On the precious map, San Antonio shows up as a cluster of dots within concentric ovals. From there, a dotted line crosses the San Antonio, Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers. The line then passes through some highlands, around a “pond,” then it angles across the “Rio Colorado” before continuing northeast through Texas toward Louisiana.
This detailed map of an 1807 exploration — published in an 1810 atlas and recently acquired by the Texas General Land Office and restored by Austin’s Carrabba Conservation — was the first of its kind drawn by an American. And given the often inconsistent Spanish and French maps that preceded it, this representation of Central Texas is startlingly accurate to the modern eye.
Which is one reason the General Land Office — which otherwise manages state lands, operates the Alamo and helps fund public education and natural disaster responses, while preserving a collection of 45,000 maps — purchased it earlier this year for $11,000.
It also contains one of the earliest references to “San Antonio Valero,” known today as the Alamo.
It was made by explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike — namesake for Pike’s Peak in Colorado — who passed through the unsettled Austin area in 1807 while on a mission from President Thomas Jefferson to further explore the recently annexed Louisiana Purchase, which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Northwest, doubling the size of the young United States.
But, you say, Texas was not part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Right. Whether by accident or on purpose, Pike penetrated deep into Spanish territory. He was picked up by Spanish authorities near Santa Fe and taken to Durango in the Mexican interior, after which he was politely escorted back to Louisiana through Central Texas along the Camino Real. The Spanish decided to treat Pike more like a dignitary who steered off course rather than a spy for an American government already eyeing the Southwest.
The Austin route
Wait, you didn’t know that Pike likely passed directly through the Austin area in 1807? And that Stephen F. Austin later used Pike’s journals to help colonize the future republic with Americans?
You are hardly alone. Pike is barely mentioned even in the most respected histories of Texas. And he is virtually absent from the shared cultural memory of Austin, although a very short “Pike Road” appears in the Western-themed Apache Shores neighborhood above Upper Lake Austin.
Yet the leading authority on the subject is convinced that Pike passed through what is now Austin along the braided Camino Real.
"Traditional thinking concerning this era of Camino history would suggest that the route of the road known as the Camino Arriba or the Old San Antonio Road would have been utilized for travel during the time frame that Pike crossed the Colorado in Texas," says Steven Gonzales, director of the Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association. "Some reasons for this are that San Marcos de Neve was founded in 1805 along the Arriba route and the route was the most utilized west-east corridor of the trail from about 1795 until the late 1800s."
A few years ago, Gonzales showed this astonished reporter a historical marker on the south side of the San Marcos River near Martindale that celebrated Pike’s journey.
"It should be noted, however, that from Pike's description of his short journey from the San Marcos River to the Colorado, it also makes sense that he may have crossed the Colorado at Montopolis or the Longhorn Dam," Gonzales says. "I say this because, as more is being learned about the trail and the founding of Waterloo, I am beginning to believe that Pike's survey of Texas actually informed and aided in the placement of Waterloo, as according to 'The Annals of Travis County and the City of Austin: From the Earliest Times to the Close of 1875,' 'The site occupies, and will effectually close, the pass by which the Indians and outlawed Mexicans have for ages past traveled east and west, to and from the Rio Grande to eastern Texas, and will now force them to pass by way of Pecan Bayou and San Saba.'"
That other explorer
Pike opened American eyes to Texas, which, like other parts of New Spain, was already becoming discontented with Spanish rule. He also praised Texas. On July 20, 1821, Stephen F. Austin wrote to Joseph Hawkins: “All travelers unite with our much lamented Gen. Pike, in alleging that the climate to be one of the most delightful in this, or any other country."
“Pike was always just a secondary character you might hear of in American history,” says James Harkins, director of public services for archives and records for the Texas General Land Office. “So to find out that he was important to the cartography of Texas is crucial to what we do at the Land Office.”
For more than 200 years, American school kids have relished the scintillating tales of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which started in 1804 when President Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the vast, newly acquired Louisiana Territory, in part to find a passage through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
Their Corps of Discovery faced extraordinary obstacles; made friends with Native Americans such as their remarkable guide, Sacagawea; chronicled the geography, geology, flora and fauna of previously mysterious lands from St. Louis, Mo., to Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River in present-day Oregon; and returned to the East in 1806 after losing only one participant from its corps.
Yet Jefferson sent another explorer into the Louisiana Purchase territory. In 1805-1806, Pike headed up the Mississippi River to map its source. Then, in 1806-1807, he explored the Southwest in order to locate the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers, which ran generally east-west across the Louisiana Purchase.
He crossed the Rockies in southern Colorado before he was captured by the Spanish in New Mexico and taken deep into Mexico. Although the Spanish confiscated his journals, Pike published his account of his adventures in 1810 from memory — and also from secret notes that he hid in his clothing and even in the barrel of his gun. Soon after, he served in the War of 1812 against Great Britain as a brigadier general. He died at the Battle of York in Ontario in 1813.
