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Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean…, 1857

This map appeared in the 2018 exhibit “Connecting Texas: 300 Years of Trails, Rails and Roads” at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. Click here to purchase a copy of the exhibit guide, featuring over 40 maps from the exhibit.

This map is the culmination of over fifty years of exploration and the compilation of over 45 varied sources. It was the most comprehensive and accurate representation of the western United States at the time of its printing.

The famed Lewis and Clark expedition sought a route from the east coast to the Pacific Ocean in the early nineteenth century, but following in the explorers’ footsteps remained difficult as convenient methods for transcontinental travel by land were essentially nonexistent. An increase in settlement precipitated by the controversial ideal of Manifest Destiny, combined with the California gold rush of the late 1840s, created the need for reliable mapping of the West by the US government to identify future intracontinental routes. Once those routes were identified, railroads could begin connecting the various regions of the continent with each other, stimulating settlement, trade, and economic growth. This map played an integral role in opening the expanse of the new western US territory, including Texas, to those vital connections.

G.K. Warren, W.H. Emory, and A.A. Humphreys, Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean ordered by the Hon. Jeff’n Davis, Secretary of War to Accompany the Reports of the Explorations for a Railroad Route, 1857, Map #94276, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Click here to purchase a reproduction of this map.

Jefferson Davis, at the time the U.S. Secretary of War, commissioned five initial exploratory surveys for a route to the Pacific Ocean, two of which passed through the newly-minted state of Texas. A sixth survey was conducted specifically for the mapping of California and Oregon. The Pacific Railroad Surveys provided an immense amount of detail about the western portion of the continent, but it required a visual representation of their findings.[1] Responsibility for this monumental cartographic task was given to 24-year-old Gouverneur K. Warren, a Lieutenant of the Corps of Topographical Engineers.[2]

The list of authorities published with the map included Lewis and Clark, Captain R.B. Marcy, and G.K. Warren himself.

Warren graduated second in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1850 and had already built an impressive mapmaking résumé. Under the direction of Secretary Davis, he compiled information from over 44 different expeditions, including the Pacific Railroad Surveys, and many trusted authorities. Among them was Jacob de Cordova’s 1849 landmark Map of the State of Texas, which was created from the records of the Texas General Land Office and provided major assistance. The first edition of this map was published in 1855. It was updated when reports from further expeditions west of the Mississippi were vetted and approved. Warren’s map underwent several modifications between its initial printing and its last in 1868.

Warren acknowledged the difficulty in keeping such a large map current. The 1857 edition contains a notation in the lower middle portion detailing late inclusions and future updates. He created his Memoir to Accompany the Map of the Territory of the United States to more fully address the revision process. In it, he discussed the “delicate task” of having to choose between expedition reports with various levels of credibility, and deciding that those which were trustworthy enough to use were “the work of those explorers who were best provided with instruments, and who possessed the largest share of that experience which is so necessary in attaining accuracy.” He also provided details on the expedition reports he used to assist future cartographers.[3]

Mountains, hills, and creeks are shown in present-day Brewster County. Along the Rio Grande, a notation indicates that the river was surveyed by the Mexican Boundary Commission.

The topography of the United States, crucial information for the planning of rail lines, is mapped in great detail. Texas’ mountain ranges, waterways, and other features like the Llano Estacado and the Cross Timbers are drawn and labeled. Along the Rio Grande, it is noted that the river was surveyed by the Mexican Boundary Commission.[4] In addition to topographical features, the map’s depiction of Texas includes various roads, earlier exploratory routes, towns, and cities. Most of the detail focuses on the central and western portions of the state, as the eastern portion was already well established and accurately mapped.

Numerous trails lead into and out of San Antonio, while Houston remains isolated. The arrival of the railroads in Texas greatly changed this and provided Houston with a stronger connection to the rest of the state.

In West Texas, there is a “Comanche Trail” stretching from the Big Bend area north past Sulphur Springs. There are no routes shown emanating from Houston or Galveston, but there are extensive indications of roads in South Texas connecting various springs and water locations. Along the Texas Gulf Coast is a notation of a second settlement called Austin, in addition to the capital city by the same name. Located on the east side of Matagorda Bay, “Port Austin” never attained the population to establish itself as a city of any real significance, but it had existed on paper since the Texas Revolution. It was intermittently populated by American Indians and a few Anglo settlers but was eventually abandoned before the end of the nineteenth century.[5] By the 1858 edition of the map, the coastal town of Austin was no longer included.

