A Western rarity: Thayer’s Map of the Black Hills and Big Horn Country (1877)

Edward Rollandet, THAYER’S MAP of the BLACK HILLS and BIG HORN COUNTRY Carefully prepared from the Official Maps of the General Land Office. Explorations of Capt. Wm. Ludlow and from latest Maps of the routes of General Custer and other Officers of the Army, furnished by Capt. W.S. Stanton Chief Engr. Dept. of the Platte and from the Engineer Dept. at Washington. Denver: H. L. Thayer, 1877.
Lithograph, 20”h x 26 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, outline color. Folded and tipped to original black cloth folder with printed title label pasted to front board and printed front endpaper. Ownership inscription of “John P. Kelley [illegible] D.T.” Just a hint of spotting, mild toning along some folds (exaggerated in the scans), and a few short separations at fold intersections. The map could be flattened and backed for display, but as is a lovely example of a fragile pocket map.

A superb and extremely rare map of the Black Hills, Wyoming Territory and adjacent areas soon after the conclusion of the Great Sioux War of 1876, depicting vastly-improved geographic knowledge of the region, the growing impact of the arrival of the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific Railroads, and the ongoing dispossession of the Plains Indians. “An imposing production” and “an important Wyoming map” (Wheat)

The map depicts all of the Wyoming Territory; much of Nebraska, the Dakota Territory and Montana Territory; and slivers of Colorado, Utah and Idaho. Thayer chose however to capitalize on public fascination with the Black Hills, the Sioux Wars and the death of Custer by titling it Map of the Black Hills and Big Horn Country… evidence that he was a savvy promoter as well as an excellent map publisher.  

Much of the region had been explored only in the previous decade, and was only recently seeing a surge of settlement in a few select locations such as the Black Hills following the discover of gold there, and along the lines of the Union and Northern Pacific Railroads. Thayer, a well-connected Civil War veteran, must have used his connections to access the most up-to-date official maps of the area, which were supplied by the General Land Office, the Chief Engineer of the Department of the Platte, and even the Topographical Engineers in Washington, D.C. My sense is that GLO maps, such as this 1876 map of Wyoming Territory, provided the base maps, with additions and alterations as appropriate from other sources.

The array of material enabled Thayer—or more likely his draftsman Edward Rollandet—to produce the most-detailed map to date of the natural and human landscape of this vast region. Areas of elevation are indicated rather loosely by hachuring, with no indication of relative elevations, while river and stream systems are shown in considerable detail. Superimposed on the natural landscape are territorial boundaries and those of Indian reservations and newly-created Yellowstone National Park; Army forts and outposts, settlements, and towns; a great number of trails, roads, telegraph lines, and the routes of the recently-completed Union Pacific and the Northern Pacific as far as Bismarck, Dakota Territory. The route of the Union Pacific through southern Nebraska and Wyoming is particularly dense with settlement and overlaid with the familiar grid of townships produced by General Land Office surveyors.

Publication history
For the history of the map’s publication I worked my way through period newspapers and found a nice trail of crumbs in the Black Hills Daily Times of Deadwood, Dakota Territory. The first announcement appears on April 26, 1877:

“By letter from Capt. H. L. Thayer, map publisher, Denver, we learn that he has in preparation and in the hands of the printer, a map of this country, taken from the latest Government surveys, and the best of authorities. From what we know of the Captain and his work in the map line, we feel perfectly safe in saying that it is a reliable work, and correct in every particular, where skill and ingenuity of man can accomplish that end. This will fill a want long felt in this community, for we believe there is not a map of the Hills country for sale in this place. Due notice will be given of their arrival.” (Black Hills Daily Times, Apr. 26, 1877, p.4)

The earliest notice of its availability is on June 5 of that year, in the same paper:

“Map of the Black Hills and Big Horn Country. 21 x 24 inches. Scale 25 miles to 1 inch. The topography is taken from U.S. surveys and explorations. The starting points from the Missouri river, and the U. P. R. R., with the routes, camping places and distances may be relied upon. Plain sheets 50 cents; muslin covers, boundaries colored $1.00. Sent by mail on receipt of price. Liberal discount to trade.” (Black Hills Daily Times, June 5, 1877, p.4)

The same page also features the following review:

“Thayer’s map of the Black Hills and Big Horn country was published yesterday. It has been compiled from the official land office surveys, government explorations, and maps executed by the United States army officers and engineers, and can safely be pronounced the best and most correct map of the kind yet in existence. Captain Thayer’s reputation for correctness, and his experience as a compiler and executor of maps are a sufficient guarantee for the excellence of his present work. Of course it will have a large sale.—Rocky Mountain News, May 30.


