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Auction 13: A Few Good Maps & Manuscripts

Discussion of the Treaty Map Sequence in our Auction 13

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Outstanding Sequence of Maps Documenting the Genesis & Evolution of Disturnell’s Treaty Map


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 American West.

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 earth.
     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.


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