Views of the Borderlands: The Report on the United States and
Mexican Boundary Survey
, 1857-1859

Paula Rebert

The Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey has been called “one of the masterworks of Western and American history.”1  Published in the years 1857 to 1859, it was the official report of the U.S. Boundary Commission upon completing its work of surveying and mapping the United States-Mexico boundary.2   It is one of the most highly illustrated government publications of the nineteenth century, and  together with the Pacific Railroad Reports, it represents the high point of illustration in accounts of western exploration.  This paper will present an overview of the variety of illustrations in the boundary Report and consider the following question: Why did the establishment of the U.S.-Mexico boundary call for such extensive illustration?

The boundary survey was a consequence of the U.S.-Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which concluded the war on February 2, 1848.  The treaty transferred to the United States nearly half of the territory of Mexico and delimited the boundary.  Some of the land was settled by Mexican ranchers and farmers, but much of the territory was unexplored and to Americans, it was an unknown land.  Commissions from both the U.S. and Mexico began the survey and demarcation of the line in 1849.  In 1853, through negotiation of the Gadsden Treaty, the United States purchased additional territory that now forms the southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico.  The boundary survey was completed in 1855, and the U.S. and Mexican commissions finished their maps in 1857, while work on the U.S. final Report continued for another two years.3

The U.S. Boundary Commission was a large organization.  Its members included political appointees, civilian employees, artists and scientists (some having support outside the commission), and officers of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers.  The Topographical Engineers directed most of the boundary demarcation and mapping.  The U.S.-Mexico boundary survey was one of many public works carried out by the Corps; from the 1830s until the Civil War, the Topographical Engineers were especially involved in the exploration and mapping of the TransMississippi West.

To present the results of their expeditions, the Topographical Engineers produced many reports.  The reports often contained an abundance of original illustrations.  Ron Tyler has estimated that in the short time span from 1843 to 1863, the federal government, through the reports of the Topographical Engineers, supported the publication of over 1,600 different illustrations related to the exploration of the West.4  Production peaked in the 1850s with the issue of the Pacific Railroad reports, which began publication in 1854, and the boundary Report.5

The U.S.-Mexico boundary Report  was published in two massive volumes, sometimes in three, and its contents make up an encyclopedia of the Southwest.  It presents not only the results of the boundary survey, but also the results of the scientific investigations connected with the survey.  There are essays on the geography of the region and the Indians who lived in it; articles on geology, paleontology, meteorology, magnetism, minerals, and plant distribution; and vast catalogs of the plants, animals, and fossils that the boundary commission’s collectors gathered for study by scientists who eagerly awaited the specimens.  The Report contains three maps, including a general map of the West, a geological map, and a map of magnetic observations.  Conspicuously absent from the Report, however, are any maps of the boundary.  Although at least some of the boundary maps were originally planned for publication with the Report, Congress did not provide funds and they were never published.6

Major William H. Emory, a Topographical Engineer, Chief Astronomer, and fourth U.S. Boundary Commissioner, oversaw production of the Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey.  Although the title page bears his name, the Report is the work of many contributors.  Some of the authors who wrote the essays on different subjects were participants in the field survey, while others remained in their offices and worked with data and specimens.  Many individuals were also involved in producing the illustrations in the Report.  Because the mid-nineteenth century was a time of experimentation and development of new printing methods, the illustrations in the Report were reproduced by a variety of techniques.  Many different artists, engravers, and printers contributed their expertise.

In all of the essays, the illustrations are closely tied to the text.  The geological reports in Volume I, Part II, for example, contain twenty-two drawings and diagrams that illustrate the features discussed.  The authors of the geological chapters are Charles C. Parry and Arthur C. V. Schott, who both participated in the field survey, and James Hall, the influential state geologist of New York.  Although the illustrations do not have artists’ credits, the authors made at least some of their own drawings. They include sketches of particular features as well as geological cross sections with labels and legends to designate rock types noted in the essays.   As an example, a drawing titled “Sectional view on a ravine leading toward the Rio Bravo del Norte, near San Carlos, showing igneous rock directly associated with Cretaceous limestone” appears in Parry’s report on “Geological Features of the Rio Grande Valley from El Paso to the Mouth of the Pecos River.”  It depicts sectional views of the  walls of the ravine, showing rock strata marked by letters that are explained in a legend.7

The geological reports include a catalog of fossils collected during the survey.  Most of the fossils are shells, and they were collected mainly by Schott and Emory.  Timothy A. Conrad, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, identified and described the fossils. Twenty-one full-page, black-and-white plates were drawn by paleontologist Fielding B. Meek and engraved by John E. Gavit to illustrate the descriptions.

