Anton Roessler’s 1874 map is one of the great large-format 19th-century depictions of Texas, being among other things the only published map to preserve the findings of Shumard’s Antebellum agricultural and geological survey. In scale, detail and content it represents a giant leap forward from Ferdinand Roemer’s 1849 geological map, and for its depiction of the state’s natural resources and agricultural potential must be considered a landmark in the mapping of Texas.
Born in Hungary in 1826, Anton Roessler is remembered today with universal ambivalence: Those in the know credit his talent, determination and great contributions to Texas geography and geology, but also feel compelled to acknowledge his combative personality and questionable professional ethics.
The circumstances of Roessler’s training in Europe and arrival in Texas are not clear, but by 1860 he had arrived and “rapidly become one of the best cartographers in Texas.” That year he was appointed to the Texas Geological Survey, overseen by State Geologist Benjamin Franklin Shumard and the first survey of its kind in the state. Unfortunately the endeavor was soon aborted by the outbreak of the Civil War, which saw most of its members leave for service with the Union. Roessler remained, however, serving during the War as Chief Draftsman of the Austin Arsenal. In this capacity he was somehow able to preserve many of the maps and samples accumulated during the short life of the Geological Survey. These would “otherwise would have been lost or destroyed during the war years, when the geological survey rooms were used as a percussion-cap factory.” (Connor) It seems likely that Roessler’s mixed reputation stems from this rescue and retention of the Shumard Survey records, for in 1874 Texas State Geologist S. B. Buckley attacked him in print for theft of same. Buckley himself was a dodgy figure, and Roessler responded in kind, but the damage to his reputation has been lasting. (Young, pp. 34-35)
After a stint as a geologist at the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. in the late 1860s, Roessler may have moved for a time to New York City. In any event, at some point he became involved with the Texas Land and Immigration Company of New York, serving as its Secretary. And it was in that capacity, undeterred by Buckley’s attack, that he put the maps and notes of the Shumard Survey to private use, issuing more than a dozen maps of Texas counties (the exact number is not clear). At least some of these credit the Land and Immigration Company as the publisher and/or bear its letterhead. Almost all are dated 1876 and were printed by the Brett Lithography Company at 116 Fulton Street, New York. (Young, p. 41-42) Unfortunately we have found no other record of the Company’s activities or Roessler’s participation therein.
“Roessler’s motives for salvaging the survey data for mapmaking are somewhat suspect; but in whatever manner he obtained the data, the maps were mostly published under the banner of the Texas Land and Immigration Company of New York. In addition to geological data of the survey, the maps contained promotional material of a later date.” (Connor)
Latest Map of the State of Texas
Offered here is Roessler’s best-known cartographic work, his monumental Latest Map of the State of Texas (1874). The map depicts the state in its entirety, along with large areas of adjacent Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and New Mexico, and parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. The map is absolutely packed with information, particularly in the eastern part of the state. All the essentials are of course present: Rivers and river systems drawn with some care, elevations indicated by hachuring, and superimposed upon these the human landscape of county boundaries, the latter picked out in wash color; cities, towns and settlements; and roads, trails, “completed” and “projected” railroads, and even three types of post routes.
But that’s just the beginning. With access to the otherwise-lost maps of the Shumard Survey, Roessler was able to give a strikingly-detailed depiction of what lay above and below the surface. Seven distinct symbols indicate the predominant ground cover (post oak, black jack, pine, cypress and so on); while a whopping 22 symbols indicate mineral, metal and other subterranean resources, including everything from iron to “nitre caves”. There is no mention of oil, but—with the benefit of hindsight–symbols for coal, brown coal and “mineral asphalt” hint at the staggering wealth that would eventually be extracted. An inset map at left delineates the state’s “agricultural districts and varieties of soils”, including vast areas “unequalled for … excellent pasturage” and others, nearly as vast, featuring “rich sandy Soil, heavily timbered and easy of Cultivation”. Finally, two pictorial vignettes depict the State Capitol building and the headquarters of the General Land Office in Austin; the latter is of some documentary value, as the structure burned in 1881.
