as powder. On the title page, in an old-fashioned but still strong hand, the words First Edition had been written and underlined. Inside the front cover, a dedication had been added.

Could Leonard Schwartz have been a descendent of Johann Schwartz, the first man to settle and build at Indianola? I’d like to think so. It’s satisfying to imagine an enduring connection between Sweetland and Indianola: the site of one of her most well-known and least-permanent works.

Whatever the truth about her connection to Indianola, what can’t be denied is Sweetland’s connection to her river. And So Flows the Brazos is a love song meant for her Brazos de Dios:

…my green river, my blue river, my crystal clear river with its sand bars gleaming…my roaring, rampaging river with its uprooted trees…and its white foam lashing angrily at the river’s banks.

Sitting on the bank of her river, gazing out over the decades of her life with an air of bemused serenity La Salle might have envied, she makes no complaint, expresses no regret, issues not a word of blame or accusation.  She only commends her life, and the lives of those she loves, into the hands of God, saying:

Now I will arise and go about my work, for there are so many things that I want to do, and so little time left in which to do them.

**For an excellent account of the loss of the Belle, her rediscovery, recovery and restoration, please click here.
Comments are welcome, always.

109 thoughts on “The Lady and La Salle

  1. Well, thank you for this history, stretching over three hundred years, and especially thank you for introducing us to Nora Sweetland. It’s fun to look at the mild face in that photo and connect it with the lady who pitched a rock for women’s suffrage and wielded a hatchet for custody of her children.

    1. Charles, the best part of finding and purchasing her book was discovering that photo, used as the frontispiece. I’ve not found it — or any other photo, other than the one of her standing next to the La Salle statue — anywhere online.

      The physical book solved another mystery for me. I couldn’t figure out why the book so often was listed with Nora “Gamel” Sweetland as the author. Once I had the book in hand, I discovered “Gammel” had been misspelled in the introduction: as “Gamel.” Apparently the error was picked up, and now it’s all over the internet. On the front cover of the book, her name is shown simply as Nora Sweetland.

      I can hear my grandmother clucking and saying, “Goodness. She was a caution, wasn’t she?”

      1. Can I possibly get you to email me a copy of the photo you found in her book? I would love to print it for my grandma. Nora and Leroy are my great grandparents.

        1. Of course I could email a copy of the photo, but I think I can do better than that. If the email address you entered is the one where you’d like me contact you, I’ll email tonight with some further details. Coincidentally, I just was in Comfort earlier this month, but the museum was closed. I do have more information I was sent by the Comfort Historical Society.

  2. That would have excited me to have that slip of paper drop out of the book w/her note on it! Makes me want to see what she sculpted in the jail cell. One last comment..what was it with those ladies and hatchets back in the day? I read some stories about another suffragist Carry Nation, who loved to carry a hatchet and smash things up. Here’s a link w/ a picture Hope it works :-) DM

    1. DM, now that you’ve reminded me of Carrie Nation, and I’ve looked at the photo and article you linked, I can’t help wondering if Nora was influenced by her. When Nora did her rock-tossing in Waco, at age 15, it would have been 1909 — right at the height of Carrie Nation’s fame. And while I assumed the used a hatchet on her husband’s store windows because it was available and effective, there may have been a little symbolism there, too.

      I’ve been trying to find out if her Pioneer Madonna still is at the museum in Comfort. It’s not open on a regular basis, but a town librarian said she’d have someone with knowledge of the museum give me a call. If nothing else, I’ll stop in the next time I’m in the Hill Country, and check it out myself. If it’s there, I’ll get a photo for you.

      1. Yes, the Pioneer Madonna is in the Comfort Museum; You need to speak to Roy Perkins, who lives behind the museum and owns the building.

        1. As a matter of fact, Jo Lynn, I have spoken to him by phone. The nice ladies at the Historical Society put me in touch with him, and the next time I get up to Comfort, I’ll be stopping by to visit. I’ve been delayed more than I like because of eye surgeries, but all is well now, and I’m ready to pursue this a little further.

          Thanks so much for the information. I have a few things I’m taking up to Roy, too. There’s nothing more fun than talking history!


  3. A fascinating look at history and sculpture and personalities. Nora Sweetland’s story reminds me that yesterday I was reconnected, courtesy of another blogger, to Helen Reddy and her seminal hit I am Woman. . Sadly, whether, statue, man or woman, we are rarely invincible.

    1. My own feelings about Reddy’s song always have been mixed. The year it hit the charts, I already was on my was to Liberia, and I didn’t hear it until perhaps 1977. By that time, my own life experiences had been such that I heard it as hopelessly romantic. I know that wasn’t the experience others had, but it was mine. I’d had enough rock-and-hard-place experiences in the space of a few years that I wasn’t especially eager to listen to someone singing about being invincible.

      You have reminded me of another song that came along in the 80s that caused just as much ruckus as Reddy’s, although in a different way: Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me. Those two songs do a fair job of summing up a lot of late night discussions in the 70s and early 80s. What a time that was.

        1. In the photo of the original brown dog statue I couldn’t read the text on it, but at

          I tracked it down:

          “In memory of the brown terrier dog done to death in the laboratories of University College in February 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?”