Many beautiful illustrations also fill the catalogs of plants and animals collected during the survey.  Volume II, Part I of the Report is on botany.  The main chapter, “Botany of the Boundary,” is by Princeton University botanist John Torrey, who identified and classified the plants of the borderlands, naming and describing many new genera and species.  Torrey’s catalog is complemented by sixty-one full-page, black-and-white plates.  One of the plates, for example, illustrates the sandpaper plant, Petalonyx thurberi, named for one of the boundary commission’s botanists and collectors, George Thurber, who found it in bloom in May and June in the valley of the Gila River (Figure 1).8

Another chapter of Volume II, Part I was written by St. Louis physician and botanist George Engelmann, and was dedicated to one group of plants, the cacti.  Similar to Torrey’s chapter, it lists and describes the cacti of the borderlands and names many new species.  It is illustrated with seventy-five plates, all drawn by Paulus Roetter of St. Louis.  They were engraved by a number of different craftsmen, including several European artists whom Engelmann commissioned during a trip to Europe.

Volume II, Part II contains the Zoology of the Boundary, divided into sections on fishes, reptiles, mammals, and birds.  All of these are catalogs of species, with classifications and descriptions.  The chapter on fishes by Smithsonian zoologist Charles F. Girard contains forty-one full-page, black-and-white plates.  Some of the plates indicate that they were drawn by John H. Richard of the Smithsonian Institution and engraved by William H. Dougal of Georgetown, D.C.  They depict  specimens that were collected by boundary survey naturalists.

Spencer F. Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, prepared the chapter on “Reptiles of the Boundary.”  It is illustrated with forty-one full-page, black-and-white plates, some of which are signed by Richard and Dougal.  An example is Plate 1 of the report, depicting one of the characteristic reptiles of the borderlands, the western diamondback rattlesnake (Figure 2).  It was found by several boundary survey collectors throughout Texas and in the bottoms of the Gila and Colorado Rivers.9

The report on “Mammals of the Boundary” was also written by Baird, with illustrations drawn by J. H. Richard and R. Metzeroth and engraved by Dougal and Metzeroth.  There are twenty-seven full-page, black-and-white plates showing the mammals.  Most of the plates are illustrations of skulls and teeth, but a few show the whole animal.  Again, the artists depended upon specimens received from boundary survey collectors.

The chapter on birds, also by Baird, contains some of the most appealing illustrations in the Report.  There are twenty-five full-page plates, all in color, drawn by Baird and lithographed by Bowen & Company of Philadelphia.  An example is the plate illustrating the Mexican trogon, collected by Lieutenant D. N. Couch in Nuevo León, Mexico (Figure 3).10

In addition to the pictures in the natural history chapters of the Report, there are also scenes of Indian and frontier society.  The pictures of Indians have often been reproduced.  They are full-page, color illustrations, nine of them altogether.  All are by Schott, engraved on stone by Sarony, Major & Knapp of New York.   The nine drawings complement  the discussions of Indian culture in the chapters on geography.  The report on the survey of the Rio Grande above the Devil’s River by Lieutenant  of Topographical Engineers Nathaniel Michler, for example, includes a portrait of a Lipan warrior, a member of the Apache tribe that lived along the river and aided Michler as guides.11  Several scenes of Indian life also illuminate Michler’s report on the survey of the U.S.-Sonora line, such as the portrait of two women of the Papago tribe, or Tohono O’odham, of southern Arizona.  Schott depicts them harvesting cactus fruit.12

Views of cities and forts built by Spanish and Anglo settlers further reveal border life.  Ten of these illustrations appear in Emory’s geographical essays.  Most of them have no artist’s signatures but at least two are by Schott and one is by boundary commission draftsman Augustus de Vaudricourt.  The views were reproduced by various craftsmen as woodcuts or engravings on steel in black-and-white, and one as an engraving on stone in color.

The remaining ninety-seven illustrations in the Report are topographical drawings or landscapes, the largest subject category.  They appear throughout the geographical and geological reports.  Most were drawn by Schott or by John E. Weyss, although many are unsigned.  They were reproduced by a variety of techniques, including engraving on steel, engraving on stone, and woodcut.  Several different individuals or firms were responsible for the reproductions, including Dougal, Smillie, Louderback & Hoffmann, Metzeroth, and Sarony.  A color illustration of the “Falls of the Rio Salado,” for example, was drawn by an anonymous artist, but lithographed by Sarony, Major & Knapp.13   It shows the falls on the Salado River above its  junction with the Rio Grande, including the rocky outcrops around the falls and the forests lining the banks of the river.  The text it accompanies describes the geology and the unusual trees found on the Rio Salado.  Another picture is the only illustration in the boundary Report that shows the surveyors with one of their surveying instruments.  It is titled “Brownsville—Texas,” drawn by Weyss and engraved on steel by James Smillie.14   The scene portrays the surveyors in their camp, not actually conducting a survey, and in the background is Brownsville, located on the Rio Grande near the Gulf of Mexico.

