Old maps are fantastic windows into history. If you want to know what the world was like 100, 200, or 500 years ago, you can look at a map published at that time and see where borders were located, what places were named, and what the land looked like (at least, to the degree of accuracy that contemporary surveying equipment could provide).
So what do you do when you find a map that shows New Mexico and Arizona the wrong way around – divided not hamburger-style, but hotdog-style? This mysterious map below was published in 1862, before the boundaries of all of the fifty United States were laid out according to their present pattern.
But this map below, also dated 1862, divides this corner of the southwest horizontally like the previous one, yet labels the western half as “Arizona” and the eastern half as “New Mexico.” Furthermore, it places the border farther north, along the 34th parallel. What’s going on here?
These two maps, published in the midst of the Civil War – a confusing time for cartographers, I’m sure – depict a brief and little-known episode of the conflict, far away from the seat of war in Virginia or Pennsylvania. Our story begins with the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and further develops with the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, in which the United States acquired, through military and monetary might, New Mexico Territory, the piece of land which encompasses today’s Arizona and New Mexico. Almost from its inception, the residents of half of the Territory, feeling unrepresented in the Territorial government in Santa Fe, petitioned Washington for their independence as a separate territory called Arizona. Surprisingly, these weren’t the residents of the western half of New Mexico Territory, but the residents of the southern half.
The Arizonans’ pleas, resolutions, and attempts to drum up public support failed to win them official recognition. Their elected Territorial delegates, even after making the long trek to Washington, were denied seats in Congress. And then, in the winter of 1860-61, southern states began to secede from the Union. The Confederate States of America were formed, the American Civil War began, and Arizona saw an opportunity.
In March of 1861, a resolution was passed at Mesilla, the proposed capital of Arizona Territory (today in southern New Mexico). Despite the lack of a plantation economy or large numbers of enslaved people (though slavery was certainly present), the fledgling territory attached itself to the Confederacy; grievances with the Union government they had aplenty.
Five months later, Lieutenant Colonel John Baylor led the Confederate Army into the southern half of New Mexico Territory, declared it an organized Territory of the Confederate States of America, and appointed himself governor.
“As a portion of the reccord [sic] of current events, we publish on the first page the proclamation of Col. Baylor, the fast man of Arizona, in which he establishes a military government for that Territory and declares himself Governor. Whether his abdication will be as precipitate as his assumption of authority has been sudden remains to be seen.”
Furious, the New Mexico Territorial Legislature wrote to President Lincoln:
We do hereby proclaim our fixed and determined opposition to the present rebellion against the legitimate Government of the United States…under no circumstances can we willingly consent to have our Territory, her interests, hopes and people, included within the destinies of what the rebellion call the ‘Confederated States’…we are hopeful and trustful, that we will not be overlooked or neglected by the general Government of Washington in our struggles to maintain the integrity of the soil.
The Confederate Arizona Territory, such as it was, was short-lived; by July of 1862, the Confederate Army had withdrawn to Texas, taking the Territorial government with them. Back in Washington, the United States government developed a novel solution to the Arizona problem: “Sure!” they said, Arizona can have its long-desired status as a separate territory – but the territory was to be redefined. The new border split New Mexico down the middle, with the western, sparsely-populated half becoming “Arizona Territory.” The city of Mesilla, the center of secessionist activity, remained in New Mexico Territory.
By 1867, maps of the region, like the one below, look considerably more familiar.
New Mexico and Arizona, split along a line running north-south rather than east-west, both gained full statehood in 1912. New Mexico was admitted to the Union on January 6, and Arizona on February 14 – fifty years to the day from when President Jefferson Davis signed the proclamation admitting Arizona Territory to the Confederacy.
- Take a look through more maps of this time period in our digital collection of Civil War Maps.
- Check out this LOC Timeline of the American Civil War.
- Visit the Rare Book Division to read Mowry’s Memoir of the proposed territory of Arizona
- Enjoy a StoryMap from the Digital Arizona Library: How Did Arizona Get Its Shape?