            1. I’ve long noticed what I call constellations of beliefs. In other words, if it turns out that a certain person believes in (or supports, or favors) A and B, you can often predict that the person will believe in C as well, even if C isn’t directly related to A and B. Suffragettes and the working class strike me as two stars in one of those constellations.

            2. Indeed. And reading a little more on La Salle I would guess there were some interesting constellations of belief around his explorations and adventures. Or maybe not….perhaps it was all about power and money.

        2. Another bit of history I wasn’t aware of. This line about the first statue did make me smile: “Peter Mason wrote in 1997 that all that was left of the old statue was a hump in the pavement, the sign on a nearby fence reading “No Dogs.” Nora’s La Salle was destroyed by time, and the first brown dog statue by the times.

  4. A fascinating and astonishing history piece! As so often, I admire and appreciate your research and dedication to the history of that region!

    1. One of the things I’ve been enjoying is discovering Texas women I’ve known nothing about. I’d never heard of Nora Sweetland until I started doing a little research about La Salle and Indianola, and she turned up in a Google search! Now, I wonder who else is out there, waiting to be discovered?

      I’m glad you found it interesting, Terry.

        1. That doesn’t surprise me. I thought about you when I read about Gammel’s improvised book store at 8th and Congress. Buy for a nickel, sell for a dime, and turn the whole enterprise into an acceptable excuse for reading.

    1. The name Creve Coeur is familiar, although I needed to be reminded of it. It was interesting to see that some of the problems which plagued La Salle during the later expeditions also were present in the first.

      And it tickled me to see him issuing land grants in his early days in New France. It seems he wasn’t speculating in the same way as did the developers at Bayside Beach, but it makes the choice of his statue for a land development a bit amusing.

  5. Another great historical post. I can not imagine how much work you put into these posts. You have got to be one speedy and organized woman. I enjoyed this very much. I remember La Salle from Texas history. There is a street in my town named La Salle Avenue that goes over the Brazos river. And I don’t live far from Groesbeck. Nora surely led and an interesting life and she stood for what she believed. I can not understand how prejudiced men were about equality for women. The propaganda that was used against women to keep then from voting is just one thing that come to mind. It seems we are still being short-changed in equal pay and that too needs to be remedied. This is another really fine post, Linda.

    1. Yvonne, I’m not speedy at all, and I’m not particularly organized. But once I find a path I want to go down, I like to take my time, and see what there is to see. I travel the same way.

      Of course, it helps that I enjoy research the way some people enjoy video games or trips to the mall. There’s a lot of life I pay no attention to, just so I can have time for reading and writing.

      You’re living right in the heart of Nora Sweetland country. She did spend the last years of her life in Corpus — in fact, she’s buried there — and she and her husband lived in San Antonio for a while. During World War II, she taught school in Channelview. But it was the Brazos that she loved.

      Her art and her writing started early, too. She spent a year in Louisville, Kentucky with an aunt, and entered a drawing and painting contest for children. She wrote a little poem about the dandelion’s optimistic view of life, and painted the flower beside it. According to her entry in Fiske’s “History of Texas Artists and Scuptors,” she was sure she never would have won the painting contest, had it not been for the poem.

      If you ever come across “And So Flows the Brazos,” I know you’d enjoy reading it. It’s such a nice remembrance of country life in the early 1900s, up to WWII.

      1. Good information on La Salle! Nora had quite a life! I like connections also. And she is buried in Corpus Christi – found her grave on Find A Grave. I like her Pioneer Madonna too Glad you found where it is still located. Thanks for all the research – again! Cheers!

        1. She was quite a woman. Some of her descendants are around, of course: a few are in the Comfort area. Some day, I’ll visit the museum where the Madonna is. I wish it were open on a more regular basis; that would make things easier, but at least someone’s caring for her work.

          So many people I’ve written about are somehow connected to Corpus. One day, I need to get down that way, too. Another person whose work I’d enjoy seeing is Antonio Garcia, who painted the mural in the church at the Presidio in Goliad.

  6. I followed your link to the recent winners of the Rome Prize and couldn’t help noticing that Sarah Levin-Richardson was listed for “Beyond Sex: Society and Identity in Pompeii’s Purpose-built Brothel.” That title surprised me because it seems to imply the existence of brothels that weren’t built for any purpose. Silly me never to have thought about that possibility till now, and just think of the disappointment the potential customers of a non-purpose-built brothel would probably experience.

    1. I found Ms. Levin-Richardson’s CV, and it turns out she was a post-doctoral fellow in humanities at Rice from 2010-2012.

      That title and the phrase “purpose-built brothel” didn’t make any sense to me, either. But, as proof that you truly can find anything on YouTube, here’s a short tour of a purpose-built brothel in Pompeii.

      A slideshow by Thomas McGinn titled “Pompeii Brothels and Social History” makes some sense of it. According to him, purpose-built brothels were “spaces intended, designed and built to serve as brothels.” They were different than the so-called cribs, which were “small, crude buildings or rooms clustered along alleys or roadway, used by prostitutes who didn’t work in brothels.” (Interesting that in certain sub-cultures in our own society, homes are called cribs.) And, of course there were the baths and other locations, where prostitution occurred but wasn’t a major component of the business.

      So now we know!

      1. The text explaining the “short tour” uses lupanar for the brothel. The Romans had created that word from lupa, literally a she-wolf, but also a colloquial term for a prostitute.