Other landscapes that show the boundary commission depict only its camps or travel caravans, such as the woodcut by an unnamed artist, engraved by Louderback & Hoffmann,  titled, “Arroyo Secate, two miles below Loredo [sic].”15  It shows the mules and wagons of the commission traversing a deep arroyo and appears in Emory’s geographical account of the lower Rio Grande.  Emory was interested in the arroyos that characterize that part of the country, and the text that the picture accompanies discusses how they are formed.  Another example is the print engraved on steel by John Serz, drawn by an unnamed artist, titled “Limpia—Wild Rose Pass.”16  It shows a camp in the Davis Mountains of TransPecos Texas, an area that the boundary commission traversed en route to establish its headquarters at El Paso.  It captures the natural landscape of a southwestern mountain range and conveys information about its landforms and vegetation, but the view of the camp shows nothing of the commission’s work, and the location of the scene is far from the boundary.

The landscapes include views of places throughout the borderlands, but one group of pictures portrays the boundary itself.  A set of sixty-four drawings accompanies the reports on the surveys between the Rio Grande and the Colorado River, the land boundary delimited by the Gadsden Treaty.  This large group of drawings was singled out in the Report, where it was noted that they were to serve a special purpose, distinct from the other illustrations.  In Emory’s words, “they were taken to perpetuate the evidences of the location of the boundary, in the event of the Indians removing the monuments erected on the ground.”17

The Gadsden Treaty line was mapped in sectional sheets, with two surveying parties dividing the work.  Commissioner Emory directed the first party, working westward from the Rio Grande on the 31°47’N parallel for one hundred miles, then south to the 31°20’N parallel, and west to the 111°W meridian.  The sectional sheets resulting from Emory’s survey were numbered from east to west, from map “No. 29” at the Rio Grande through map “No. 38” at the 111°W meridian.18  Lieutenant Michler led the survey of the second section from the 111°W meridian on an azimuth line to the Colorado River.  Michler’s team produced maps beginning with part of “No. 38” at the 111°W meridian through “No. 44” at the Colorado River.   Although Michler’s party originally planned to work from the Colorado River eastward, in the end it surveyed the boundary from the 111°W meridian westward to the Colorado.19  The sixty-four drawings of the boundary were made by two members of the surveys, John E. Weyss and Arthur C. V. Schott.  Weyss was the topographer, and Schott the geologist and naturalist, who made many of the illustrations already mentioned.  Both Weyss and Schott were surveyors on the boundary commission who worked closely with the Topographical Engineers, although neither was a member of the Corps.

Weyss was with Emory’s party.  His set of thirty-two drawings depicts the border topography between the initial point on the Rio Grande and Rio Los Nogales, near the 111°W meridian.  In the boundary Report they are reproduced as engravings on steel, numbered from 1 to 32, engraved by Dougal, and appended to Emory’s chapter titled, “Sketch of Territory Acquired by Treaty of December 30, 1853.”  The chapter concludes with a section of “Notes to Accompany Sketches, (Views Along the Boundary Line on Parallel 31°47’ and 31°20’ North Latitude), by John E. Weyss, from Starting Point on the Rio Bravo to 111th Meridian of Longitude.”20

Schott was with Michler’s party, working in union with a group of engineers from the Mexican boundary commission.  Schott’s drawings along the azimuth line are reproduced as thirty-two steel engravings, some engraved by Smillie and some by Dougal, numbered from 33 to 64.  They are included in Michler’s report, “From the 111th Meridian of Longitude to the Pacific Ocean.”  Michler did not comment on the individual views, but noted that “Mr. Schott has made a large and interesting collection of botanical plants and of natural history, besides making careful examinations of the geology of the country; he has also taken the views of the scenery along the line, which accompany this report.”21

Made while the surveys were in progress, the views by Weyss and Schott and the final boundary maps are correlated.  They offer parallel representations of the topography, the boundary monuments, and the location of the line.  Weyss’s drawings are further explained by Emory’s “Notes to Accompany Sketches.”  Schott’s drawings, although not reinforced by explanatory notes, are related to Michler’s report and occasionally to the text of Schott’s geological report on the country between the 111°W meridian and the Colorado River.

The commissioners entrusted with the establishment of the U.S.-Mexico boundary intended that the maps and views together would document the boundary survey and demonstrate the location of the line, thereby legally establishing the boundary.  In a meeting of the joint boundary commission, U.S. Commissioner Emory and Mexican Commissioner José Salazar signed the following statement:

Whereas Señor Salazar has stated it to be within his personal knowledge that some of the monuments erected by Mr. Emory were destroyed and others mutilated by the Indians, in the short space of time elapsing between the construction of these monuments and the final inspection of them by Mr. Salazar; and whereas it appears, from the maps and views which have been drawn, that the topographical features of the country, based upon astronomical determinations, are represented in sufficient detail to enable any intelligent person to identify the line at any required point; therefore, be it

Resolved, and agreed upon in joint commission, that these maps and views, duplicate copies of which will be made—one to be deposited with the United States, the other with the Mexican government—shall be evidence of the location of the true line, and shall be the record to which all disputes between the inhabitants on either side of the line, as to the location of that line, shall be referred; and it is further agreed that the line shown by these maps and views shall be regarded as the true line, from which there shall be no appeal or departure.22

According to the commissioners, the maps and views, when completed and signed, were to be used together to demonstrate the location of the boundary, and were to be regarded as legal evidence of its position.  The commissioners’ intentions in making the views may therefore best be considered by examining the correlated maps and drawings together.

