The 1847 Disturnell Treaty Map of Mexico and the American West

MAPA de los ESTADOS UNIDOS DE MÉJICO, Segun lo organizado y definido por las varias actas del Congreso de dicha Republica y construido por las mejores autoridades…. REVISED EDITION. New York: John Disturnell, 1847.
Engraving on two sheets joined, 29 ¼”h x 41”w at neat line plus margins, original wash and outline color. Recently removed from original pocket folder and flattened, folder still present. Very minor soiling, expert reinforcement to folds and edges.

The 1847 Disturnell Treaty Map of Mexico and the American West. A map with a fascinating publishing history and a vital role in one of the most momentous territorial negotiations in American history.

Disturnell’s large map depicts Mexico, with wash color by state, as well as much of the United States west of the Mississippi River, including Texas, recently admitted in 1845. Considerable attention is paid to roads and river systems, while elevations are indicated somewhat more vaguely by hachuring. Four insets in the Gulf of Mexico provide larger-scale depictions of areas that took on significance during the Mexican-American War. Several insets at lower left provide additional information, including a map of the route from Vera Cruz to Mexico City and a statistical table. The title block is surmounted by the Mexican coat of arms, a golden eagle holding a snake in its beak and talons, surmounting a prickly pear cactus bearing the name of each Federal state. This example has numerous place names added in faint manuscript in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Nuevo Leon.

Publication history
The Disturnell Treaty Map had a long and interesting publishing history. The “mother map” was Henry Schenk Tanner’s Map of the United States of Mexico (1825), itself a rendering on a larger scale of part of Tanner’s 1822 Map of North America. Tanner’s Mexico map was then copied in 1828 by White, Gallaher & White, though whether with or without Tanner’s permission is not clear. At some point the White, Gallaher & White plates were acquired by New York gazetteer and guide book publisher John Disturnell, who issued it under his own name when war with Mexico erupted in 1846 (The White, Gallaher & White copyright statement remains faintly visible below the lower-right neat line.) In fairness, Disturnell’s map was not a simple reissue: as pointed out by Wheat it “displayed certain significant items not present” on the earlier edition of 1828. Upper California, the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake were, for example, adopted from Fremont’s map of 1845. Further, Disturnell shifted the United States-Mexico boundary to the Rio Grande River, which bears a note describing it as the “boundary as claimed by the United States.”

According to Martin, Disturnell issued no fewer than twenty three editions of the map, most between 1846 and 1850 though the last appeared in 1858. Offered here is an example of Martin’s 8th edition, with four rather than two insets in the Gulf of Mexico and some small changes in Coahuila and Tamaulipas.

Disturnell’s Map and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
As a work of cartography, the Disturnell Map has received a certain amount of opprobrium. One writer refers to it, not entirely fairly given its use of Fremont material, as “an out-of-date reprint of a plagiarism.” (Cohen, p. 142) Explorer Randall B. Marcy described it in 1849 as “one of the most inaccurate of all those I have seen, so far as relates to the country over which I have passed.” (quote by Martin, p. 211)

The map’s real significance, however, is its use in the negotiations that produced the momentous Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 to end the Mexican-American War. Article V of the Treaty set a new international boundary running up the Rio Grande to roughly the 32nd parallel, from thence to the Gila River, down the Gila to its junction with the Colorado, and from thence directly west to the coast south of San Diego. In agreeing to this Mexico implicitly acknowledged the 1845 annexation of Texas by the United States and ceded another half-million square miles of territory, including all of present-day California, Nevada and Utah; most of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado; and parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. In return Mexico was paid some $15 million, and the United States assumed several million dollars in Mexican debt owed to American citizens.

The negotiators used the Disturnell Map for reference, and indeed Article V makes explicit reference to it. However, the two sides apparently used different editions of the map, as the changes between the editions were so minor that they went unnoticed by the negotiators. Thus, Martin (p. 215) argues that American negotiator Nicholas Trist had with him a copy of the 7th edition of the Disturnell map, which was later attached to the official American copy of the Treaty, while the Mexican copy of record was accompanied by the 12th edition. However, “although the variations between the seventh and twelfth editions are numerous, none of the differences apparently caused complications in the boundary marking by John B. Weller, John Russell Barlett, and their Mexican colleagues.” (Martin, p. 209)

Nevertheless, the map’s intrinsic flaws did have significant consequences for the execution of the Treaty:

“Because of major errors on the map involving the location of El Paso (present-day Ciudad Juárez) and the Rio Grande, a serious dispute arose about the parallel along which to run the actual boundary. After many surveyors and years, a line was finally run; it was, however, unsatisfactory to the United States because it ran too far north and left the prime area for the southern route of a transcontinental railroad in Mexico proper. Because of that location, the United States was obliged to buy the land from Mexico with the Gadsden Purchase.” (Dorothy Sloan, Auction 23, lot 397)

In all a most significant map, both for the interesting circumstances of its publication and for its pivotal role in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which yielded the United States’ largest territorial acquisition since the Louisiana Purchase.

Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 142-144. Martin, “John Disturnell’s Map of the United Mexican States,” A La Carte, pp. 204-221 (8th ed.) Phillips, Maps of America, p. 410. Rumsey #2541 (7th ed.) Dorothy Sloan, Auction 23, lot 397. Streeter vol. 1 #254, 255, 256, 257, 278 (various editions, though not the 8th). Taliaferro, Cartographic Sources in the Rosenberg Library, #283 (6th ed.) Wheat, Transmississippi West, vol. III #507, 540, 556, 606, and 669, discussing various editions of the map.


Evenly toned, minor spotting and discoloration, some discreet mends and reinforcements on verso, and a few small areas of fill along fold intersections. About very good overall.