        As for the English crib, Wentworth and Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang includes a definition dating from 1950: ‘A brothel, especially a cheap one; specif., a very small room, large enough to contain only a bed, in a brothel.’ I remember the crib as ‘home’ sense from around 1970.

        1. Not directly related but interesting is that Henry first filed a lunacy charge against Nora. I’d never thought about the etymology, but clearly, like hysteria, “lunacy” implied a few things, and could be used as a nice, all-purpose word for “she who cannot be controlled.”

          Speaking of constellations of belief, the existence of lunacy charges seems to fit with a willingness to send deputy sheriffs to bring home strayed wives. I wonder if Kokomo Arnold’s 1934 song grew out of such an experience?

          1. Your observation about lunacy reminded me that in dictatorships (the Soviet Union being a prime example) the people in charge sometimes (or often) accuse opponents of being crazy and put them into insane asylums.

            1. It wasn’t so terribly long ago that Russia was rife with rumors that Lyudmila Putin had been shuttled off in just that way. Whether she was or wasn’t, no one seemed to question that such a thing was plausible.

        2. Apparently, lunacy was an equal-opportunity charge back in the day. I turned up an Insanity Cases Index from the Dallas County Archives, and spent a good hour looking at examples of men, women, blacks, whites, Texans and others who were trundled off to the asylum after being declared a lunatic or insane.

          One entry caught my attention, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it:

          Added March 11, 2004:
          INSANE A
          SECOND TIME.

          George McMurchie Suffers a Relapse of
          His Mental Malady.

          George McMurchie, the well-known and popular St. Louis drummer, who became insane in this city several weeks ago, and who, on the advice of physicians, was taken to the Terrell asylum, rapidly recovered under the treatment he received in that institution, and was, a few days ago, dismissed as entirely sound in mind. But last night, he appeared in Dallas, a raving maniac, and is now confined in the county jail.

          Mr. McMurchie lost his mind studying Henry George’s single tax theory.

          – December 8, 1894, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 2, col. 2.

  7. What a great and amazing writing. Almost you made me to journey into the historical stories… Thank you dear Linda, have a nice day and weekend, love, nia

    1. That’s one of the things I like best about reading, Nia. It can pull us into new worlds — and there are a lot of worlds to explore. Happy weekend to you, and thank you again for the kind words.


  8. Ha! Wasn’t Nora quite a woman? And unusual? I would never have known of her if you hadn’t offered this piece. For someone who didn’t mind stirring thing up, she looks so angelic in that last photo.

    ‘Decent women do not want to vote,” :)

    1. Just think, Bella. If I hadn’t decided to go down to the coast the day after Christmas, and then decided to stop by Indianola on the way home, and then thought, “Maybe that La Salle statue should be its own post…” none of us would have known of Nora.

      Despite all the ups and downs of her life, she seems to have been fairly well accepted in “society,” and even thrived there. She dedicated “And So Flows the Brazos” to her physician, but also to Sam and Bess Woolford. Mr. Woolford was Sunday Editor and City Editor of the “San Antonio Light”, and his wife also was a writer and reporter. They were involved with the Witte Museum there, and Mrs. Woolford wrote a museum history.

      I think Nora was a lovely woman, with an unusually clear sense of self. She probably started saying “No!” long before the terrible twos.

  9. What a wonderful slice of history, again, Linda! And I just loved Nora Sweetland. She reminded me of my paternal grandmother Bella, a feisty lady who amongst many accomplishments became the first woman in her small Scottish Island town to be elected to the local town council.

    At one point (don’t quite know when) she fought the local powers-that-be over a favourite tree of hers which was scheduled to come down to make room for a new wall. She won – and the wall had to be built round the tree…

    1. Now here’s a coincidence, Anne. The “Bella” who commented just before you had some of her own experiences with “tree conflict.” It was a different kind of situation, but it still tickles me that I know two Bellas now, and both were willing to go to bat for their tree(s).

      Sometimes people hear the word “feisty” and assume it means “spoiling for a fight.” I like thinking of the feisty ones as being unafraid to deal with life as it is: willing to fight when necessary. And yes — I do think it’s a quality that can be acquired.

      Some of the women I most admire had the quality. Georgia O’Keeffe comes to mind, and Flannery O’Connor. They always were getting people to build around their trees.

  10. Texas does have some characters. There were a lot of land scams in the early days. “Bellaire” was originally “Belle Aire” in early ads to lure people with the fancy name and promise of “clean sweet air” in what many knew was a swamp.

    You are the best at weaving story thread into an elegant wrap. The pictures are wonderful.

    And many women here shook heads at the woman’s movement. Women here had to be pretty strong willed and independent in order to survive. (Always surprised so few of them are talked about nationally when – but nothing worthy comes from TX?) So the call for early women’s rights found strong support – and the later anthems were viewed amusingly many times by women here as romanticism from hot houses flowers – as you say.)

    Thanks for a lovely read to start the day

    1. Well, as you know, those land-scammers are alive and well. Start looking for “waterfront” property down here, or a lovely ranchette in the Hill County, and you’ll learn soon enough how creative marketers can be.

      As it happens, I’m going to be seeing a friend who lives in Bellaire tomorrow. I’m going to ask her if she knows the history of the name. I didn’t know, and I suspect she doesn’t, either.