The map provides evidence of extensive military expeditions across Texas, with considerable reconnaissance in 1849. At the time, many local and national speculators were offering easy routes to California through West Texas, despite the lack of an established road or path between San Antonio and El Paso. Military expeditions were sent to either prove the usefulness of these routes or to find better ones.[6]

One military route of particular interest is that of Lt. Nathaniel Michler. Lt. Michler was assigned to Corpus Christi on July 1, 1848, and established a camp on the Mission River near Refugio. As a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he trained his men in surveying and tactics to employ against potentially hostile groups of American Indians, upon whose land the expanding frontier was encroaching.

Lt. Michler’s expedition covers much of Texas, stretching from Corpus Christi in the east to the emigrant crossing on the Pecos River in the west. His report on the excursion “was considered a model of geographic exploration on its issue in 1849.”[7] He then embarked on a round-trip journey starting and ending in San Antonio, passing through Austin, Navarro, Dallas, and Preston along the way. Other explorations completed in the same year are routes by Col. Johnston, Lt. W.F. Smith, and Lt. Bryan. There are many additional expeditions listed in the lower right portion of the map, among them Captain Pope in 1851, Lt. Whipple in 1853, and Lt. Garrard, Col. Johnston and Captain Marcy in 1854.[8]

Various military camps and forts are shown in central Texas, as well as the names of numerous American Indian tribes.

Across the state, the numerous forts and military camps established during these wide-ranging expeditions are noted. As the frontier of Texas moved west in the mid-nineteenth century, a line of forts stretching from the Red River to South Texas provided some defense for settlers in these new areas. American Indian tribal land is also labeled extensively.

Warren’s map represents a pivotal moment in the cartographic history of both the state of Texas and the United States. Its level of detail, from the western landscape to growing cities and towns, was developed through the work of dozens of dedicated explorers, who continued to provide vital information on the American west over a decade. Utilizing the information from this map, Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862, which authorized the Union Pacific Railroad Company in the east and the Central Pacific Railroad in the west to begin work on an intracontinental rail line. The lines met and completed the railroad in 1869, just one year after the last edition of Warren’s map was issued.[9]

Depending on the source, the Austin of Matagorda Bay is the first in the state. This is an early edition of the map.
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[1] “Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean; Originally prepared to accompany the Reports of the Explorations For A Pacific Railroad Route . . . And partly recompiled and redrawn under the direction of the Engineer Bureau in 1865–66–67 . . .” Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean; Originally prepared to accompany the Reports of the Explorations For A Pacific Railroad Route . . . And partly recompiled and redrawn under the direction of the Engineer Bureau in 1865–66–67 . . . — Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/32347mb/Map_of_the_Territory_of_the_United_States_from_the_Mississippi_to_the/Warren-Freyhold.html.

[2] Civil War Trust, “Biography: Gouverneur K. Warren,” accessed August 14, 2017, https://www.civilwar.org/learn/biographies/gouverneur-k-warren

[3] Warren, G. K. (Gouverneur Kemble), 1830–1882. “Memoir to accompany the map of the territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean: giving a brief account of each of the exploring …” HathiTrust. Accessed February 23, 2018. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.l0063383152?urlappend=%3Bseq.

[4] For more on the Mexico-United States Boundary Commission, see: Handbook of Texas Online, Harry P. Hewitt, “Mexican-United States Boundary Commission,” accessed September 18, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ncm04.

[5] Handbook of Texas Online, Rachel Jenkins, “Austin, TX (Matagorda County),” accessed September 07, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hra94.

[6] Lamar, Howard R. Texas Crossings: The Lone Star State And The American Far West 1836–1986, Univ Of Texas Press, 2014, 6.

[7] Handbook of Texas Online, Frank Wagner, “Michler, Nathaniel,” accessed February 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmi88.

[8] Warren, G. K. (Gouverneur Kemble), 1830–1882., “Memoir to accompany the map of the territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean: giving a brief account of each of the exploring …,” HathiTrust, 60, accessed February 23, 2018, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.l0063383152.

[9] “The Last Spike: History at a Glance.” National Parks Service. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/gosp/learn/historyculture/the-last-spike-history-at-a-glance.htm.

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