The entrance to the Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State at The Witte Museum in San Antonio. Photo credit: Mylynka Kilgore Cardona, Texas General Land Office

Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State — Coahuila y Texas

In the nearly three 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 nineteenth century, from contested imperial claims that spanned the continent to individual rights of ownership all with the understanding that in order for a place to be claimed, it needed to be mapped.

Coahuila y Texas: A Meeting Place

After its 1821 independence from Spain, Mexico sought to reclaim its northern frontier through the establishment of new centers of population.[1] Under the newly-established state of Coahuila y Texas, empresarios (contractors) introduced citizens from the United States, Mexico and Europe into their colonies.[2] The influx of these new families forever changed the cultural landscape of Texas. They adopted existing local customs, including language, religion, foods and ranching, and once their grants had been surveyed and mapped, these colonists set up permanent markers indicating their land ownership.

To view any of the maps below in greater detail, click on the image to access the map’s database entry, then click on the magnifying glass icon to enter “Zoomify” mode.

Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico, Segun lo organizado y definido por las varias actas del Congreso de dicha Republica: y construido por las mejores autoridades, New York: White, Gallaher, and White, 1828, Map #93846, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Based primarily on H.S. Tanner’s 1825 “Map of the United States of Mexico,” this Spanish-language map, Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico, shows the full extent of the state of Coahuila y Texas, from its capital at Saltillo in the southernmost corner to the Louisiana and Arkansas borders. The map was originally housed in the accompanying hardcover case. The national symbol of Mexico, an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake, appears on the top right corner; each cactus pad contains the name of one of the states or territories.

David H. Burr, Texas, New York: J. H. Colton and Co., 1833, Map #93836, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

David H. Burr’s 1833 map depicts new additions to the empresario colonies in Texas, including contract dates and the number of families to be introduced to each location. He delineates Texas as its own entity, despite it being part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. The map shows grants in the Texas Panhandle, a “Grant to the Shawnee Indians” on the Red River, and includes as an inset a navigational chart of Galveston Bay.

J. H. Young, A New Map of Texas with the Contiguous American & Mexican States, Philadelphia: S. Augustus Mitchell, 1835, Map #93853, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

J. H. Young’s A New Map of Texas, modeled after Stephen F. Austin’s 1830 map of the area, shows Texas in relation to its neighboring American and Mexican states. Like many mapmakers of the period, Young incorporated the various empresario grants, including a description of the land grant process, the lands claimed by indigenous groups, and many of the features noted in Austin’s map, like “Immense Level Prairies,” “Droves of Wild Cattle & Horses,” and “Large Groups of Buffalo.”

P. Desobry, Map of Texas shewing the grants in possession of the Colorado & Red River Land Compy, New York: Colorado and Red River Land Company, ca. 1835, Map #93850, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

By the mid-1830s, land speculation in Texas had become a big business. One of the primary agents was John Charles Beales, an English surgeon who, along with his American business partners, sought to profit from the sale of company stock and the premium lands awarded to them via the empresario system.[3] Based on Stephen F. Austin’s work, P. Desobry’s map shows the territories in which the Colorado and Red River Land Company sought to make its claim in Texas.

E.F. Lee, Map of Texas containing the latest Grants and Discoveries, Cincinnati: J.A. James & Co., 1836, Map #93855, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Published shortly after Texas’s independence, E. F. Lee’s Map of Texas accompanied David Edward’s History of Texas, a guide for new immigrants on Texas, its character, and climate. On the top right, a note showing Benjamin Milam’s empresario contract reads that he “fell at the storming of Ft. Alamo (St. Antonio de Béxar) Dec. 10, 1835.” Another notation on the bottom right, citing Edward, speaks to the “desire by its inhabitants” to have the Rio Grande become the “western boundary of Texas.”

Can’t make it to San Antonio? 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 of the maps and support the Save Texas History program.

As part of the 7th Annual Save Texas History Symposium, you will have the opportunity to see this exhibit by registering for the evening reception, which will be held in the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum. Support the Save Texas History program, visit with other Texas history enthusiasts, and check out this acclaimed exhibit before it closes in late September. Shuttles will be provided between the Menger Hotel and Witte Museum. Registration for this reception is $50.


[1] For more on Mexico’s independence from Spain see Handbook of Texas Online, Jesús F. de la Teja, “Mexican War of Independence,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qdmcg.

[2] For more on the laws pertaining to the settlement and governing of Coahuila y Texas see “Colonization Laws,” http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/cololaws.htm

[3] For more on John Charles Beales and his land speculating in Texas see https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbe03