The 1839 map of Texas hailed for its accuracy

In the nearly 400 years it took Texas to take its present form, the space has grown from a sprawling, unexplored, and sparsely populated frontier under the Spanish crown to its iconic, easily recognizable outline.

“Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State” traces the cartographic history of Texas from the 16th to the 20th century. Over 50 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 cards are lent by Bryan’s Museum in Galveston and the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

This exhibition takes place at Houston Museum of Natural Science to October 8. (The exhibition was inaugurated at Le Witte, from April 29 to September 5, 2015.)

This large, colorful map of Texas appeared in the essential “Guide to the Republic of Texas” by Richard Hunt and Jesse Randel. Remarks in Hunt and Randel’s Guide indicate that the map is “necessarily flawed in some detail”, but is remarkably accurate as it is based from the coast to the San Antonio road on existing surveys and accurately follows major rivers over more 100 miles above the road. According to early claims, “this map is the only one that claims to be based on accurate readings.”

The map uses essentially the same view as the Original Stephen F. Austin Mapa of Texas from 1829… only showing the eastern two-thirds of the republic. The republic’s counties are laid out in contrasting colors for easy identification, with most early empresario settlements subtly labeled in lighter text. A network of roads spans southeast Texas, many of which meet in places like San Antonio, San Felipe, Houston, and Nacogdoches. The recently established city of Austin, then in Bastrop County, is relatively isolated on the Colorado River.

Additional details are noted on the map. In Robertson County the “Caddo villages burned by General Rusk at Jany, 1839” are referenced, along with a “large body of excellent land”. In the northwestern part of the map, “buffalo herds” roam the “Flat Grasslands”. In San Patricio County there is a note that “of this part of the country very little is known”. It is inferred that it is primarily ‘upland dry grassland’.

A box in the lower right of the sheet details the vast expanse of Mexican territory from “the Rio Grande and country west to the Pacific”, including Alta California, Baja California, Sonora and Sinaloa , Chihuahua, Santa Fe, Coahuila and Tamaulipas. Many towns, forts and rivers are identified. A route runs northwest from San Antonio into the Rocky Mountains, then breaks off east with the designation “Traders route to St. Louis”.

The card was signed by James Webb, Secretary of State; John Woodward, Consul General of Texas; Francis Moore Jr., editor of the Houston Telegraph Newspaper; and John P. Borden, the first commissioner of the General Land Office. All the signatories have testified that this map has been compiled from the best and most recent sources and compiled from the archives of the General Lands Office, the seal of which has been affixed near the signatures. This map replaced Austin’s as the most accurate in the republic.

You can view the majority of the maps from this exhibit in high definition on the GLO website, where you can also purchase reproductions and support the Save Texas History program. Go to the GLO archive map store.

James Harkins is the director of public services for archives and records at the Texas General Land Office, and Patrick Walsh is a research fellow at GLO.

SUNDAY AHEAD: Friedrich is still chilling San Antonio and beyond.

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