The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

Book Reviews

contradictory, Ramsay tries to correct statements or at least warns the reader that
the earlier versions may not be factual. The author mentions the various stories
about Laffite's origins but refuses to authenticate any, and instead concentrates
on the Louisiana years and the sojourn at Galveston Island. Ramsay believes that
Laffite died about 1826-1827 and was buried on the Isla de las Mujeres off the
Yucatan peninsula.
Thus, Ramsay denies the validity of the so-called Laffite Journal housed at the
Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center at Liberty, Texas, detailing
the life of the pirate living out his life as a St. Louis merchant named Laflin from
1845 to 1850. In an interesting appendix Ramsay speculates the writing was
done by the merchant himself when he became obsessed with Lafitte's story and
grew to believe that he was the pirate.
Ramsay's book is pleasant reading for the public, but Laffite scholars will find
fault with some of his statements. He places the Laffite brothers in New Orleans
by the 1780s and assumes that Jean spent much time around what became
Barataria mastering the waterways. Part of the problem is that a number of Laf-
fite/Laffites immigrated to Louisiana and like so many French families had sons
named Pierre and Jean. A recent study by Jean Epperson, a member of the Laf-
fite Society of Galveston, shows that the Bayou Pierre (near Natchitoches) Laf-
fites had no kinship with the pirate brothers. Ramsay infers that only Jean knew
the bayous and approaches from the Gulf to make Barataria a "flourishing sea-
port" (p. 30). He also believes that Jean had amazing organizational ability and
an understanding of modern merchandising-supply and demand, rapid
turnover, retail outlets such as The Temple (pp. 30-32). Jean also had incredi-
ble charisma to keep his rowdy associates in line while at the same time hobnob-
bing with the elite of the Crescent City. The author explains that the French,
Spanish, and American cities liked him because they enjoyed his "duty-free"
goods, an oft-repeated phrase (pp. 31, 37, 41).
The volume is a nice addition to the Laffite popular reading. The publishers
have added some relevant illustrations including a portrait of Yul Brennar as Laf-
fite. The photograph clearly represents Ramsay's interpretation of Laffite.
Houston MARGARET SWETT HENSON
The Old Trail to Santa Fe: Collected Essays. By Marc Simmons. (Albuquerque: Uni-
versity of New Mexico Press, 1996. Pp. xvii+2oo. Illustrations, preface, ac-
knowledgments, bibliographical note. ISBN o-8263-1737-5. $16.95, paper.)
The history of the American west follows many trails: the Oregon Trail, the
Mormon Trail, the Butterfield Trail, the Chisholm Trail-the list becomes
lengthy. Today, the romance of the trail persists: note how the legend of "Route
66" has grown since that highway's recent abandonment as a designated path-
way across the southwest. (Television and a popular song certainly helped.)
The Santa Fe Trail, one of the earliest, if not the earliest of the trails taking
the nation west, was based on commerce. A financially depressed Missourian,
Capt. William Becknell, began the Santa Fe Trail and trade, with some mule

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed January 25, 2015.