Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State—David H. Burr, Texas, 1833
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.
David H. Burr, Texas, 1833
Burr’s map depicts new additions to the empresario colonies in Texas. He delineates Texas as its own entity, despite it being part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. The map shows grants in the Texas Panhandle, a “Grant to the Shawnee Indians” on the Red River, and a navigational chart of Galveston Bay.
David H. Burr (1803–1875) worked extensively as a cartographer, topographer, and surveyor. Born in Connecticut in 1803, he moved to New York in 1822 where he studied law and joined the New York State militia. There, he served as aide-de-camp to Governor Clinton, and through this position, he became involved in leading surveying parties. Burr used data collected from these expeditions and from throughout the state of New York to produce his first work, Atlas of the State of New York (1829), the second-ever atlas of an individual state. Burr’s success lead him toward other projects and resulted in his appointment as Topographer to the U.S. Post Office in 1832. Around 1838, he became the Geographer to the House of Representatives of the United States. He subsequently served as state surveyor for Florida and then for Louisiana, as Geographer to the United States Senate, and finally, as the first surveyor general of the Utah Territory.
The empresario colonies of Texas, grants contracted between individuals and the Mexican government to bring settlers into Texas, are shown as color-shaded regions with accompanying text. Information includes the name of the various colonies, the date of the grant, and the number of families to be included. The Dominguez and Padilla & Chambers grants shown in the panhandle are examples of unsuccessful colonization projects — Dominguez failed to introduce any families before his contract expired, and the Padilla & Chambers grant was found to be located outside of Mexican territory.
The shape of Texas on Burr’s map may look unfamiliar to viewers today, as portions of modern-day Texas are part of the Mexican states of Santa Fe, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila. Several key features are recognizable, however. The Red River on the northern border and the Sabine River on part of the eastern border separates Texas from the United States, and the Rio Grande (Rio del Norte or Rio Bravo) is prominently shown winding through Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas. Several towns are placed, including Bexar, San Felipe de Austin, Gonzalos [sic], Galiod or Bahia [sic], and Nacogdoches, the latter appearing to be written in by hand subsequent to the map’s printing.
In the northeastern area of Texas alongside the Red River, a small grant is noted for the Shawnee Indians. GLO records indicate that the Shawnee petitioned for a land grant in 1824. The petition was routed through several levels of the Mexican government and eventually recommended for approval after the correct location for the site was determined.
A plan of Galveston Bay appears in the lower-left corner of the map. The inset includes labels of various features, including Galveston Island, Pelican Island, the San Jacinto River, Buffalo Bayou, and the town of Anahuac, as well as depths at points throughout the bay. The chart was made by Alexander Thompson of the Mexican Navy in 1828.
This map is part of the Frank and Carol Holcomb Digital Collection.
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.
 Walter W. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985), pp. 106–108.
 Handbook of Texas Online, Virginia H. Taylor, “Dominguez Y Valdez, Juan,” accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdo10. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Handbook of Texas Online, Margaret Swett Henson, “Chambers, Thomas Jefferson [1802–1865],” accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fch08.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on March 4, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Documents relating to the Shawnee Indians, 1824–1826, Box 117, Folder 18, pp. 122.5–132, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. The Shawnee Indians eventually moved peacefully to Indian Territory in 1840. Handbook of Texas Online, Carol A. Lipscomb, “Shawnee Indians,” accessed June 05, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bms25. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.