[HEADER] 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 — The Lone Star State

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.

The Lone Star State: Looking Inward

In an effort to balance some of the nineteenth-century political tensions in the United States over the admission of new states as either free or slave-holding, the US government passed the Compromise of 1850.[1] In doing so, Texas gained its iconic shape. The Compromise also allowed Texas to pay off its debts to the US federal government through the relinquishment of its claims to both New Mexico and the source of the Rio Grande.[2] A proliferation of maps depicted the new boundaries of Texas and how the state fit within the United States. Within Texas, land districts eventually gave way to the counties we know today.

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.

Jacob De Cordova, Map of the State of Texas Compiled from the records of the Texas General Land Office of the State, Houston, 1851, Map #442, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

After Stephen F. Austin, Jacob de Cordova is perhaps the most recognized name in Texas cartography. Apart from illustrating the continual breakdown of the Bexar and San Patricio land districts in Texas, the inset on each map, however, demonstrate the effect of the Compromise of 1850 on the outline of The Lone Star State. The 1851 edition is one of the first to present the state’s well-known outline.

John Rapkin’s beautifully decorative maps from 1851 show two different Texases. The Mexico, California and Texas map includes Texas’s claims extending north to Colorado and Wyoming; meanwhile, California is shown stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Rio Grande. The United States map, with its vignettes of a buffalo hunt in the prairies and William Penn’s “Treaty with the Indians,” depicts a Texas without its panhandle at all.

[left] John Rapkin, Mexico, California and Texas, London: J. & F. Tallis, [1851], Map #93779, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. [right] John Rapkin, United States, London: J. & F. Tallis, [1851], Map #93799, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
Vereine zum Schutze Deutscher Auswanderung, Karte des Staates, Texas, Wiesbaden, 1851, Map #2123, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Printed in Wiesbaden, Germany, for the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (the Adelsverein), this map was highly influential in the recruitment of potential German immigrants to the state.[3] It highlights, among other things, the route from the port at Indianola to the German settlements in west Texas. The full title of the map makes allusion to the Compromise of 1850 signed in Washington in September of that year.

G.W. Colton & J. B. Colton, Colton’s Map of the United States of America, New York: Colton & Co., 1886, Map #93642, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Originally published as a traveler’s companion, G. W. and C. B. Colton’s ornate map of the United States includes trade ships on the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, longitudinal measures from Washington, D.C. and Greenwich, England, and distances between major trading posts. Colton also identified the major cities and military forts in Texas, as well as its geographic features, roads and rail lines.[4]

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 the 5 laws that made up the Compromise of 1850 see https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Compromise1850.html

[2] For more on The Republic of Texas’s debt, and the cession to the US of 67,000,000 acres of land to settle it, see https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mpdrh

[3] For more on the immigration of Germans into Texas see https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/png02

[4] For information on railroads in Texas see https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqr01