Josiah Gregg's 1844 Map of the Indian Territory Tie
Many of the maps produced during the decade of the 1840’s often focused on the commercial potential of the Great Plains region. These maps frequently projected the hopes and promise of the area in contrast to its harsher realities. Josiah Gregg’s 1844 map is certainly one of the best in this regard, showing the area and its trading ties to Santa Fe on the eve of the Mexican War. The Santa Fe Trail was an essential trading link between the settled western edge of the United States and the Republic of Mexico. As a Santa Fe trader, Gregg knew the area quite well. His landmark book, Commerce of the Prairies: or the Journal of a Santa Fe Trader, during eight expeditions across the Great western Prairies, and a residence of nearly nine years in Northern Mexico (New York, 1844), offered readers first hand observations on the topography, natural history and native peoples of the Southwest. Combined with his map, Gregg provided Americans with a mental conception of an area vastly different in culture and geography from that known in the eastern United States. Gregg’s optimistic presentation suggested the potential for commerce in the West, centered on the trail of the “Santa Fe Caravans” from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe in the Republic of Mexico. Besides the Santa Fe Trail, Gregg’s map details another important trading caravan and the resulting trail from Arkansas to Chihuahua Mexico, traveled in 1839 and 1840. Also shown is the extensive work in mapping the West with the expeditions of Zebulon Pike (1806), Stephen H. Long (1820), William G. Cooke (1841) and Nathan Boone (1843). Topographical Engineers officer Kemble Warren, who mapped much of the West in the 1850’s, noted in his Memoir the value of Gregg’s map. “It is based on the map of Humboldt’s New Spain, that of Long’s first expedition, and that of the road survey of J.C. Brown along the Santa Fe Trail, with such corrections and additions as Mr. Gregg’s own observations suggested. It was one of the most useful maps of this region of the day.” Gregg’s map would certainly have stimulated interest in entrepreneurs with visions of profitable Mexican trade. His depiction of the Great Plains was one of towns, villages, ranchos, forts, Indian villages and trading posts spread throughout the region. Trading opportunities were almost certainly over the next horizon for those “reading between the lines” of its text and images. Setting aside his optimistic expression of commerce across the “Western Prairies,” Gregg maps a reality that future settlement on the Great Plains would have to confront; the region’s inherent aridity. In perhaps its first cartographic representation, the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains is carefully drawn. Gregg refers to the area as “Arid Table Land nearly 2000 ft. above the streams.” This truth of the southern Plains climate and the uncertain availability of water would prove to be a persistent challenge to successful settlement and sustainable agriculture long after its Indian nations had been militarily defeated.