Weyss’s first drawings, Sketch No. 1, Sketch No. 2, and Sketch No. 3, are correlated with boundary map “No. 29.”  Sketch No. 1 is titled, “View of the initial point of the boundary line on the Rio Bravo del Norte—looking west.”  From a high point, it looks across the valley of the Rio Grande toward a boundary monument on the river and a background of mountains with a tiny flag atop one of the peaks.  Emory’s note says, “The flag indicates the point where the line crosses the mountain known as the ‘Muleras.’”23  Map “No. 29” shows the boundary as a line tracing the 31°47’N parallel, beginning at the Rio Grande and running west across a heavily hachured area labeled “Muleras.”

 Continuing west, the boundary on the map crosses an open area dotted with symbols for sand and gravel, rises over a scarp, and runs on across an open plain.  Boundary monument no. 2 is shown deep in the Muleras Mountains and monument no. 3 is placed at the edge of the scarp.  Emory’s note continues as follows: “Directly west of [the Muleras], the line crosses a very sandy valley, supposed to be a former bed of the Rio Grande, and strikes the table land (some 200 feet above the river) about three miles from the initial point.  Here sketches Nos. 2 and 3 were taken, looking respectively east and west.”  Sketch No. 2 is titled  “View along the boundary line—looking east from monument no. 3 on parallel 31°47’.”  It presents a scene looking east from the scarp, a flag just visible on the mountains in the middle distance.  Emory says that “Sketch No. 2 is a back view, looking towards the initial point, again showing where the line crosses the Muleras mountain, and also, in the back-ground, the mountains near Franklin, east of the river.”24  The two sketches illustrate the features shown on the map, although the boundary line connecting the monuments and flags in the drawings must be imagined.

Sketch No. 3 shows a flag in the foreground, a vast plain stretching away into the distance, a solitary peak far away in the center of the horizon, and a distant mountain range on the horizon at the right.  Emory notes that it is “a view taken at the same point as No. 2; that is, where the line first strikes the table-land, but in the direction of the line westward.  The line here leads over an apparently endless level table-land, which is very sandy and generally without grass, but thickly covered with clumps of bushes and small sand-hills four or five feet high.  On the horizon, exactly in the line, is visible the top of an isolated mountain, serving beautifully as a natural monument.  The mountains seen on the right hand are the ‘Sierra del Potrillo.’”25    The flag shown in the sketch was probably used by the surveyors as a marker in running the line; it is not a permanent boundary monument.  In fact, the Mexican commission that later resurveyed the boundary on the 31°47’N parallel reported that no monuments established by the U.S. commission were to be found in this part of the line.26   As in the previous sketches, the boundary line may be imagined in the view shown in Sketch No. 3, but its exact position in the “endless tableland” is impossible to determine.

Map “No. 30” continues the boundary line westward, across a featureless plain.  The Sierra del Potrillo are at upper right center.  At the left edge of the sheet, the line strikes the isolated mountain that Emory described as a natural monument.  The mountain is  unnamed on the map.  Just to the west of the isolated peak is shown the only boundary monument on this map sheet, monument no. 4.  A distance of some forty miles separates monuments no. 3 and no. 4.  Even with map and sketch in hand, on the ground it would be difficult to know the location of the line.

One hundred miles from the Rio Grande, the boundary on the 31°47’N parallel turns south, as shown on map “No. 32.”  The monument marking the turning point of the boundary is located in the hills at the center of the map.  Weyss’s Sketch No. 9 shows the “View from the monument marking the terminal point of boundary on parallel 31°47’—looking south along the meridian.”  Emory notes that the flag, seen on the horizon in the drawing, “marks the direction across the hills.”27  The monument itself, erected by the U.S. commission, appears in the foreground.

There is no view along the 31°47’N parallel at the monument shown in Sketch No. 9, either  looking toward the monument or showing the line running from it.  Sketch No. 8 instead shows the “View from the monument marking the terminal point of boundary on parallel 31°47’—looking west (not along the Boundary).”  It presents a sweeping view of the terrain and well-observed details of the desert vegetation.  The boundary monument appears as an insignificant pile of rocks.  But the boundary line is not in the view.  Sketch No. 7 offers a “View of the Carrizalillo Hills where crossed by the bound[ar]y line on parallel 31°47’—looking west” (Figure 4).  The Carrizalillo Hills appear at the upper right of map “No. 32,” and the boundary cuts them in half.  In the drawing, it is difficult to visualize the location of the boundary.  A small flag on the horizon is the only clue, and the exact station from which the drawing was made is not specified.  Emory’s description is of little help.  He says that the line “leads up a steep valley across these hills, through an open valley, into another series of hills, where the parallel 31°47’ terminates.”28  But the drawing does present a careful observation of the eroded landforms.