      You’re right that there have been strong women galore in the state: some quite ordinary, some public figures, some immensely important but hidden away in an assortment of laboratories and studios. One of the strongest and most capable I know doesn’t drive a car, and never has. But she can make a meringue that doesn’t weep, she does her own stonework, and she can take out a rattler with a shovel or a shotgun. I want to be her when I grow up.

      Glad you enjoyed the tale. Sometimes I feel like Nora. There are so many things I want to do, and so little time in which to do them.

  11. A fascinating story! Who hasn’t wanted to smash in a window at some point in their lives? I wonder how a woman of her temperament would have fared in our world….the specter of lunacy might have led her into pharmaceuticals and the creative energy lost. That girl had true grit!

    Also, Linda, I find her father-in-law’s story almost as compelling. I love the immigrant saga in its various iterations and the image of a boy building a shelf between two trees to sell books is priceless.

    1. As an attention-getting measure, window smashing is right up there.I have a suspicion she was after a court date. It gave her a chance to press her custody claim, and I don’t doubt she already knew she would have character witness who would testify to her sound mind.

      One thing I didn’t realize was how often “lunacy” or “insanity” were charged. People were being shipped off to the asylum on a pretty regular basis, and for reasons that seem sketchy at best. A quick scroll through this Dallas county register is insructive.

      Like you, I was quite taken with the elder Gammel’s story. Between the fire at the capitol and the Archives War, it seems as though a significant portion of early Texas could be described as the history of people hauling their records around in wagons. On the other hand, they preserved their history for us. I’m reading more and more about the “digital dark age” that may result when all of the selfies, tweets, Facebook postings and such are no longer readable — not to mention all the digital archives that are being created. It’s interesting to ponder.

      1. Reminds me of the etymology of the word “hysterical.” Women who didn’t conform must have been crazy, right? I agree about the ponder-ability of the digital dark age. Scary, isn’t it?

  12. What an interesting piece of history, Linda! I can only imagine how hard life must have been in those early years. Of course, we’re not much kinder and gentler today, are we? I suspect the powers-that-be would put poor Nora through a sham of a trial, declare her guilty, and lock her up, either in an institution or a prison. Her three marriages would only have added to her “crimes”!

    You’ve included some beautiful links here, too. I especially love the Spirit of the Centennial. Wonder why I never saw that when I was in Dallas??

    Nor did I know all that information about La Salle — thanks for educating me, once again, in such an entertaining way!

    1. Debbie, every time I read the newspaper article about her incarceration, I laugh at her jailers providing the tools she needed to keep on sculpting. I suspect she was being granted special privileges, particularly since she clearly had connections to at least some state legislators.

      Today? She might be medicated into submission, like bored-to-tears eighth graders teachers don’t know how to handle, or patients in understaffed nursing homes or care facilities. (I’ve personal experience of that. I thought my mother had suffered a stroke when she went into a “skilled” nursing facility, until a nurse tipped me off. LIke all patients, she’d been dosed iwth Haldol on admission. Thank goodness we’d drawn up medical power of attorney documents that gave me the right to refuse medications on her behalf. Lesson learned.)

      The Spirit of the Centennial is beautiful, isn’t it? I confess I didn’t know about Fair Park until I wrote this. I was especially interested in this: “Site of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, Fair Park boasts the world’s largest collection of Art Deco exhibit buildings, art and sculpture.” I don’t usually associate Dallas and Art Deco. Some day, I may have to visit.

  13. Another lesson in history. My favorite part: Nora throwing rocks at the window that proclaimed “Decent women do not want to vote.” And I also appreciated the judges response. Nora sounds like a woman I would have enjoyed knowing. –Curt

    1. I suspect you’ve done your own share of rock-throwing, Curt: both metaphorically and otherwise. (Why am I thinking about bears in camp…?) I would have enjoyed knowing Nora, too. On the other hand, it does occur to me that we both know ontemporary Noras. They just have different names.

        1. Wait. What? You’re holding out on us! I was going to leave a note on your blog, but decided to come back here — just in case you’re planning a great unveiling. I take it you have the copies of your book in hand now? Wonderful news!

          1. Yes I do Linda. :) As soon as I can dig out I will announce on my blog. I had a wonderful book signing in Sacramento on Saturday co-hosted by a number of my friends that drew 75 people. I am on my way to Florida on Friday and am teaching a writing class at Southern Oregon University on Thursday. Also I am finishing my author’s site. Maybe, just maybe, I can get my act together enough for the announcement, next week. –Curt

  14. Great history Linda! Fascinating story bout Nora Sweetland. I had an aunt Norma Sweetland, but hadn’t heard of Nora or her last husband. Clearly a woman who opened a new door when one closed. I liked her spunk and determination.

    She may have chopped off the head of her 1928 sculpture (the year I was born) to save the head. I’ve done that myself on occasion if it was a good one! I have done a number of Navajo Madonnas with babies. I’ll get you a picture—looks very much like her small one. Gave me goose flesh to see the similarities. I haven’t smashed any windows but it’s still early in the day.

    1. You don’t know how hard it was for me to sit on this, Kayti, and not tell you I’d found another Sweetland who was a sculptor. I swear — every time I tried to do an internet search about this or that, and used Sweetland and sculpture in any combination, your blog was all over the place!