“We are in receipt of one of the above maps and have it on exhibition in our office. We have seen a number of maps of the Black Hills country, but this by far surpasses anything of the kind yet published for accuracy, and is also a fine piece of workmanship, and displays much skill by the publisher. Any one wanting a map of this kind will not go amiss by sending their order direct to Capt. H. L. Thayer, Denver.”

Thayer’s map was attacked in at least one paper, by partisans of Wyoming’s territorial claims.

“Another “map of the Black Hills” has been gotten out, this time by H. L. Thayer, of Denver, and with due reference to that gentleman’s feelings, we must pronounce it very incorrect. It locates Deadwood a trifle farther east than Custer, and therefore a trifle farther inside the Dakota boundary. Deadwood is northwest of Custer, and inside the Wyoming boundary line.” (Press and Daily Dakotaian, June 16, 1877, p. 2

The attack demonstrates just how little was still known about the region; Deadwood was later confirmed to be inside Dakota and remains so today. In any event, the attack doesn’t seem to have harmed the map’s reputation, at least in Deadwood. Two months later the Black Hills Daily Times makes reference to a second edition, though frustratingly with no information about how it has been “revised and corrected”:

“Thayer’s Map of the Black Hills. We are in receipt of copies of the second edition of this valuable map, which is considered by competent authorities to be the most correct map published of the Black Hills and Big Horn Country. This second edition is a revised and corrected copy of the first, and is so thorough in every particular that even the most casual observer who is acquainted with the country cannot fail to notice the superiority of this map over all others.” (Black Hills Daily Times, Aug. 15, 1877, p. 4)

I believe the example offered here to be from the first edition: Here the letters of the title are shaded and those of the states’ names unshaded; there is another edition with these letters in solid black. This latter edition also has two added notes: “Capt. Bates Fight July 4th 1874” (an Army attack on an Arapaho village) just south of the Big Horn Mountains, and “Custer’s Massacre June 1876” along the Little Horn River.

Thayer and Rollandet
Draftsman Edward Rollandet was born in Leyden, The Netherlands in 1852. After serving in the army for four years—perhaps where he developed his engineering and mapmaking skills—Rollandet emigrated to the United States in 1873. He came to Colorado in 1874 and worked for a time with the Maxwell Land Company, then in 1878 purchased a share in a Leadville mine and took a position as a draftsman in the Surveyor General’s office in Denver. In between these two stints he compiled this map for Thayer, along with Thayer’s New Map of the State of Colorado (1878). He later established himself in Denver as an engineer and sometime map publisher in his own right, issuing maps of Colfax and Mora Counties, New Mexico (1889) and Denver (1890), the latter of which went through many editions. At some point he returned to government service, during which time he worked with the United States Boundary Commission. He died in San Francisco in 1914.

Publisher Homer Lockwood Thayer was born in 1837 or -38 in Michigan, married in 1855, and worked for a time as a merchant in Lansing. In the Spring of 1861 he enlisted as a private in the Michigan infantry, saw action at First Bull Run and the Peninsula Campaign, and ended the war with the rank of Captain. He witnessed Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre and was the first to bring the news to Secretary of War Stanton and Chief Justice Chase. After the war he was posted to the Department of the Missouri in an administrative role, and was honorably discharged in 1867. One source tells us, somewhat cryptically, that he “remained out west working with a topographical survey where he also pursued an interest in mining”. Otherwise I find no suggestion in Thayer’s early career of an interest in surveying or mapmaking, much less any formal training in the field.

Thayer eventually settled in Denver, where he worked as a map publisher and possibly as a real estate agent. By 1880 he had moved on to Leadville, where he continued his work as a map publisher. During the Denver and Leadville years he published, in addition to the map offered here, maps of Colorado (1871), Denver (1872), the San Juan [Colorado] Mines (1875), Leadville (1880), Arizona (1880), and New Mexico (ca. 1880). By the late 1880s he was back in Lansing, where he lived until his death in 1904.

Rarity and references
The map is extremely rare; indeed Wheat knew only of a photostat at Yale. I find only one other record of its having appeared on the market, selling at the 1999 Siebert sale for $5750. I find institutional holdings only at the British Library, SMU, Stanford (the Rumsey Copy), the University of Wyoming, and Yale, this last extensively annotated by hand and ink stamps with country boundaries and county names.

Rumsey #0993. Wheat, Trans-Mississippi West, #1287. OCLC # 953571994 et al, listing just three institutional holdings as of Sept. 2020 (British Library, SMU, and Stanford). Not in Phillips, Maps of America or Streeter. Background on Rollandet from Bancroft, History of the Pacific States, vol. XX p. 655.