From the monument at the end of the 31°47’N parallel, the boundary runs south in a straight line to the 31°20’N parallel, where it turns west again.  Along the 31°20’N  parallel, the U.S. commission built a number of substantial monuments.  They were constructed as mounds of stones while the survey was in progress.  Sketch No. 17 portrays one of them and clearly records its appearance (Figure 5).  The caption reads, “View from Emory’s monument south of the San Luis Springs looking west along the parallel of 31°20’.”  The caption is descriptive, but in his views along the 31°20’N parallel Weyss did not assign numbers to the monuments that he pictured or used as stations, so the drawings and maps are not as well correlated as in the sketches from the 31°47’N parallel.

Map “No. 34,” however, shows the San Luis Springs just north of the boundary and a monument labeled “No. 14” that is probably the monument shown in the drawing (Figure 6).  It stands near the road that crosses the valley between the San Luis Range on the east and Guadalupe Canyon on the west.  Just northeast of the monument, two trails come together to form the road that passes near the monument.  One trail is labeled on the map, “Road to Janos [Mexico],” and the other is the “Wagon road opened by the U.S. Boundary Commission 1855.”  To the west, the road is joined by yet another trail, the “California emigrant road.”  The united trails proceed west through the “Entrance to Guadalupe Cañon” in the “Sierra de Guadalupe.”  In his commentary on Sketch No. 17, Emory notes that “the top of the mountain on the back-ground, directly over the monument, is the first over which the line runs near the Guadalupe Pass.”29  In Weyss’s drawing, one may imagine the straight boundary line connecting the monument with the tiny peak on the horizon.  The surrounding view of the expansive desert grasslands suggests how difficult it would be to know exactly where the line ran on the land.

Weyss’s Sketch No. 19 is a view of Guadalupe Canyon.  Titled “First view of the Guadalupe Cañon along the boundary line on parallel 31°20’—looking west,” it offers a grand scene of hills and pinnacles of rock receding to a far horizon, with one tiny flag in the middle distance.  The hillside in the foreground displays characteristic trees and shrubs.  As a topographical drawing, it conveys much information about the desert and mountain geography.  Emory says that the location where the drawing was made was “the point marked by the flag in No. 18.”30  But the exact position of the flag is not given and the line of the boundary through the mountains is not delineated, making Sketch No. 19 ambiguous as evidence of the boundary.

Continuing west along the 31°20’N parallel, the last of Weyss’s drawings is Sketch No. 32, which bears the caption, “View from the monument near Los Nogales, looking south (not along the line).”  Sketch No. 32 was taken from a position that can be found on map “No. 38” (Figure 7).  The map itself was drawn by John Weyss, whose name appears in the map’s title, and it is an excellent example of his skills as a cartographer.  The Rio Los Nogales is shown at the right side of the map, and on the course of the river, just north of the boundary, is located and labeled the U.S. commission’s astronomical observatory.  South of the observatory is monument no. 26, the site from which Weyss drew Sketch No. 32.  Emory says that the sketch “shows where the line crosses the road leading from Tucson to Imuris.”31  The road follows the channel of the river, and is labeled on the map.  The drawing does not show the monument, only the view that one should expect to see looking south from it, including the road.  The forms of the vegetation and eroded layers of rock captured Weyss’s attention and are carefully recorded.

Schott’s drawings take up where Weyss’s leave off, at the intersection of the 31°20’N parallel with the U.S.-Sonora azimuth line at the 111°W meridian.  The meridian was marked by monument no. 27 from the Rio Grande, the last monument erected by Emory’s surveying party.  Just to the west of it is monument no. XIX from the Colorado River.  Even though Michler’s team numbered the monuments eastward from the Colorado River, no. XIX was the first monument that his party established in its westward survey.  A little further west, deep in the Pajarito Mountains, is monument no. XVIII.  On the very left edge of the map is monument no. XVII, located on a peak called Cerro de Sonora.  Although the monument appears on map “No. 38,” the name of the peak is labeled on the contiguous map sheet, map “No. 39.”

Schott’s first drawing, Sketch No. 33, is titled, “View from monument no. XIX, on the Sierra del Pajarito, looking east towards the monument at the intersection of 111th meridian and parallel 31°20’ North.”  The monument is a small pyramid topped by a flag, barely rising above the underbrush.  Michler says of this monument that “the hill on the side of which it is erected is low compared to the high peaks in its immediate vicinity; its locality is not easily discovered.”   He reports that the azimuth of the line to the Colorado was measured from the monument.  “A large live-oak growing on the adjoining ridge,” he said, “was found to be in the direction of the line, and answered the purpose of a monument, (No. XIX from the Rio Colorado.)”32  Two shrub oaks appear in the foreground of Schott’s drawing, but the monument tree is not pictured.

