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Rare Spanish manuscript map showing the western borders of the Louisiana Purchase arrives at the Library of Congress

Today’s guest post is by Anthony Páez Mullan, a cartographic reference specialist in the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress. He specializes in the historical cartography of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula and is a co-author of the “Luso-Hispanic World in Maps.”

The Library of Congress recently acquired an important large scale and detailed manuscript map of Spanish Texas, Louisiana Territory, and the Trans-Mississippi West. This map was executed in 1811 by Father José Antonio Pichardo, a native of Cuernavaca, Mexico. The only other extant copy or variant of this map is held by the Orozco y Berra Map Library in Mexico City. Reproductions of the Mexico City version are found in libraries at the University of New Mexico and at the University of California (Berkeley).

Father Pichardo's "El Nuevo Mexico y Tierras Adyacen Tes Mapa." 1811. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Father Pichardo’s “El Nuevo Mexico y Tierras Adyacentes.” 1811. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

This map was prepared at a crucial moment. In 1803, the United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase from France, a large territory west of the Mississippi River with ill-defined borders. With good reason Spain was anxious about American claims to its territory. In 1806-07, General Zebulon Montgomery Pike explored the internal provinces of northern New Spain, which would later become Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. In 1810, Pike published his memories of New Spain in a two volume journal, An account of expeditions to the sources of the Mississippi. He engaged the reader with descriptions of toil and danger but also drew attention to trading potentials with the Spanish province. In addition, he produced several maps of the regions visited, such as A map of the Internal Provinces of New Spain and A chart of the internal part of Louisiana.

In 1807, the Spanish viceroy in Mexico commissioned a scholar, Father Melchor Talamantes, “to compile a report on the boundaries” of Texas and Louisiana as they were before Louisiana was ceded to Spain in 1762. This report or treatise was to be based on collections of “authentic and original documents” pertaining to Texas from the 1630s to 1770s, including documents that revealed past controversies between Louisiana and Texas regarding the line of limits and royal orders, and reports that would support Spanish rights and claims in East Texas. The authentic and original documents also were to include variety of historical accounts, diaries, and excerpts of these. The overriding goal of the treatise was to show that (1) the Spanish province of Texas was not, nor ever had been, a part of the French colony of Louisiana, and therefore could not be considered a part of the Louisiana Purchase; and (2) to ascertain and determine the “true boundary” between the United States and New Spain (Mexico). It was also decided that a large scale map of the contested region of the continent would accompany the treatise for reference purposes. In 1808, Father José Antonio Pichardo succeeded Talamantes to head the commission that would compile the treatise and the map. (The four volume treatise, which was translated and edited by Charles W. Hackett, was published in 1931).

Each colored line on Pichardo's map shows a different proposed boundary.

Each colored line on Pichardo’s map shows a different proposed boundary.

A key aspect of the map pertains to the “true” border between the United States and New Spain. Based on the compiled cartographic and documentary sources in front of him, Pichardo drew four “proposed boundary lines” between New Spain and the United States. Each proposed line is highlighted in a different color of ink and has a notation reading “dividing line proposed by…”. The proposed borders are those suggested by contemporary Spanish and French sources. One of those was a boundary that Pichardo proposed himself, based on the boundary line depicted in a 1776 map by French cartographer, Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville. D’Anville depicts a border between Louisiana and Texas that runs almost due north and then veers to the northwest. Pichardo basically approved of this line, writing that it was “a line which divides Spanish territory from that of Louisiana, and [which, if ]… adjusted to its longitude, we have thought it well not to change anything on his map, but to follow it scrupulously both as to longitude and latitude.” The other proposed boundary lines are by: (1) José María de Jesús Puelles, a Franciscan missionary, who served in east Texas and was familiar with topography and rivers of East Texas, (2) Angel Martos y Navarrete, who was governor of Texas (province) from 1759 to 1766, and (3) Friar Melchor de Talamantes of the military order of Merced and Pichardo’s predecessor.

Another focal point is the province of Texas. Pichardo shows the locations and names of many rivers, land features, missions and a few settlements in the province (notwithstanding the fact that he was confused by information about rivers which was reflected on the map). By portraying Texas with many Spanish place names and features, Pichardo emphasizes a long history of Spanish presence and culture in that province. The names of explorers and tracks of their routes appear in color zigzagging across the map. Explorers’ routes and names, in addition to names of settlements, missions, and physical features can often be read symbolically to either mean or suggest possession or ownership. The names of explorers listed on the map include Coronado (exploration 1540-42), Moscoso (16th century), Mendoza (1683/84), San Miguel de Aguayo (1720), and Pedro de Rivera (1724-28). Interesting and surprising is the route identified as Coronado’s route to Quivira, the fabled location of gold and great wealth. The almost straight dotted line crosses from Santa Fe to the middle of the plains (current day Kansas), which was thought to be where Quivira was found. This part of the route is more or less accurate showing the extent of Coronado’s route. However, Pichardo continues to depict Coronado’s route from the middle of the plains to southeast Texas. As far as we know, Coronado never made this trek.

"Nuevo Mexico" was pasted on after the drawing was complete.

“Nuevo Mexico” was pasted on top of the original map. We don’t know the purpose of this correction.

Another emphasis on the map is the region entitled “Nuevo Mexico” which is found in a pasted overlay added to the original map. The overlay roughly corresponds to the area between latitudes 35 degrees north and 44 degrees north by longitudes 106 degrees west to 114 degrees west. Today, this region includes either in entirety or in part the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. The overlay contains a density of information concerning mountains, mesas, rivers, other bodies of water, locations of missions and of Native American settlements. The map also includes annotations. Both the topography and annotations appear to be closely based on one of Miera’s maps of the Escalante expedition of 1776-77). The overlay, its sources of information, and its relationship to the rest of the map give rise to questions and speculation. From this brief overview, it should be clear that Pichardo’s important map needs more thorough study.


  1. Michael
    February 29, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Great post!

  2. Peter Roehrich
    March 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Very interesting history of an equally interesting map! At the time it was produced, was the Spanish intent to use it as a diplomatic tool in negotiating borders, this making it public, or did Spain intend to use it for intelligence, thus keeping it secret? I suppose the former, given the emphasis the cartographer makes on the Spanish legacy in the territory, but I’d love to know.

  3. Carlyn Osborn
    March 28, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Hey Peter, thanks for the question! Here’s what the author, Anthony Páez Mullan, has to say:

    “The entire Pichardo treatise project must be considered in light of U.S. claims and expansion in the Trans-Mississippi West, especially in Texas. The map itself was clearly produced to show Spanish administrators what were the (best) options for a boundary line or line of limits between the United States and the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. It seems that there was a definite intent to use the map in negotiations between Spain and the United States at some point. While some historians claim that the treatise and map were used by Spanish authorities in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, others disagree. “

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