Westward Trails and Texas


United States

John T. Hammond, (c. 1835)

The inclusion of the “Oregon Territory” is one of the more striking features of this map. While it is carefully delineated and labeled a territory, Oregon country was still being shared by the United States and Great Britain. Inhabited almost exclusively by American Indians and fur trappers, the region received its first missionary around the time this map was made, marking the beginning of the arrival of U.S. settlers.

The map would be one of the last to show the Cherokees in western Georgia and the Chickasaws in northern Mississippi. While several hundred were able to remain behind by hiding in the remote parts of the Smoky Mountains or seeking state citizenship, the majority of Cherokees and Chickasaws would be forcibly marched to Indian Territory on what is now called the Trail of Tears. By the time this map was made, the Choctaws, Seminoles, and Creeks had already been relocated, with death estimates falling between one out of three and one out of five who traveled the trail.

North America

Henry Schenk Tanner, (1836)

Produced the same year as the Texas Revolution, this map nevertheless shows Texas as part of Mexico. Unrest in Texas had been present since 1829 when Mexico outlawed slavery, a decision that angered the many slave-owners in Texas. In all likelihood, the mapmaker neglected to show Texas as independent because the initial drawing of this map occurred before the Texas Declaration of Independence in March of 1836.Also curious, the Oregon country is depicted as a U.S. controlled territory, colored the same pale green as the rest of the United States. However, at this time, it was jointly held by both the U.S. and Great Britain, and would remain so for another decade.

Map of the United States and Texas

Samuel A. Mitchell, (1839)

Made for a school geography book, this map enthusiastically depicts Texas as independent from Mexico and even bestows a grossly overinflated panhandle on the state. Notations within the country acknowledge “Extensive Prairies” and “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses.” One particularly telling notation at the top of the “Great American Desert” and to the right of the Rocky Mountains reads, “Pass through which a loaded wagon might travel.” The mapmaker obviously anticipated the migration of Oregon-bound settlers, which would reach its epoch in less than a decade.

United States

John Tallis & Co., (1840)

The forced removal of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears occurred only two years before this map was made. Significantly, the mapmaker included a representation of “Penn’s Treaty with the Indians,” a painting by Benjamin West that depicts the signing of a peace treaty between William Penn and the Lenape. The Indian Removal Act was controversial from the beginning, and the inclusion of this image so soon after the Trail of Tears can be interpreted as a justification or defense. Similarly, the image in the lower right shows a “Buffalo Hunt” with well-equipped Native Americans directing a stampede of bison in a picturesque field of waving golden grass. With headdresses and capes flowing behind them, the hunters are purposefully depicted as healthy and well-provisioned. In actuality, of course, the living conditions in the new Indian Territory were nothing like this idyllic scene.

A National Geography for Schools: [Map of the U.S.]

Samuel Goodrich, (c. 1848)

Drawn sometime between 1848 and 1850, this school geography map shows several newly admitted states, including: Florida; Iowa; Wisconsin; and Texas, which was annexed in 1845, sparking the Mexican-American War. After two years of fighting, the U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which granted the United States the land that now comprises the American Southwest. This map refers to the new territory as Upper California, and with it, the shape of the continental U.S. is almost complete, only missing a portion of southern Arizona.

Map of the United States

Samuel A. Mitchell, (1849)

The migration to the western territories of California and Oregon had reached its epoch in the late 1840s, by which time emigrant trails were often included in maps of the U.S, this one included. The most famous of emigrant routes, the Oregon Trail, had already seen tens of thousands of settlers travel its length, but was temporarily eclipsed in 1849 by the California Trail, an offshoot that split with the main trail in Idaho to lead to the newly discovered gold fields of California. While gold had been discovered in 1848, the news did not reach the east coast until too late in the year to travel overland, so it was the following year that saw the flood of gold-seekers rushing to California. In that one year, the population of San Francisco skyrocketed from 1,000 to 25,000.