Sketch No. 34 shows the “View from monument no. XIX, looking west towards monument no. XVIII, in the Puerto de la Sierra del Pajarito.”  It is a wide view of rolling hills, an occasional sharp peak, and in the foreground, dense vegetation made up of gnarled, broken tree trunks and a canopy of leaves.  Michler tells us that the hills in this area “are covered with live-oak trees, and are overspread with a rich growth of grama grass; they are capped by masses of conglomerate rocks.  Monument XVIII, distant from XIX, a little over three miles, is situated on the same sierra.”33  Monument no. XVIII does not appear in the drawing, and there is no indication of the boundary line.

Sketch No. 35 reveals the “View from monument XVIII, in the Puerto de la Sierra del Pajarito, looking west towards monument XVII, on the Cerro de Sonora” (Figure 8).  Michler writes that “the country here presents a new aspect.  Powerful volcanic irruptions have at some earlier period of the world’s history produced great disturbances in this part of the earth.”  Of monument no. XVII, he observes that it is “seventeen miles from XVIII … over almost impassable mountains.”34  Schott’s Sketch No. 35 from monument no. XVIII does not include the monument, nor can monument no. XVII, seventeen miles distant, be seen.  Rugged mountain peaks and the distinctive desert mountain flora are evident, but exactly where the boundary crosses the mountains in the sketch is not clear.

Sketch No. 35, however, also serves as a geological illustration.  In his geological essay for the Report, Schott discusses the mountains west of the Sierra del Pajarito and refers to Sketch No. 34 and Sketch No. 35 to clarify his description.  “A rugged net of mountain ranges is spread out, made up of metamorphic rocks,” he says, “and though the single sierras do not rise very high, they form a very bold mountain relief by the close, uninterrupted texture of the inclined plane which constitutes them.  (See outline sketches Nos. 34 and 35 of the azimuth line.)”35

Sketch No. 38 looks eastward from the monument that appears at the left margin of map “No. 38” (Figure 9).  The site is high atop the Cerro de Sonora.  The drawing’s caption reads, “View from monument no. XVII, looking east towards monument no. XVIII.”  Monument no. XVII, a construction of piled up rocks, is part of the view.  Monument no. XVIII is somewhere in the distance, out of sight, and the trace of the boundary is not indicated.  Schott’s fascination with the plant life is apparent.  Although they are not permanent features that identify the boundary, the ocotillo, agaves, and barrel cactus in the foreground are rendered in great detail, even if in a rather exoticized manner.

To the west, map “No. 40” depicts the azimuth line as it runs across the desert basin and range topography in the area that is now the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation, just to the east of Organ Pipe National Monument.  The map includes several Indian villages, called the Papago rancherias.  Monument no. XIII is located at the right side of the sheet, near the Sierra de Cobota.  From the monument, the line runs westward across a basin, over a mountain range, and across another basin.  The next monument, no. XII, is on an eastern flank of a third range at the left side of the map.  Michler says that the distance from monument no. XIII to monument no. XII is 27.7 miles.36

Sketch No. 46, correlated with map “No. 40,” is the “View from monument no. XIII looking west towards monument no. XII.”  The viewpoint of the sketch is thus from the monument at the base of the Sierra de Cobota, looking toward the monument over twenty-seven miles away, with a mountain range in between it and the station of the drawing.  The outline of the peaks as seen from monument no. XIII is distinctive, but the scene is dominated by Schott’s observation of young saguaros growing up in the shade of an oak.

A final example of a boundary drawing is a sketch of the line shown on map “No. 43.”  The main feature on this sheet is the Sierra de la Gila, the Gila Mountains, where springs frequented by desert travelers called the Tinajas Altas are found.  In the mountains just south of the springs is boundary monument no. IV.  The next monument to the west appears on the next map sheet, and is some forty-five miles away, near the Colorado River.37

Correlated with map “No. 43” is Schott’s Sketch No. 60, captioned “View from monument no. IV looking west towards Monument No. III.”  Michler says that “the sierras … were troublesome to work on; their summits are so peaked as to make it difficult to find a place sufficiently large upon which to stand or place an instrument.”  The surveyors, he wrote, “had to console themselves by sitting up all night after their work was done, as there was not sufficient space to stretch themselves out.”38  Schott described these mountains in his geological report.  He wrote vividly as follows: “the morphological features of these walls of rock bear a resemblance to the ice formations of the Polar seas.  Similar causes have effected similar results; there, we have the consolidation of aqueous masses; here, the crystallization of pluto-volcanic rock.  Similar in outline, there are, on the one hand, ice-fields, hummocks, packs, and icebergs; on the other, vast beds of trachytic lava, contorted peaks of porphyritic or amygdaloid rocks, upheaved edges of immense beds of metamorphic masses forced upon each other—broken, crushed, and shattered—and formed over again.”39  Schott’s sketch doesn’t reveal the appearance of the monument or the position of the line, but illustrates his geological description.