      The similarities were pretty amazing. Sweetland, sculpture and womanhood are obvious, but I also thought about many of the mother-and-children pieces you’re shared on your blog. Nora had to deal with some physical issues, too. In 1964, she was diagnosed with collapsed vertebrae, and had to wear a steel brace. Although she did at least one or two more sculptures, that may help to explain her turn to writing.

      It never occurred to me that she might have made off with La Salle’s head. I’ve been envisioning it in a yard somewhere, surrounded by fishing nets and old channel markers. Maybe it’s got petunias planted around it, and some white gravel to make things pretty.

      Keep that hatchet handy. You never know when it might be useful…

      1. I found the picture of Pueblo Mother and Child on a flash drive, but I don’t seem to be able to transfer it into an e-mail attachment. I’ll keep trying. It is very much like the one Nora is holding.

        In looking up Leroy William Sweetland I find that he is descended from Isaiah. There is an Isaiah in my Dad’s line. Crazy stuff.

        The last head I saved was from Mrs. Lauderback who took a tumble in the last earthquake. The succeeding version was not as good. Our cousin had a head from one of Benny Bufano’s sculptures in his library. I think people used it as an extra seat it was quite large.

        1. Wouldn’t it be something, if I’ve ended up writing about one of your relatives? Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

          Now that you mention Benny Bufano, I remember him from your blog. I browsed a few images of his work, and really liked this one. It reminds me of your sculpture of the mother enfolding her children — in the post about the enforced removal.

        2. I just noticed something funny. Compare Nora to her madonna and child statue in the photo. Is it just me, or is there a resemblance? Now, look at the photo of her in front of her La Salle statue. Look at her hair. Now, look at La Salle’s hair. Am I imagining a resemblance there, too?

  15. Just the name La Salle brings back memories but of course, they may not be the same La Salle as your post here. I used to live on a street named La Salle Crescent right here in Calgary. As for your post, Linda, again, I’m amazed at how much research work you go in… and I can see how deep your interests are in your local history. This post reads like a chapter in a book… on the drawing board?

    1. I took a look at your old neighborhood, Arti, thinking that perhaps a developer had chosen a clutch of historical or nautically-related names for the streets, but it doesn’t seem to be so. In any event, it’s a fun coincidence. They seem to be getting more frequent these days.

      Books? I’ve heard of those… If by “on the drawing board” you mean playng with titles at work, or trying to figure out what the first might be, well… yes. And I’ve done some exploring of the Scrivener program. One of these days, one I have a big project in mind, I’ll give their free trial a go and see what it’s like. Right now, it’s going to be enough to clean up my bookmarks and blog, keep the blog going and make a hard copy of everything. By that time, I should have some real-world issues cleared up, and be ready to evaluate “what next.”

    1. I’m so glad you came by to read this, Otto. As I read your post, “You Can Do,” I was thinking about Nora the entire time. Her life and dedication to her vision is a perfect example of what you were writing about. I just couldn’t find any way to capture it all in a comment on your blog.

      It is telling that her last, quite happy marriage was to a fellow sculptor. They collaborated on other projects throughout the years, and no doubt told each other in countless ways, “You can do it.”

    1. This is fascinating stuff, Martha. While her involvement with the suffrage movement is important and interesting, I was even more interested in her importance to the Women’s Club Movement in Kansas. Her work in that area laid the foundation for other Women’s Clubs, including The Kansas Women’s Day Club, established in 1906.

      I learned about them because of my visit to Pawnee Rock during my last Kansas trip. They were dedicated to preserving historical sites around the state, and financed their work in various ways, including the publication of a book called “Echoes of Pawnee Rock.” I’ve got a copy of that book — 1908, onion-skin cover, uncut pages — and a rough draft of a post in the files. I think I need to bump it up.

      There’s something else that caught my interest. There’s a memorial to your great-aunt in Oak Grove cemetery in KC. The cemetery’s just north of Quindaro Boulevard. When I was a kid, we had family in that area, and I remember Quindaro Blvd. It was from there that we “escaped” during the flood of 1951.

      Here’s a bit from an article dedicated to the history of Oak Grove:

      “At various times civic bodies also raised monuments over the graves of the illustrious dead. The Women’s Relief Corps placed a monument over the grave of Mother Sturges, a famous Civil War army nurse. The Club Women of Kansas marked the grave of Mary Tenney Gray, founder of the Women’s Club movement. And The Daughters of Founders and Patriots unveiled a monument over the grave of Governor William Walker Jr.”

      Truly amazing.

      1. Thank you for posting all of this! A couple years ago I contacted the Federation of Women’s Clubs and they sent me photos of her grave and monument. Sadly, that location she loved so much and the view is very run down now. Others wanted her memorial to be in a certain govt bldg in KS (I forget now), but this was where she wanted to be. Sad how the land changed.

        History of Wyandotte County, Kansas: and its people, Volume 1
        has a lot to offer on her, too. And lots of lovely things about her personal life and accomplishments found in The Tenney Family history. I have a nice picture of her.

        A while ago I did a Google street view of the cemetery. Like many cemeteries, like much of the world, things ain’t what they used to be.

        Thanks again for sharing this. I love my aunt Mary.

  16. What an interesting story! The story about trying to get her children back was so sad (even though she obviously attempted to get them back in an inappropriate way).