The vast majority of the geological information on the map could only have come from the maps and records of the Shumard Survey in Roessler’s possession. Oddly, these go unmentioned in the long list of “Authorities” given just below the title, though it is hard to know whether to interpret this as a tacit admission of guilt on Roessler’s part or simply a wish to avoid further controversy.
Nowhere on the map is Roessler’s Texas Land and Immigration Company mentioned. Nevertheless, the map’s fundamentally promotional message is clear: The State of Texas was vast and underpopulated, boasted excellent infrastructure, and offered staggering opportunities for farmers, miners and affiliated sectors. Indeed just a couple of years later Roessler would write that “Texas is, or will be, the wealthiest state in the Union, possessing as she does great agricultural capabilities, [and] all the varieties of soils, minerals and useful rocks known to exist in the world.” (Roessler, “Some Account of the Mineral Wealth of Texas,” Albert Hanford’s Texas State Register for 1876, p. 87)
It is not known exactly when Roessler began work on the printed map, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune for March 1, 1874 reported that it was in progress: “…Prof. Roessler, the Texas geologist, now in New York preparing a map of the mineral resources of the State at the office of the New York South.” (p. 7) The map must have been completed soon thereafter, for in August of that year the Austin American-Statesman printed a short review.
“A NEW MAP OF TEXAS–We have been presented by Mr. A. R. Roessler, the publisher, with one of his late and improved maps of this State, which fills a need that has long been felt. The counties created at the last session of the Legislature appear upon the map, as also much valuable information regarding the area and geology of the State; the enumeration of the principal minerals, rocks, soils, and timber varieties, arranged according to counties, etc., as also information in regard to railroads, completed and in contemplation. In short it is a complete and valuable map, selling at from seventy-five cents to two dollars a copy.” (Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 23, 1874, p. 3)
The map features yet another puzzle, namely the claim that it was “compiled and drawn” by one “M.V. Mittendorfer, C.E.” Maximilian van Mittendorfer (fl. 1871-1896) was a New York-based artist, draughtsman, and architect, rather elusive as his name is given varyingly as “Max”, “M.V.”, “Maximilian V.”, “Maximilian van”, and lastly “Maximilian von”. He first shows up an artist working in Brooklyn in 1871 where he produced an image of Cupid, which was “handsomely lithographed by Julius Schledorn”. In that same year, he was elected co-Librarian of the Palette Society, an association of artists and promoters of the arts. He evidently did not find enough work as an artist and quickly transformed himself into a design journeyman, showing up in New York City business directories as a designer, draughtsman, and architect from at least 1871 to at least the mid-1880s. He worked at 83 Nassau Street until moving to 150 Broadway (no more than a five-minute walk from the former location) sometime in the 1880s. Later he moved to 61 Park Place.
We have traced three maps in which Mittendorfer had a hand, the most important of which is the 1874 map of Texas offered here. This was followed a year later by a Map of Llano County Showing Geology, presumably also done in partnership with Roessler (Day, Texas Maps, #1524). The third map was evidently made in 1896 for the Hangerman Land Company and was titled Map of Grand View Park, property of The Hangerman Land Company, situated at Rocky Point, Suffolk County, New York. Though Mittendorfer billed himself as a civil engineer (“C.E.”) when signing the Roessler map, we have found no external evidence that he was trained or qualified as a civil engineer.
Controversies and mysteries notwithstanding, the extraordinary level of detail on Roessler’s map, and its prefiguring of the enormous wealth the state would produce in the 20th century, merit its reputation as one of the monuments in the 19th-century mapping of Texas.
Day, Maps of Texas, p. 90. Phillips, List of Maps of America, p. 847. Taliaferro, Cartographic Sources in the Rosenberg Library, #349. Background on Roessler from Keith Young, “Roessler, Anton R.” on the web site of the Texas State Historical Association (accessed Aug. 2020) and from Keith Young, “The Roessler Maps,” Texas Journal of Science 17 (March 1965).
Offered in partnership with Barry Ruderman Antique Maps.