Photographer Louis de Planque by
many creative types, Louis de Planque had his eccentricities.|
his artistry on the glass plate photographic negative; he indulged his penchant
for the mildly outlandish in his dress.
Born in Prussia on April 18,
1842, de Planque and his wife Eugenia came to Vera Cruz, Mexico during the Civil
War. The couple did not tarry there long before moving moved to Matamoras, then
the largest city anywhere on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Don Louis, as he
came to be known, opened a photographic studio in Matamoras and soon enjoyed such
a flourishing business that he set up another shop on the American side of the
river at 14th and Elizabeth Streets in Brownsville.
from a couple of surviving self-portraits, de Planque was a dapper sort who parted
his hair down the middle and wore a full beard. In a photo believed to have been
taken in his Mexican studio, he wears a dark suit, a gray derby and jauntily leans
his six-foot, 200-pound figure on a fancy cane.
In another self-photo,
probably taken on the Texas side of the river, he sits in a chair reading a copy
of the Weekly Ranchero, Brownsville's pro-Confederate newspaper.
exhibit in the Stillman House Museum says, de Planque captured the photographic
image of the "famous and infamous."
Among his more famous customers was
John S. "Rip" Ford, former Texas Ranger who as a Confederate general fought and
won the last battle of the Civil War near Palmetto Ranch along the lower Rio Grande.
Not one to turn away business, the cigar-smoking de Planque later also photographed
One customer realized a measure of eternity in sitting
before de Planque's camera. Photographed in Brownsville in 1863, Confederate Maj.
Matt Nolan died the following year - murdered in Corpus Christi on Christmas Eve
Though de Planque seems to have done most of his work in his studios,
he sometimes took his equipment outdoors.
hen a powerful hurricane struck Brownsville
on Oct. 6-7, 1867, both of de Planque's studios sustained severe damage. Despite
that, de Planque managed to take some shots of the damage in Brownsville and Matamoras
as well as the wild and wooly port city of Bagdad, which the storm had destroyed.|
surviving images, now in the collection of the Brownsville Historical Society,
are among the earliest known disaster photos in the U.S.
| Rather than rebuild
after the hurricane, de Planque relocated farther up the coastline to Indianola,
another bustling port. Like Bagdad had earlier, the town suffered a direct hit
from a powerful hurricane in 1875. Don Luis and his wife barely made it out of
town to save their lives. He rebuilt his studio, but after a second hurricane
in 1886, he decided to make Corpus
Christi his permanent base. He also had satellite studios at various times
in Refugio, Goliad,
and San Diego.|
Jerry Thompson and Lawrence T. Jones III, in their 2004 book from the Texas State
Historical Association, "Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier:
A Narrative and Photographic History," have a well-written and -researched chapter
on de Planque and include many of his photographs.)|
a 1939 story by Bill Barnard in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times put it, "No celebrity
or near-celebrity ever visited…without being tracked down…and dragged off to his
photo art studio. He was the only photographer in town and took thousands of pictures."
|De Planque displayed
some of his images in his shop window, making his place a popular stopping place
Don Luis doubtless already had a reputation when he arrived
in Corpus Christi,
but how folks saw him is better documented. "Louis de Planque liked a good time
and he loved celebrations," Barnard wrote.
Christi used to go all out in observing the anniversary of Columbus' trip
to the New World, partying not only on October 13 each year, but also on July
4. Folks came to Corpus
Christi from as far away as New Orleans to join the festivities, which featured
sailboat races, horse races, baseball games and free fish chowder for all comers.
Celebrants liked to dress up for the Columbus observances, and Don Louis set the
tone. "He would arm himself with his knives, pistols and gun," one old-timer who
remembered the colorful shutterbug told Barnard. "He would decorate his hat with
a feather, sling an Indian blanket over his shoulder and carry a braided lariat
in his hand. His tie flowed down his chest and his leather leggings reached above
Don Luis stayed in Corpus
Christi until his death there of a stroke on May 1, 1898 at the age of 56.
He lies in an unmarked grave in Bayview
Cemetery. But much his work lives on, glass-plate windows to history.