    1. Well, her way of calling attention to her plight could be termed inappropriate. On the other hand, sometimes the grand gesture is called for. What we don’t know is why they still were with their father, what the kids wanted, why the divorce took place, and so on.

      What is certain is that she had seven children (three with Homer Marlar, two with Gammel, and — presumably — two with Leroy Sweetland). As of 1966, she had twenty-five grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren. I think she would have made a swell grandma!

  17. There is a marina not far from ours called “LaSalle Bay.” I’ll have to do some detective work and find the thinking behind this name, especially given LaSalle’s ending in the Americas!

    Also, that Nora was a fiesty woman! I’m not sure she met her match in Gammel, but he sounded like quite the character himself. As I read of him, I was reminded of a Danish drink called Gammel Dansk, or “The Old Dane.” It is a bitter that, I’ve been told, Danes begin to imbibe at breakfast upon retirement. I can imagine Gammel having a shot or two!

    1. I’d bet real money on the marina name being connected to the explorer. My goodness — there certainly are a lot of towns, marinas, parks, etc. that carry the name La Salle up in your area of the world.

      That’s funny, about the Gammel Dansk. I’ve formed some conclusions about Henry Gammel, and I can see him having a shot or two, myself. To find some of the information I included here, I subscribed to a newspaper archive service for a month, and I’m going to spend some additional time browsing. I suspect there’s much more information to be gleaned about both he and Nora: most of it interesting.

  18. Great story about Nora Sweetland! I had never heard of her. She sounds like a heck of a woman. Can you imagine someone sculpting in their prison cell in this day and time. They aren’t even allowed butter knives! But, a butcher knife! She could have taken out half the guards!

    I always enjoy reading your Texas history posts.

    1. I don’t know this, Susan, but I suspect that some of the qualities of small town life came into play when Nora was in the clink. (I just learned that slang term for a jail came from an infamous English prison. You can read about that here.)

      No doubt everyone in six counties knew Nora, knew her husband, knew the story, and so on. It makes a difference. People often assume the lack of privacy in small towns is wholly negative, but I’ve found that’s not necessarily so. And I’m sure everyone realized that Nora’s hatchet job had a specific purpose.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I certainly enjoyed writing it.

  19. I must say this was a fascinating historical perspective spanning centuries and encompassing the naming of a state based on King Louis of France and down to Nora Sweetland and her life.

    Great post.


    1. Thanks so much, Shakti. It’s hard to distill so much history into such a (relatively) short post, but, on the other hand, the context is necessary for appreciating the primary story. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words.


  20. Fascinating as always. You have a gift for weaving stories together.

    How wonderful to have an inscribed copy of the book. Might it have belonged to the sculptor Leonard Schwartz?

    1. Interesting, Bill. I didn’t know about the sculptor named Leonard Schwartz. This is a bit of biography that I found online:

      “Leonard Schwartz was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923. He studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, France (1947-1949), with Ossip Zadkine also in Paris (1946-1947) and with Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Schwartz received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1949. He spent a decade in Europe, mostly England and moved back to Detroit then Los Angeles where he died in 1988.

      He was represented by the Maxwell Galleries in San Francisco in the 1970’s, the JCC Gallery in Detroit, MI in the 1980’s and the Francine Seders Gallery from 1975 to 1988.”

      I can’t find any evidence that Nora traveled outside Texas except for visits to relatives in Kentucky, and she clearly stayed in-state after 1964. So I doubt that the two of them crossed paths. I’ll still bet on the Leonard in the inscription being one of the “Indianola Schwartzes,” people in the Victoria and San Antonio area who traced their lineage back to immigrants to that disappeared town. There are people who’ve done fantastic genealogical work in the area, and one day I’ll explore the connections in greater depth.

      1. You’re likely right. But I do like the idea that she might have inscribed it to a fellow sculptor. :) It seems that Mr. Schwartz’ work was exhibited in Dallas in 1971 and in Houston in 1981. Perhaps they met then if they had not connected professionally prior to that. Just a curious (and fun) thought. Of course, Leonard Schwartz is not an uncommon name.

        As an aside, if you have not seen the movie Sweet Land, I highly recommend it. I am confident you will enjoy it, for many reasons. :)

  21. Here we are, on this side of the pond, firmly of the opinion that history is what happened in Old Europe and nowhere else. Well, maybe pre-history and early history did, but the history of white men, ,kings and soldiers is exclusively ours. As for brave and spirited women? Somehow they go with pioneering and making a home in new lands.

    This post was very interesting.

    1. You know, Friko, there are plenty of us “over here” who have felt the same way — that history is Europe’s. That Old World/New World talk only reinforced the feeling. What I’ve been busy discovering is the truth that, whatever our history lacks in length, it certainly makes up for in complexity and interest.

      And of course, old and new worlds never have been separate. The relationship has changed over time, but there’s truly no understanding a place like Texas with out understanding the countries from which Texans came: some directly, like the Germans, Czechs and Silesians, and others indirectly, like the English, Irish and French who first arrived in other states.

      That’s one of the delights of these posts, for me. I’m learning as much European history as Texas history as I work my way along. Who could have guessed?

  22. How wonderful to hear of Nora, what an amazing woman! To achieve so much so long ago is a feat in itself. I loved hearing about her sculpting in gaol! What an interesting post, I did enjoy

    1. Now, be careful, snowbird! You say Nora achieved so much, “so long ago,” but her books were published when I was in college, and she still was sculpting then, too. On the other hand, that was nearly fifty years ago, and the changes that have come in that half-century are breath-taking. I have friends who obviously don’t believe me when I tell them I grew up with a telephone with no dial: only an operator who’d say, “Number, please.” It’s no wonder we feel off-balance now and then.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I didn’t realize that today was International Women’s Day, but Nora certainly is one who proves that spunky women are no modern invention!

  23. I love that: “She was a caution!” I wonder what the difference was between a lunacy charge and one for malicious mischief in terms of consequences to the accused.

    1. One of the little gems I turned up is this Insanity Case Index from the Dallas County Archives. From what I can tell, lunacy/insanity charges could cover a lot of territory, and people so accused seem to have spent anywhere from a couple of days to years in “the asylum.” Today, people plead insanity as a defense, but I honestly don’t remember ever reading of someone being accused of insanity — except in civil commitment proceedings, which seem to be much more complex.

      I don’t know, but would expect that those convicted of malicious mischief would be penalized more concretely: with a fine, perhaps, or some actual jail time — provided they truly were mischievous in a malicious way!

  24. Well, of course, this brought to mind your earlier statues post, and I couldn’t help but think how fine it would be to commemorate Sweetland with a statue, perhaps hacking away at those windows. You know, I know the New Yorker likes to pride itself on not being for the little old lady from Dubuque (an insufferable comment in SO many ways), but the folks there are really are missing out if they don’t syndicate your features from the heartland, and soon.

    1. Well, Annie Proulx did get a short story about the trials of pioneer life on the American plains into the New Yorker. I tore it out and still have it. It was accompanied by a cropped section of this photo of the Crisman Sisters, taken by Solomon Butcher. The woman on the left, with the horse, was included with Proulx’s piece.

      It did cross my mind to wonder what an afternoon’s worth of conversation with Nora and Angelina Eberly would be like. Entertaining and enlightening, for sure.

      Nora did get some recognition in Corpus Christi as recently as 2007, at an event commemorating the establishment of the League of Women Voters and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. As one whose own father took her to the voting booth as a child, I thought this paragraph from an article in the “Corpus Christi Caller-Times” was especially interesting:

      “Nora Sweetland came by her convictions early. “When I was only 12 or 13, I went with my daddy when he went to vote,” she said in a 1976 interview at her Flour Bluff home. When she asked why no women were there, he replied, “They can’t vote, honey. It’s against the law.” “That’s when I vowed to work for women’s vote,” she said.”

      And so she did.

  25. I am fascinated by the way you create such interesting connections between characters and their histories, Linda. Nora seems also to have been a very good choice as we observed International Women’s Day.

    I wonder how many, if any, judges today would have been so sympathetic as to suggest not pursuing the rock throwing charges.

    1. Nora showing up for International Women’s Day was purely coincidental, Steve. I didn’t know it was Women’s Day until I checked the news feeds yesterday morning. I tend to be a little oblivious at times. But, it was a nice coincidence.

      We have a couple of judges in the Houston area who are capable of demonstrating good sense, especially in sentencing and especially when it comes to kids. I must admit — I did wonder if Nora’s father (and the fathers of some others) might have known the judge. That might have encouraged the judge toward leniency. Since Nora’s dad took her with him to vote for at least a few years prior to the rock-throwing incident, he might have been more than usually supportive of her actions.

  26. Your book is a treasure. And you know I could go on and on about how you start a post at point A, move all over the place in a logical but unique way and end up with a perfect circle! But I’ve said that all before.

    So all I can really add here is that Meryl Streep needs to know Nora’s story. Can’t you see her? SOMEONE needs to film that one.

    1. I have a feeling Nora’s story isn’t quite finished, Jeanie. I kept poking around, even after I had this written,and have found the Pioneer Madonna.

      I’ll be heading over to the Hill Country to talk to the fellow who has it, and see what else I can learn about connections Nora might have had in the area. One thing I’ve learned is how useful newspaper archives can be. A month of is only $7.95 a month, and you can bet I’m going to make use of my current month’s subscription.

      Her story would make a wonderful film, wouldn’t it? Maybe even a short documentary. I wonder if anything’s been done? It’s something else to find out.

  27. Whenever I embark on one of your posts, I trust you will (1) take me and us to points unknown (2) introduce us to some interesting characters and (3) always uplift expressing truths about folks, circumstances and life experience. This is another gem of a story from the cement mixture dictated by the times, to the glass window broken by a woman resisting the times, to ultimately a woman at peace with her times living along the banks of the Brazos.

    What a river. Many Texans can lay claim to knowing her. Flowing from the Gulf of Mexico to deep north central TX, anyone traveling through on land has to cross her and then they come to realize several times. “Didn’t we just cross the Brazos?” Whether it’s driving to the country, to my daughter’s or to my mother’s, the Brazos is ubiquitous.

    It is a wonderful stroke of lady luck (this week before Saint Patrick’s) that you ordered that book and that book contained a card in the author’s hand. I would have loved to have seen you at the moment you made that discovery. Thank you for tying all this together in such a well written story. I simply love connections, and yours make not just wonderful reading but do the characters justice so their stories and legacies are remembered and endure.

