By Kathaleen Roberts
SANTA FE — From the earliest Spanish explorers to Texas tourists, New Mexico was made for maps.
Visitors to “Between the Lines: Culture and Cartography on the Road to Statehood” can trace the state’s route from territory to vacation destination at the Governor’s Gallery beginning this week.
More than geography, maps document historic development as well as the political, economic, social, cultural and scientific circumstances across generations. To celebrate the state’s 100th anniversary, the exhibition showcases 25 maps from the mid-16th century to the present. These documents represent the periods of the Spanish Entrada, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the New Mexico Constitutional Convention.
Curator Merry Scully has divided the exhibition into four themes: land, boundaries, territory and statehood. Culled from both state and private collections, the maps tell the stories of the land and its changing political and physical definitions, of its native people and the arrival of and interactions with Europeans.
Many come from the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library. Unlike the plotted and computer-generated maps we take for granted, each is hand-drawn, etched or lithographed into individual works of art and historic timelines.
The maps begin as stark, ill-defined impressions of the state’s boundaries, with fuzzy forms that shrink and grow like microscopic organisms. They eventually swell into New Mexico’s familiar nearly rectilinear shape, sculpted with river tendrils and spiny mountain ranges.
One map shows Arizona engulfing western New Mexico; another depicts California as an island. Santa Fe leapfrogs to the opposite side of the Rio Grande. With the arrival of the automobile culture in the late ‘30s, images of cowboys, buffalo and pueblo dancers illustrate its towns and plains in an invitation to explore.
The oldest map is a 1676 postcard-sized “Map of the Universe,” a series of spheres orbited by planets, with the sun as its nucleus. As drawn by soldier, engineer and “Master of Mathematics” to Louis XIV, Alain Mallet, this cosmographical map of the solar system show the lands that would become New Mexico in the third orbit around the sun.
“The universe map is more tongue-in-cheek,” Tomas Jaehn of the Chavez Library said. “New Mexico is on there, obviously. That’s how we start out — from very, very big to very, very detailed. The older the maps, the bigger they are. They had no clue. This one I could not resist.”
The earliest cartographers stole erroneous information from one another.
An 1846-47 map of the territory of New Mexico commissioned by order of Brig. Gen. J.W. Kearny is bisected by geometric shapes, with vague notes in the southeast corner reading “various bands of Apaches.” A series of squares denotes the various pueblos.
“Over the years, the counties got smaller and smaller,” Jaehn said. “Lincoln County at one point was the biggest county in the U.S.”
George Washington looms over the top of an 1846 statehood map, bookended by portraits of Cortez and Montezuma, evoking both patriotism and expansion. Texas swells upward into what is now Oklahoma, eating most of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande.
“You see how the shapes of things change that we think are fixed,” Scully said. “Texas is mis-shaped and grabbing the end of the Rio Grande near Santa Fe.
“Some say, ‘drawn from this and other reliable sources,’ “ she continued. “They didn’t really know what they were looking at.”
A map of New Spain dating to 1562-1564 shows New Mexico as little more than ambiguous white space except for some mountains, unnamed villages and the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola rendered as “Ciuola.”
An 1849 version shows a New Mexico shaped like an upside-down version of Florida. All of the state west of the Rio Grande belongs to Texas, as does most of Colorado. The state of Washington doesn’t exist; it’s part of the Oregon Territory, while California swells into both Nevada and Arizona.
By 1868, an elegant folding map focuses on the border between Colorado and New Mexico.
Designed like a 20th-century road map, this topographic example depicts the outcome of the Darling 1868 U.S. government survey of the 37th Parallel that became the current boundary. Surveyor Ehud N. Darling marked red lines outside city boundaries as “Indian Trail.”
“When New Mexico became a territory, the San Luis Valley was part of New Mexico,” Jaehn said. “With New Mexico and some of the Western states, they just made straight lines. There were no rivers; it was just arbitrary.”
The early maps show Texas has long lusted after New Mexico. Texas defined itself as a republic after its 1835 independence from Mexico and maintained claims to parts of New Mexico until statehood.
“Texas always claimed the Rio Grande as a border,” Jaehn said. “The borders that Texas claimed included Santa Fe. But New Mexico never acknowledged that. Basically, the U.S. just put its foot down. Texas became a state, and the federal government paid Texas’ foreign debt to England.”
An 1873 territorial map shows early versions of the state’s counties skewed into incongruous jigsaw puzzle shapes. Bernalillo County is pencil-thin; the Manzano range is four times the length of the Sandias.
New Mexico staged several attempts at statehood, blocked by concerns the territory was too Catholic, too Mexican, too Indian, too uneducated, too under-populated or too Spanish-speaking.
By 1910, the territory was again hopeful of gaining full statehood, and publishers produced a map enshrined with 86 of the 100 delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
In 1912, the first official statehood map depicted borders of counties, roads and topographical features.
As America fell in love with the automobile, and with the completion of the “Mother Road” — Route 66 — New Mexico grew as a tourist destination.
In 1932, the Santa Fe Railroad produced an Indian Detours map complete with attractions dated by stereotypical graphic images like horses, bison, the stagecoach and Billy the Kid. In 1936, Standard Oil gas stations offered free maps to customers, its cover brandished with an image of a blonde cruising down the highway.
“They became tourist maps with a theme,” Jaehn said. “We also have one that’s a literary map with all the writers.”
In 1958, the Lincoln National Forest produced a map emblazoned with its most famous resident — Smokey Bear. After his rescue, Smokey became the mascot of the U.S. Forest Service, educating the American public about the dangers of forest fires.
In 1941, a governor’s photograph debuted on a recreational map.
Gov. John Miles offered the state’s greetings to tourists next to a fold-out photograph of women in fiesta wear cavorting in a burro wagon.
Gov. Susana Martinez has continued this tradition with a New Mexico transportation map available at the exhibit’s end.