The Art of Eltea Armstrong, Part 2: Celebrating Texas
Map Spotlight — Women’s History Month Edition
As March is Women’s History Month, this is an opportunity to highlight one of the great draftspersons of the General Land Office, Eltea Armstrong. Not only was she an excellent drafter of county and state maps, Armstrong was a superb artist. The maps she drafted during her tenure at the GLO are both accurate and beautiful.
Last week’s post featured Armstrong’s use of animals and nature in several of her maps. This week, we’ll focus on a map in which she celebrated Texas history.
Armstrong turned her art brush to her home state and its history many times, but in 1954 her color-printed map, Texas (GLO Map #366), a 33.5 x 36.2 inch sheet, she depicted the Lone Star State in its entirety. It was the first in a long line of maps to be produced by sitting Texas Land Commissioners. Taking as its inspiration the six flags that have flown over the state, Armstrong and then-Commissioner Bascom Giles show a Texas full of history and diversity. Giles’ portrait and statement about Texas and this depiction’s agelessness feature prominently at the bottom left of the map.
Placed at the top left of the map is the Seal of the State of Texas, a five-pointed star encircled by olive and live oak branches. The seal is wrapped in cording and topped with the flags of the six nations which claimed Texas throughout its history — Mexico, France, Spain, The Republic of Texas, The United States of America, and the Confederate States of America.
Taking pride in her state, Armstrong named the states bordering Texas, as well as the nation of Mexico, but left them wholly blank on the map. Within the state boundaries, single and double green fir trees, respectively, indicate state parks and forests. Four National Forests — Sabine, Angelina, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston — and one National Park, Big Bend, are also rendered in forest green. The map includes rivers and their dams, lakes, and mountains, which are indicated by hachures with their elevation measured in feet. Notable land formations Enchanted Rock and Balanced Rock are also included. County names are in black block capital letters, and county seats are noted in red with their elevation above sea level measured in feet.
Armstrong included a variety of roads, trails, and stagecoach routes across the state indicating the rich history of Texas under each of its six flags. Roads like La Bahia and Atascocita hearken back to indigenous and Spanish travel. Old Preston Road and the Butterfield Route highlight the paths of both immigrants and mail across Texas, while the Chisholm Trail and Chihuahua Trail indicate trade and commerce routes.
A nod, though problematic, to the indigenous inhabitants of Texas is given by the demarcation on the map of the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation. The reservation, first granted by the Texas Legislature in response to an 1853 petition and later augmented by land purchases in 1928, covers nearly 4,600 acres in Polk County.
Armstrong also commemorated the men who died forming the Republic of Texas. The Alamo is indicated in the center of San Antonio, and cannons represent the “Fannin Battlefield” near Goliad, the site of the infamous Goliad Massacre, and the San Jacinto Battlefield, where Texas’ independence was won. The memorial to the men lost on the Mier Expedition is illustrated along the La Bahia Road in Fayette County. Also shown are locations of communities made famous by two men — the Hank Smith Stone House in Crosby County, and Judge Roy Bean’s Court, the “Law West of the Pecos,” in Langtry, Val Verde County.
The 1954 map of Texas by Eltea Armstrong is a skillfully rendered artistic interpretation of the surveyed lands of Texas and includes much of the rich heritage of the Lone Star State under its six flags. The inclusion of all Texas has to offer by way of abundant landscapes and rich history is captured beautifully with Armstrong’s pen.
A reproduction of this map can be purchased here.
 For more on the Alabama-Coushatta Indians see: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bma19
 For more on the Mier Expedition and the men lost see: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qym02
 For more on Hank Smith and his stone house see: http://lubbockonline.com/stories/010900/fam_064-4196.shtml#.VuGb41VVhBd; for more on Judge Roy Bean see: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbe08