the 1840s, a French idealist by the name of Etienne Cabet wrote a
book called "Voyage en Icaria" about a Utopian society where everybody
was equally happyvery happyand equally wealthy. The book
made Cabet famousvery famousand the de facto leader of
a group of similar idealists who called themselves the Icarians.
When Cabet found out the Peters Emmigration and Land Co. of Texas
was offering many acres of free land to anyone who would help settle
it he sent a man named Charles Sully to check out this new frontier
of opportunity. Sully sallied forth to Texas and promptly brokered
one of the worst land deals in the history of Texas real estate.
William Smalling Peters, owner of the land company, worked a deal
that gave Cabet and his followers access to a tract of land the state
had granted to Peters on the condition that he secure immigrants.
The New Icarians, as they called themselves, fit the bill.
Cabet issued a call for 10,000 French citiziens to migrate to Texas
and be happy and rich. Sixty-nine actually did so. Two newly minted
Icarians died during the seven-week voyage to New Orleans. Others
defected as soon as the ship docked. The survivors took a steamboat
to Shreveport and a wagon to Texas, arriving in Sulphur
Springs in April of 1848.
From there they labored to their new home, where the New Icarians
learned many things. Thery learned that the deal Sully and Cabet made
with William Smalling Peters, owner of the land company, stipulated
that the Icarians could only acquire half of each of section, meaning
the lots were configured in a checkerboard pattern and were not contiguous.
There was supposed to be a river, but the Icarians found only a pair
of creeks and thick swarms of mosquitoes. Most accounts place the
Icarian site at Justin,
in Denton County,
at the confluence of Denton
and Oliver Creeks, neither of which will ever be confused with a river.
The Icarians also learned that they had to have a house built on their
land by July 1, or else the land would cost them $1 an acre and they
wouldn't be able to lay claim to the land that bordered it. Due to
the paltry turnout of Icarians in Texasthey were down to 27
sick and disillusioned soulsthe number of acres at their disposal
dropped from what Cabet advertisied as a million acres to about 10,000.
Each single man received 320 acres, and each family could claim up
to 640 acres.
Cabet, by now discredited as a fraud in his home country, assured
the New Icarians that some 1,500 more immigrants were on their way,
but only 10 suffering souls showed up to a colony where four people
had already died from malaria or cholera and everybody else was sick.
It got worse. The only medical doctor in the group went insane and
departed the colony, never to return.
Some of the survivors, having enjoyed all of Texas they could ever
stand, went back to New Orleans. Cabet greeted them there with 450
fresh Icarians. The two groups swapped notes for a few days, then
about half of all the New Icarians negotiated passage back to France.
The rest followed their bliss to Nauvoo, Illinois and settled there
on some Mormon-owned land.
Cabet, who had become increasingly dictatorial as the setbacks and
dissension mounted, tried to have the constitution rewritten to make
him president for life. His fellow Icarians responded by removing
him from the presidency. Cabet died of a stroke in 1856 in St. Louis,
where he had hoped to start another colony with what remained of his
The last of the Icarians, who settled outside of Corning Iowa in 1852,
disbanded voluntarily in 1898, making it one of the longest lasting
non-religious communal living experiments in U.S. history. But the
Texas colony lasted just one very unhappy year.