Eltea Armstrong, a Legendary GLO Draftsperson
Underwritten by the Texas Historical Foundation
Women’s History Month is celebrated annually in March to recognize and commemorate the achievements and contributions of women to history, culture, science, and all aspects of our society. At the General Land Office, we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the remarkable career and lasting contributions to Texas history of one of our most accomplished female employees: Eltea Armstrong. Ms. Armstrong’s work over her thirty-seven years of service at the GLO remains a vital part of our map collection, and several of her maps will soon be featured at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The most prolific draftsman of the twentieth century at the Texas General Land Office was, in fact, a draftswoman. Her name was Eltea Bulea Armstrong (née Eppright), and she was born in Dale, Texas on October 23, 1907.
Eltea moved to Austin in 1915 with her family, and was first introduced to drawing maps while taking a drafting class in high school. She was motivated to succeed after being taunted by a male classmate who boldly proclaimed that no girls were able to complete their drafting work as well as him. Apparently taking this as a personal challenge, Eltea excelled in her class to such a degree that her teacher recommended her for a position at Miller Blueprint Company in downtown Austin, where she worked before joining state employment.
Eltea’s state service began when she was hired as a draftsperson for the State Reclamation Department in 1935. By 1939 the Reclamation Department was absorbed by the General Land Office, and Eltea was soon assigned the task of compiling and drawing new county maps, which make up the backbone of the GLO map collection.
Creating county maps required an immense level of focus, because the foundation of each map involved reviewing the original field notes for every survey within a county, as well as every related sketch and connecting line and any relevant court judgments relating to original survey boundaries. Afterwards, the draftsperson would meticulously draw, ink, and letter every discrete survey to scale in order to create the complete, functional map.
Astonishingly, during her time it was estimated that a single GLO county map took 900 working hours to complete. Fittingly, when asked about her job, Eltea was quoted as saying:
“Drafting requires more patience than talent. Many very artistic people do not have the patience to do the detail work necessary for drafting. The scroll parchment is very hard to work on and certainly doesn’t lend itself to correcting mistakes. The inking of the map lettering also requires a great amount of patience…”
One only has to review Eltea’s portfolio to see that she was being humble about her talent, as her work is among the finest at the GLO. She is credited with creating 70 GLO county maps over her 37 years of service until her retirement in 1972. All 70 of her county maps are still in use as the official, working GLO county map, and any survey edits are made on her original manuscripts that are housed in the GLO map vault.
In addition to her skill as a traditional draftsperson, Eltea was a passionate student of history. For many of the county maps she was assigned, she immersed herself in the history of that county. Then, using that knowledge, she incorporated intricate drawings into the margins or title block. Her goal was to provide elements of both a visual, artistic design as well as historical information. She was especially interested in conflict involving Native Americans with Anglo settlers — many of her maps featured artistic renderings of battles along with brief descriptions of the scenes she created.
Eltea’s work also showcased her extreme attention to detail with lettering. All of Eltea’s maps feature impeccable lettering within each individual survey on the map. She took great pains to exercise uniformity of font size and alignment of lettering, contributing to the distinctive balance and “cleanness” of all of her maps. She was also a skilled calligrapher, as title blocks and names of surrounding counties also were meticulously crafted. Her abilities on this front are on par with any draftsman who plied their trade at the GLO during any era.
Finally, Eltea was also keenly aware of the historical significance of contemporary events during her tenure, and she would acknowledge these moments artistically as well. For example, on her map of Houston County, Eltea included the seal of West Point (The United States Military Academy, West Point, New York) to commemorate the date the map was drawn — June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day during World War II — and the participation of Land Commissioner Bascom Giles’s son in the invasion. In 1965, she included the Presidential Seal of the United States on her map of Blanco County to honor Lyndon Baines Johnson, Blanco County’s most famous resident.
After retiring from state service in 1972, Eltea continued to indulge her artistic talents by drawing scrolls and lettering certificates for friends and acquaintances, a hobby she exercised during her tenure at the GLO. Over her lifetime she ended up making scrolls for many dignitaries, such as President Camacho of Mexico, Governor Price Daniel of Texas, former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Sadler and even monarchs of foreign states like the Shah of Iran and the King and Queen of Greece.
Eltea Armstrong died in Austin on September 2, 1996 at the age of eighty-eight, and is buried in her native Caldwell County. Her legacy as one of the General Land Office’s most capable and talented draftsmen lives on in the GLO map archive forever, and serves as proof that she was as capable as, if not superior to, any of her male counterparts.
Reproductions of all of Eltea Armstrong’s beautifully handcrafted maps are available for purchase at the GLO Map Store: http://www.glo.texas.gov/cf/ArcMaps/ArcMapsLookup.cfm
 The 46th Texas Legislature consolidated the State Reclamation Department with the General Land Office since there was so much overlap between the two agencies. The merger created the GLO Engineering Department which later became the Surveying Department. Bascom Giles, Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, 1938–1940, pp. 10–11. Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin.
 Bascom Giles, Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, 1942–1944, pp. 21–22, General Land Office Reports, Commissioner Reports #63, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
 Your ERS Connection, newsletter, Vol. 3 №1 (Fall 1996). Vertical Files: VF-GLO-Staff-Draftsmen-Armstrong, Eltea. Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
 Below the neatline of the map, Eltea inscribed: “Lt. J. B. Giles, Jr — June 6, 1944” which was a clear tribute to Commissioner Bascom Giles’ son, a West Point graduate.
 Additional Sources: Ancestry.com; Findagrave.com
 One example of Eltea’s phenomenal work is her 1958 map of Randall County (GLO Map # 73269), the home of Palo Duro Canyon, which Eltea expertly represented using hachures. This drafting technique indicates topography using small lines to give the illusion of elevation. This in itself is rare as most GLO county maps do not reflect topography, but Eltea felt this stunning canyon, created by the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, should be represented. In addition, Eltea drew a dramatic rendition of the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, the last major Indian battle in Texas, which took place on September 28, 1874 as part of the Red River War. This artistic vignette of the battle adorns the top left of the map. In the top right, Eltea chose to feature a “hoodoo,” the thin tall spire of rock that is the hallmark of Palo Duro Canyon along with a brief informative paragraph that describes the battle.
 In the final map she drafted for the GLO, Eltea featured art that represented the amazing stories of Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard on her 1972 map of Hamilton County. Ann Whitney was a frontier schoolteacher who bravely held off a Comanche attack in 1867. She perished but not until after helping all of her school children escape. Amanda Howard was a young woman who happened to be breaking in a horse when the Comanche attack began on the schoolhouse and she bravely rode through Indian lines and over a hill to warn others of the raid. Eltea represented these events by drawing the schoolhouse, surrounded by Indians, and Amanda Howard on her horse riding up a steep hill. Accompanying this drawing is a brief description of these events in the upper margins of the map.