Unlike Lewis and Clark, Pike did not always behave honorably, and his reputation was tainted by his association with Aaron Burr through Gen. James Wilkinson, the first governor of Louisiana, and the man who gave Pike his orders. It's complicated, but after Burr's political career ended in 1804 when he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr, the third vice president of the U.S., headed west to create his own empire, and he was charged with being a traitor. He was acquitted of the most serious charges but fled into exile.
Modern readers also recoil from stories about the way Pike treated — and sometimes abandoned — his men.
“He left some of his men up in the mountains,” Harkins says. “He says, ‘You guys stay here and we'll be back.’ Sometimes he returned and sometimes he didn't. Twice, Spanish soldiers rescued his men. At one point, two of his men stepped into Grape Creek in the middle winter. They suffered frostbite almost immediately. Pike says, ‘I'm going to leave you here with as much food and ammunition as I can leave. We'll come back.’ Two weeks later, in bad condition, one of them sent his frostbitten toe back to prove they were in trouble.”
Despite Pike’s personal flaws, his was a monumental journey, and the journals inspired the Americans who settled in Texas during the 1820s and ‘30s. And one thing that has been nearly forgotten, he most likely crossed the Colorado River in or near modern-day Austin, making his party among the first Americans to visit Central Texas.
What to do with the map?
The General Land Office has maps, more than 45,000 of them. But it didn’t have the Pike “Atlas,” the maps bound with his journals when they were printed as a book. As part of its Save Texas History program under Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the General Land Office reserves a small amount of money each year to plug holes in its collection.
This particular copy once belonged to Western artist Frederic Remington, who perhaps used it for background to his 1905 painting “Pike Entering Santa Fe.”
“We found out about it in the summer of 2018,” Harkins says. “We’d been searching for the Pike map. When we did the ‘Connecting Texas’ exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, we included one on loan from a private collection.”
Then Barry Ruderman, owner of La Jolla, Ca.-based Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, reached out to offer Remington’s copy for sale.
“We’d seen the digital images that they had taken of the maps,” Harkins says. “They arrived in September 2018, then went to Carrabba for conservation in December. When the Pike Atlas returned in March, we scanned it. That’s what you see on our site.”
The General Land Office recently digitized its entire map collection at the Stephen F. Austin State Office Building at 1700 Congress Ave.
After the Pike map — really, maps, although only one shows Central Texas — landed in the hands of Cheryl A. Carrabba and her veteran seven-person team of conservators who focus on saving works on paper, including maps, letters and sometimes books. Their six-room laboratory in North Austin is a wonderland of equipment for cleaning and repairing artifacts.
“There wasn’t a conservation practice to meet the needs of museums and library systems here,” says Carrabba, who worked at the University of Texas Ransom Center in the 1980s and discovered there was a pressing need for a private business. “We are in Austin, but we work statewide.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Carrabba worked as a nurse in London, then discovered the rare bookbinding and paper conservation program at the University of London Camberwell School of Arts.
“This sounds like a lot of fun,” she said at the time. “I can go do this as opposed to the other.”
While Carrabba can handle almost any damaged paper, she sometimes sends objects to the traditional American centers of conservation — Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia — when her firm can’t handle the volume.
“When things happen like Hurricanes Harvey or Sandy, there’s so much work, small private practices can’t handle it,” she says. “So the work is distributed around the country to the bigger labs.”
She has been working with the General Land Office since the 1990s. When it comes to maps that are bound in atlases, some collectors or institutions prefers that they be rebound as books, but the Land Office wanted the Pike maps as separate objects.
According to Carrabba and Land Office documents, the conservation treatment included removing individual maps from the text block, releasing sewing structures and removing threads. Debris and soils from binding structures were removed from the maps, and adhesive residue was reduced. All of the maps were washed and deacidified with calcium hydroxide, and stains were reduced with the adjusted water bath, ammonium and calcium. Tears, broken folds and losses were mended and filled with wheat starch paste using acid-free tissue paper applied locally. Corners were reinforced, and each map was pressed and flattened under weights.
The Pike treasures complement the generous Texas holdings at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History, UT’s Perry-Castañeda Library, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, University of North Texas, Baylor University and UT-Arlington, many of which are available for free at UNT’s Portal to Texas History.
Yet this one ended up at the Land Office.
“Ruderman is a trusted dealer we've used for years,” says Mark Lambert, deputy director of archives and records for the General Land Office. “If it wasn't right, we'd just package it up and send it back. But we really didn’t have one of these. It tells us a lot about Texas history. Each map builds on the past one.”
Update: An earlier version of this post listed the wrong name for Commissioner George P. Bush.
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