The desert lands between the Rio Grande and the Colorado River, so difficult to survey, were regarded by the boundary commissioners as inaccessible and of little interest to U.S. or Mexican citizens.  Consequently, the boundary was marked with only a few monuments.  And these, as the commissioners noted, were liable to destruction by Indians.  The exact latitude and longitude of only a few of the boundary monuments were recorded in the final Report, such as monument no. 1 on the Rio Grande, the initial point on the Colorado, and monument no. 2 from the Colorado.  On the U.S.-Sonora azimuth line, monuments were located by distance measurements between monuments, measuring from the initial point on the Colorado.40

Because of the poorly marked boundary on the ground, Commissioners Emory and Salazar agreed that the maps and views were to be the evidence of the location of the line.  On September 21, 1857,  the commissioners met to sign the boundary maps, and on September 30, 1857, they met for the last time and signed the views.  On September 29, Emory wrote to the secretary of the interior telling him that he was about to send him the completed maps and views.  “As soon as signed,” he wrote, “ I shall send you the journal of the joint Commission and the Books of views along the Boundary, and these with the maps +c. will complete all the evidences of the Boundary necessary to identify any point on it.”41  In Mexico, a nineteenth-century historian reported that the Mexican Boundary Commission delivered a set of maps and collection of views to the minister of relations.42  What finally became of these views of the boundary line is not certain.  Some of John Weyss’s original drawings are now in the Library of Congress, such as his sketch of the monument at San Luis Springs.43

The commissioners hoped that the boundary maps and views, authenticated with their signatures, would serve as the definitive legal evidence of the line.  But neither the maps nor the views could show the boundary in all its detail as a feature on the surface of the earth.  And the sketches are neither systematic nor complete in their geographical coverage.  In the section of the boundary sketched by Weyss there were twenty-six monuments marking the line.  Weyss illustrated five of them, and sketched the views from thirteen monuments.  The stations from which nine sketches were made were not identified with exact positions.  There were twenty monuments in Schott’s part of the boundary, of which he pictured ten and sketched the views from sixteen.  The exact station of two sketches was not given.

An additional problem is that international law does not grant to maps and views the legal authority hoped for by the commissioners.  International law prefers the boundary line that is marked on the ground.  The monuments erected in the survey, however, were inadequate, both in number and durability, to maintain the boundary.  The boundary between the Rio Grande and the Colorado is some 530 miles long, but only forty-six monuments were established, and many of them were made only of piled-up rocks.  As a result, it was necessary in the 1890s to resurvey the line and build additional monuments.44

Of all the illustrations in the boundary Report, the views are the most explicit in illustrating the boundary itself.  But it is doubtful that they fulfilled their intended use as legal documents.  In addition to their purpose of recording the boundary location, however, they served to illustrate the landforms, geology, and vegetation of the line.  Like the other illustrations in the Report, they complemented the scientific studies.

Scientific illustrations dominate the Report.  It contains a total of 429 illustrations, and of these, 313 illustrate natural history specimens or features.  The remaining 116 illustrations are landscapes and views of towns and Indian life, but even these may be considered as scientific illustrations.  They were meant to accompany the texts of the geographical and geological reports, and by means of careful observation, to impart accurate information about their subjects.

One way to view the Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey is as a work of science.  Discussion of boundary politics is largely confined to Emory’s brief personal account and the journal of the joint commission.  Certainly it contains no social commentary on the negative impacts of the U.S.-Mexican War or U.S. expansionism on the native and Hispanic residents of the borderlands.  Nevertheless, it offers little information about the boundary commission’s daily work of surveying the line.  As William H. Goetzmann has noted, the Report offered “no really clear picture of the operation of the survey itself.  Such a picture remained buried among the archives of the Commission.”45  The illustrations, too, show very little of the boundary that the commission struggled to establish.  The boundary portrayal was left to the maps, completed in manuscript but never published.

Trained as scientists and engineers, the officers of the Topographical Corps regarded scientific observation as an important purpose of their work.  Exploration of the new lands acquired in the U.S.-Mexican War and discovery of their resources were goals as important as marking the boundary.  Scientific discovery was the first step in the process of incorporating the region into the United States.  Illustrations served well to present scientific discoveries, and the Topographical Engineers, practiced in drawing as well as map drafting, considered maps and illustrations as necessary and integral parts of their reports.

 In the end, The Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey had little to say or show about the boundary survey.  It became a great scientific report on the native people, the land, and the natural history of the region where the boundary commission worked.  The Report on the United States and Mexican Borderlands might have been a more descriptive title for this great scientific report.


Thank you to Ronald Grim for organizing the session on “The Art of Western Exploration” for the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries, and for inviting me to participate.  Scans of the images in figures 1, 2, and 3 were provided by the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, and scans of the images in figures 4, 5, 8, and 9 were provided by the Special Collections Division of the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.  Thank you to Philip Melnick for preparing the map reproductions and the illustrations for inclusion in this paper.