    1. Actually, Georgette, I knew there was an inscription in the book before I received it. That’s one reason I bought the copy I did. It was listed by a seller in Austin and was a little pricier because of the flyleaf inscription, but that was just fine by me. The inscription is on one of the book’s pages. It looks like a card because I scanned and cropped it — the next time I do that, I’ll remember to be more specific in the caption.

      The biggest news is that I spoke this morning to the man who has the Pioneer Madonna pictured above in his possession. There are a couple of historical museums in Comfort, and he owns one of them. I can’t quite remember all the details from our conversation, but I believe it was his grandmother who began the museum, and it’s been passed down through the family.

      I’m going to be heading over there in April to meet him, take some photos, and share information. He’s not on the internet, so I’m going to take hard copies of the information I have — some of which was news to him, like Nora’s visit to the museum in 1966. And, he has documents and information I don’t have. For example, one of the projects Nora worked on in the 1930s was the restoration of the Rose Window at Mission San José in San Antonio. I have a feeling there’s much, much more to be learned. And I’m sure there are some family connections to be explored in Comfort, too.

      What you say about the importance of making connections, and the pleasure of making them, is so true. For someone who devotes their time to keeping a museum, it must be wonderful to have someone pop up, interested in the history you’ve been keeping. I’m really looking forward to that trip to Comfort — funny that my very first blog post was based on an experience in that town.

      By the way — I thought about you when I read about Josset, and found he had sculpted Childress for Washington on the Brazos. I’m sure you must have seen the statue when you were there with your grandson.

      1. I would literally walk to these museums to see my great grandmothers sculptures if you know where any remain. :) (okay okay, I’ll most likely drive.) :)

        1. One of the Madonnas is in Comfort, Texas, at a private museum. I can’t lay my hands on the information right now, but after I finish my evening’s chores, I’ll find the names and phone numbers, and get them to you. I’ve been planning to go over there to meet the fellow who has them, and take some photos. His family has owned the museum where her sculpture is for generations.

          I’ll be in touch a bit later.

        2. I just sent an email with details, including a phone number. If you don’t get it for any reason (e.g., an out-of-date email addy) let me know and we’ll connect another way.

  28. What a delight it was to meet Nora Sweetland, and to draw strength and fortitude from her amazing life. De la Salle was fascinating too as so much French influence still exists along the American and Canadian common border. I have descendants on my father’s side directly from Quebec. Visiting there always felt like home and gave me a chance to speak some rusty French again. Even here in Australia (and Tasmania in particular), early French exploration has left many place names still evident today. The French explored everywhere, but were not as successful in establishing colonies as the British were. It certainly is an interesting old world.

    1. Mary, I was surprised to learn there was French settlement in Australia, too. I simply never had given it a thought. One of the names I came across in a quick scan of early history was that of Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville. Of course that name sounded familiar, and lo! it turns out that the wonderful flower I so admire — the bougainvillea — was given its name by the botanist on the Comte de Bougainville’s circumnavigation: Philibert Commerçon.

      While we have our tributes to La Salle’s life, one of the most interesting discussions that still takes place here and there concerns the place of his death. There are some truly idiosyncratic theories about that — but those are another story, for another time!

  29. In that Six Flags over Texas thing, I did wonder where the French flag came in. It either takes great courage or great chutzpah to try founding a settlement like that. When you get right down to it, crossing the Atlantic in ships like they had in those days took courage,or a great deal of conviction, too.

    1. WOL, have you ever seen the replicas of Columbus’s ships? Two of them were in Corpus many years ago, and I was amazed at their size. Of course, people were smaller then, but still: those were cramped quarters.

      It is amazing to think about how much coming and going was taking place across the oceans, especially by the mid-1800s, when immigration really picked up.

      I still remember how confused I was when I first moved to Texas and heard about six flags (or Six Flags, depending). It took a while for me to sort it all out, and I still have to stop and think, now and then.

  30. Nora was my great grandmother. I immensely enjoyed this piece. I was happy to find a book autographed to me, years after her death. I met her a few times and her daughter (my grandmother) is still living. I knew Leroy (my great grandfather) very well. He lived to be old down here with us in Florida. Thank you for this.

    1. What an absolute delight. I found Nora’s life fascinating, to say the least, and I plan to do a follow-up post in the coming year. I found a copy of “And So Flows The Brazos,” and it’s on my bookshelf now. My copy is inscribed to Leonard Schwartz. There’s an exchange up above about the possible identity of Mr. Schwartz. Since then, I’ve been advised that there’s also a Leonard Schwartz who’s a San Antonio attorney, whose father was named Leonard. It doesn’t really matter, but I always become curious.

      I’m so glad you found the post, and that you enjoyed it. It’s one of the great charms of doing this sort of writing. You never know when the Great Google will bring someone to you who has a connection to the piece.

      Thanks for commenting, and following. You’re always welcome here.


  31. Thank you so much for this post, there is so much here that I didn’t know. My grandma is Nora’s youngest daughter, she has mentioned to me a couple of times that her mom was also a civil rights activist and wrote a weekly column in the “local black paper”. I’ve been trying to find her articles. Can you help me with resources? Thanks so much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.