A Filibustering French Count Comes to a Bad End in Mexico

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201. LA MADELÈNE, [Joseph Henri de Collet, Baron de]. Le Comte Gaston de Raousset-Boulbon sa vie et ses aventures (d’après ses papiers et sa correspondance) par Henry de la Madelene. Alençon: Poulet-Malassis et de Broise, Imprimeurs-Libraires, 1856. [1-5] 6-162 pp. 12mo (18.2 x 12 cm), modern three-quarter speckled calf over blue marbled boards, raised bands, gilt-lettered red spine. Very fine.

     First edition. Cowan, p. 340. Howes M198: “The audacious dream of the conquest of Sonora and the mines of Arizona; extinguished only by two ill-starred expeditions and a final firing squad.” Munk (Alliot), p. 144. Sabin 38700.

     The subject of this biography is Charles René Gaston Gustave de Raousset-Boulbon (1817-1854), the soldier-of-fortune and San Francisco pioneer who organized the celebrated Borderlands filibustering expedition that led to his execution in Guaymas in 1854. He was born to the nobility of France, inherited the title of Count, and quickly squandered his fortune by gambling and partying in Paris. Like many of his time with high hopes, the Frenchman tried his luck in Gold Rush California, including herding cattle to the miners (most unpleasant). Rumors of mineral wealth lured the Count to Sonora.

     Bancroft explains Raousset-Boulbon and his French companions: “Stories of the precious mountains of Sonora, the gold nuggets of the Gila, and the silver bullets of the Apaches so current on the Mexican border, found ready acceptance among this class of fortune hunters, who dreamed only of sudden and easy acquisitions” (North Mexican States, and Texas, II, p. 673). The ill-fated, quixotic dreams of the Count resulted in the 1852 organization of the Compañia Restauradora de la Mina de la Arizona, which was conceded rights of mineral deposits south of the Gila, which had been abandoned due to devastating incursions by Apache tribes.

     Gaston wrote: “I am convinced that my work, the establishment of the French in Sonora, will be only the first step of French towards the occupation of this magnificent country.” It was believed by some Frenchmen that Mexico was for the taking, just as the Texans had done. Following many intricate adventures, including a steamy romance with a blonde Mexican lady named Antonia and the realistic paranoia of Santa-Anna, Raousset was arrested after four of his officers mutinied and reported to authorities that he was secretly plotting against Santa-Anna. He was tried and condemned to death. One writer speculates that the true cause of Raousset-Balbon’s failure was due to the competition of two international competing financial houses, Jecker’s and Barron, Forbes & Company (see Helen Broughall Metcalf’s “The California French Filibusters in Sonora” in California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 1, March, 1939, pp. 2-21):

On August 12, Raousset marched to his death, out to Government Place where he could look out over the blue waters of the bay. Unflinchingly Raousset heard his sentence read. Extending his arms wide, he smiled: “Shoot, my friends, but hit my heart.” [All six shooters missed the first time, but succeeded on the second try.] Madelene, however, adds a touch which may give a significant clue in respect to the matter of French imperialism. He speaks of the first edition of his work concerning Raousset, which was rapidly disposed of, and was followed by a second edition, three years later, 1859, which met with a smaller sale. Suddenly the large portion of the remaining stock disappeared. According to Madeline’s statement, every copy had been bought up by the banker, Jecker, to whom the Mexican Government was deeply indebted, and who in 1861 went to Paris. There, it is claimed, Jecker was endeavoring to move the hesitating Emperor, Napoleon III, to enforce the payment of French claims by military occupation of Mexico, with the additional object of preventing that country from absorption by the United States. Perhaps Madelene spoke truly; perhaps Raousset-Boulbon was not a romantic adventurer, seeking self-advancement, but was rather the tragic forerunner of the equally tragic Maximilian. But certainly on that August morning of 1854, the second volley of the rifle squad ended the interest of the California French in Sonora.

     This man’s adventures into Mexico were hardly benign. His first expedition included 240 French adventurers who arrived at Guaymas and declared Sonora independent. Defeated by Blanco and with an ill leader, the group departed. In 1854 he returned with yet another armed group to Guaymas after failing to persuade Santa-Anna to allow his colonistic dreams. After another unsuccessful battle, he was captured this time and sentenced to die by firing squad. Buried in the local cemetery, the French under Maximillian exhumed him and returned his remains to France. (See Dicc. Porrúa.)

     Why the life of Raousset-Boulbon has not been made into a film is difficult to understand. Often the truth is stranger than fiction.


Sold. Hammer: $150.00; Price Realized: $183.75.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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