1   William H. Goetzmann, “Introduction,” in Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, Made Under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior, by William H. Emory (Facsimile reprint, Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1987), 1:xi.
   William H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey Made Under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior, 34th Cong., 1st sess., 1857, H. Ex. Doc. 135.
   Paula Rebert, La Gran Línea: Mapping the United States-Mexico Boundary, 1849-1857 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001), 12.
   Ron Tyler, “Illustrated Government Publications Related to the American West, 1843-1863,” in Surveying the Record: North American Scientific Exploration to 1930, ed. Edward C. Carter, II (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1999), 148.
   Charles A. Seavey, “Government Graphics: The Development of Illustration in U.S. Federal Publications, 1817-1861,” Government Publications Review 17 (1990): 126-31.
   Emory to Secretary of the Interior, 7 October 1857, Letters Received from the Fourth U.S. Commissioner, 1849-60, Entry 425, Preliminary Inventory 170, Records Relating to International Boundaries, Record Group 76, National Archives,Washington, D.C.; Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): XIII; Rebert, La Gran Línea, 43, 54.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 2): 54.  Rio Bravo del Norte is another name, often used by the boundary commissions and still used in Mexico, for the Rio Grande.
   Emory, Report 2 (pt. 1): 67 and Pl. 22.
   Emory, Report 2 (pt. 2): 14 and Pl. 1.
   Emory, Report 2 (pt. 2): 5 and Pl. 2.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): facing 78.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): facing 122.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): facing 67.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): facing 60.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 57.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): facing 84.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 96.
   For an index of the sectional boundary maps, see Rebert, La Gran Línea, xvi-xvii.  The maps are located in [U.S. Boundary Commission], “Boundary Between the United States & Mexico” [ms. maps], [1857], Map Records, n.d., Entry 417, Preliminary Inventory 170, Records Relating to International Boundaries, Record Group 76, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
   Rebert, La Gran Línea, 110-21 (Emory’s survey) and 121-37 (Michler’s survey).
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 93-100 and drawings following 100.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 101-25, esp. 124, and drawings following 120.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 38.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 97.
Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 97.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 97.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 37.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 98.
Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 98.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 99.
Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 99.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 100.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 120.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 120.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 120.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 2): 69.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 122.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 174.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 124.
Emory, Report 1 (pt. 2): 76.
   Emory, Report 1 (pt. 1): 114, 174, 242, 244.
   Emory to Thompson, 29 September 1857, E 425, RG 76, NA.
   Santiago Ramírez, Datos para la historia del Colegio de Minería recogidos y compilados bajo la forma de efemérides (Mexico City: Imprenta del gobierno federal, 1890), 403-4.
   Paula Rebert, “The Gilbert Thompson Materials” (Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1991, Photocopy), 25-27.
   U.S. Section, International Boundary and Water Commission, “List of Western Land Boundary Monuments” (El Paso: United States Section, 1992, Photocopy).
   William H. Goetzmann, Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), 198-99.

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Figure 1.  Petalonyx thurberi, sandpaper plant. Plate 22 in “Botany of the Boundary,” by John Torrey (Emory, Report 2 [pt. 1]).  (Courtesy, Library of Congress)

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Figure 2.  Crotalus atrox, western diamondback rattlesnake.  Plate 1 in “Reptiles of the Boundary,” by Spencer F. Baird (Emory, Report 2 [pt. 2]).  (Courtesy, Library of Congress)

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Figure 3.  Trogon mexicanus, Mexican trogon.  Plate 2 in “Birds of the Boundary,” by Spencer F. Baird (Emory, Report 2 [pt. 2]).  (Courtesy, Library of Congress)

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Figure 4.  Sketch No. 7, by John E. Weyss, in “Sketch of Territory Acquired by Treaty of December 30, 1853,” by William H. Emory (Emory, Report 1 [pt. 1]).  (Courtesy, Special Collections Division, The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas)

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Figure 5.  Sketch No. 17, by John E. Weyss, in “Sketch of Territory Acquired by Treaty of December 30, 1853,” by William H. Emory (Emory, Report 1 [pt. 1]).  (Courtesy, Special Collections Division, The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas)

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Figure 6.  [U.S. Boundary Commission], Map “No. 34, Boundary Between the United States & Mexico” [ms. map].  1:60,000.  1857.  (National Archives)

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Figure 7.  [U.S. Boundary Commission], Map “No. 38, Boundary Between the United States & Mexico” [ms. map].  1:60,000.  1857.  (National Archives)

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Figure 8.  Sketch No. 35, by Arthur C. V. Schott, in “From the 111th Meridian of Longitude to the Pacific Ocean,” by Nathaniel Michler (Emory, Report 1 [pt. 1]).  (Courtesy, Special Collections Division, The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas)

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Figure 9.  Sketch No. 38, by Arthur C. V. Schott, in “From the 111th Meridian of Longitude to the Pacific Ocean,” by Nathaniel Michler (Emory, Report 1 [pt. 1]).

(Courtesy, Special Collections Division, The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas)

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