| From William H. Goetzmann’s monumental
classic, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in
the Winning of the American West (New York: Knopf, 1967, pp. 258-59):
When Nicholas P. Trist composed
the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he did so almost entirely in ignorance
of the geography of the country through which the boundary line between
the two nations would run. His researches had been largely confined
to the erroneous commercial maps of Mitchell, Tanner, and Disturnell
and a report compiled by Captain Robert E. Lee based on the works of
Moscaró, Antonio Barreiro, and José Agustín Escudero. These works were
likewise for the most part inaccurate, as Trist himself realized....
Nevertheless, with time pressing hard upon him...he managed to create
a version of the boundary line which satisfied the Mexican negotiators....
The southern and western limits of New Mexico were to be those specified
on J. Disturnell’s ‘Map of the United States...1847,’ a map known at
the time to be inaccurate, as were all others available, but nonetheless
pressed into service as an arbitrary definition of the limits of New
Mexico. The use of this map and the difficulty of deciding on the true
boundary of New Mexico caused the most trouble in the final negotiations
between the United States and Mexico. Because of this, the explorer
as boundary surveyor was called upon to exercise maximum influence on
the course of American history.
From J. C. Martin & Robert S.
Martin’s essay on the Disturnell Treaty Map in Maps of Texas and
the Southwest, 1513-1900 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association,
1999), pp. 137-39:
The unbridled spirit of free
enterprise in the nineteenth century had a definite effect on the commercial
map makers. They worked tirelessly to satisfy the demand for new information
describing lands west of the Mississippi River, and in the competition
to bring out material. New York City joined Philadelphia as a leading
center of publishing. The career of John Disturnell (1801-1877) illustrates
the tremendous demand for guide books, directories, surveys, and indeed
maps, which at once stimulated interest in the lands newly discovered
as well as satisfied a readership eager to know more.
In 1822, perhaps the most prestigious map publisher
in the United States, Henry S. Tanner, issued a new map of North America
based upon the leading authorities of the day. In 1825 he reissued the
southwestern portion of this map on a larger scale entitled Map
of the United States of Mexico. In 1828, following the considerable
popularity of Tanner’s map, the firm of White, Gallaher, and White,
located in New York, issued a copyrighted, but plagiarized, Spanish
translation of Tanner’s map (Plate 37).
The same plates were used in 1846 by John Disturnell
to issue his own copy of the earlier map, on which he merely substituted
his name as the publisher (Plate 38). Outbreak of the United States’s
war with Mexico in that year resulted in Disturnell’s map becoming a
highly successful enterprise. It received widespread acceptance as an
authority for the geography of the greater Texas region, and Disturnell
issued it in twenty-three separate editions between 1846 and 1858.
Because it was the most available map of Mexico,
it assumed a lasting place in history when Nicholas P. Trist, the American
plenipotentiary, used Disturnell’s map in negotiating the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the U.S.-Mexican War and extended the
Western boundary of the United States to the Pacific Ocean. Differences
soon arose over the wording of the treaty vis-ŕ-vis the actual depiction
on Disturnell’s map of the Rio Grande and the position of the city of
El Paso. The lands in question were particularly important to the prospective
railroad route to California and its newly discovered gold mines, a
controversy which resulted in the United States purchase in 1854 of
the Gadsden Territory, which rounded out the new U.S. boundaries.
Although the inaccuracies on Disturnell’s map were
well known by such leading explorers as Randolph B. Marcy, who called
the map ‘one of the most inaccurate of all those I have seen...,’ its
permanent place in history was already well established. The map’s spurious
background, however, and its unfortunate errors, may well have contributed
to government and military leaders supporting interior surveys of the
From Jack Rittenhouse’s Disturnell’s
Treaty Map: The Map That Was Part of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty on
Southwestern Boundaries, 1848 (Santa Fe: Stagecoach Press, n.d.),
pp. 5-6, 13-14:
Few maps in United States
history have had a role as interesting as that of the Disturnell Map—the
map that was attached to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the end
of the Mexican War in 1848. The signers of that treaty thought they
were making things simple by defining the line between the United States
and Mexico according to the boundary shown on a currently popular map
published by John Disturnell.
But because there were errors on the map, it took
eight years of discussions, surveys, and the Gadsden Purchase to straighten
out the major disputes that arose. Part of the disputed territory—the
Chamizal area at El Paso—was not determined finally until 1963, a hundred
and fifteen years after the original treaty was signed....
The boundary line between New Mexico (and what is
now Arizona) and Old Mexico was to be based on mileages from El Paso.
But the Disturnell Map showed El Paso at a latitude 34 miles north and
a longitude 100 miles east of the true position of that city on the
This became the core of the difficulties. It was
as if you and I were travelling in the Southwest and I said I would
meet you 200 miles south, in the city of El Paso—but when you had journeyed
200 miles south you found yourself still far north and east of El Paso.
Now, you wonder, what did I mean? Were we to meet at this point 200
miles south of our parting, or were we to meet in El Paso?
Thus, were the boundary surveyors supposed
to set up a starting monument according to the printed map
or according to the true latitude and longitude of the points
printed on Disturnell’s Map?
Difficulties spring from conflicting desires, and
the problems that arose from two different interpretations of the Disturnell
Map were caused, as much as anything, by the conflicting interests of
the two powers concerned....
The Disturnell Map was based on a series of earlier
maps issued by other cartographers.... In 1825 Tanner made a map of
Mexico [that] showed all of North America.... [See Heckrotte’s
essay in California 49: Forty-Nine Maps of California from the Sixteenth
Century to the Present #21]. Between 1825 and 1847 Tanner brought
out at least 10 editions of this map. One of the Tanner maps, that of
1826, was copied and published in 1828 by the firm of White, Gallaher
& White.... This is the map whose plates were bought by Disturnell
and used for printing the Disturnell maps of 1846-1858.... A few years
later there was another plagiarism of the Tanner map, this time in France,
Rosa’s ‘Mapa de los Estados Méjicanos...’ published in Paris in 1837.
It was a literal copy of Tanner’s 1834 edition, on the original scale
and translated into Spanish. Rosa produced another edition in 1851.
When the boundary disputes arose after the Treaty
of Guadalupe Hidalgo, all three of these publishers’ maps were brought
into the argument—the Tanner map, the Disturnell (or White, Gallaher
& White) map, and the Rosa map.