Map of the Republic of Texas shewing [sic] its division into Counties and Latest Improvements to 1837

This post was underwritten by a generous contribution from the Texas Historical Foundation.

In the nearly four hundred years that it took for Texas to take its current shape the space changed from an extensive, unexplored and sparsely settled frontier under the Spanish Crown to its iconic and easily recognizable outline. Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State traces the cartographic history of Texas from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Over fifty rare maps from the collections of the Texas General Land Office and the personal collection of Frank and Carol Holcomb, of Houston, are on display. Additional maps are on loan from The Bryan Museum in Galveston and the Witte Museum in San Antonio. This exhibit runs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through October 8, 2017.

H. Groves, Map of the Republic of Texas shewing [sic] its division into Counties and Latest Improvements to 1837, 1837, Map #476, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

This map was part of a promotional publication titled, City of Galveston, on Galveston Island, in Texas, and is considered the first printed map showing the counties of the Republic of Texas. At the time of the establishment of the Republic of Texas, the original twenty-three counties consisted of Austin, Bexar, Brazoria, Colorado, Goliad, Gonzales, Harrisburg (now Harris), Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Milam, Mina (now Bastrop), Nacogdoches, Red River, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Patricio, Shelby, Victoria, and Washington.[1]

Originally named in honor of Spanish General and Mexican Independence martyr Francisco Xavier Mina, Mina County became Bastrop County in 1837 to honor the Baron de Bastrop, who was, among other things, an important colonization official under Stephen F. Austin.

This lithograph shows three proposed rail lines, imagining Houston as an early rail hub. Railroads are projected from Washington-on-the-Brazos to Houston and also extend from Houston to Richmond. A northern rail line is proposed from the three forks of the Trinity River, close to where Dallas would eventually be founded, to Jonesboro on the present-day Oklahoma border.

The inclusion of the suggested rail lines in 1837 indicates the prospective growth of this new nation, though it would be more than a decade before the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado, the first Texas railroad, came to the state. Much of West Texas and the Panhandle is omitted from this map, a common technique for mapping Texas in the decades before those areas became more populated.

[left] Houston was imagined as a railroad hub long before any actual tracks were laid. Here, it is shown in Harrisburgh County, which was renamed Harris County in 1839. [right] An additional proposed railroad traveled north through Red River County, near the site of present-day Dallas.

West of Milam County, a notation for “Cumanche” (Comanche) appears, indicating that the territory was occupied by Native Americans. Notations are also made for a Cherokee Village in Nacogdoches County, and the Alabama-Coushatta are identified in several counties in southeast Texas, as well as a manuscript addition of a Caddo Village in Houston County.

[left] Unlike the more populated areas of Texas, West Texas was not divided into counties, and was mostly omitted from early maps of the Republic of Texas. [right] The presence of the “Cumanche” (Comanche) Native Americans is noted west of Milam County.
Other Native Americans appearing on the map include the Cherokee, Caddo, and Alabama-Coushatta.

Throughout the map, rivers and creeks are drawn and labeled, and small parallel vertical lines called hachures indicate topographic features.[2] Natural resources including iron ore (Red River County), a salt spring (Nacogdoches County), salt lakes (San Patricio County), and silver mines (west of Mina County) are labeled as well. Major population centers such as San Antonio, Houston, and Nacogdoches are labeled; however, notably absent is the city of Austin, which was founded two years after the release of this map.

San Antonio is surrounded by roads, rivers, and topographic markings. Fort Alamo is also noted on the map.

Can’t make it to Houston? You can view the majority of the maps in this exhibit in high definition on the GLO’s website where you can also purchase reproductions and support the Save Texas History program.

[1] John H. Long, et al, “Texas: Consolidated Chronology of State and County Boundaries,” 2008, The Newberry Library. For more information on the county boundaries of Texas, click here.

[2] Hachure lines have generally been replaced by contour lines, Erwin Raisz, General Cartography (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1948), 105.