Mason County News
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The Way It Was
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 • Posted February 28, 2013

In years past, before most new cars had a “voice in the dashboard” that told you when to turn and how to get to your destination, every car used to have several folding maps stored in the glove compartment. My dad made a habit on our driving trips of stopping in every new state to get a map so that he would never be lost. In the past ten or twenty years it seems that the folding state maps have almost disappeared, and no doubt some day they will be considered antiques. However, I would like to share with you the story of the “folding maps” of 150 years ago that showed travelers the early roads, trails and railroads of another century.

These earlier folding maps were much like the glove box maps of the recent past, but they folded up completely into a small book that protected the map and any descriptive information. They were often called pocket maps, and the covering book was generally about 3" x 5" or sometimes a little larger and had the name embossed in gold on the cover. One example I have is a “Travellers Guide through the United States” from 1833 (three years before the Alamo, when Texas was just a province of Mexico) and shows the states at that time, with Michigan and Arkansas both still territories, and locates the roads, canals and distances that a traveler might expect. Because the map was protected by the book the thin paper is still in great shape and the colors are still vibrant and beautiful after nearly two hundred years.

The pocket maps that I particularly like are of the early Texas, and show the expanding knowledge and settlement of the new state after its annexation into the United States. I have heard these maps referred to as “saddlebag” maps since they would have been protected by the covering book in a traveler’s pack, and I like to imagine who might have carried the maps that I have and where they might have been going. The earliest that I have is from 1846, just a year after Texas joined the Union, and shows all of the western frontier all the way to California and Oregon. The outline of Texas that is depicted is the “stovepipe” shape showing the northern tip of Texas to extend to what is now Colorado. This is a large map showing most of the information known about the West in a time when much of it had only been traveled by trappers and miners but before the surveyors had time to measure and explore all of the new territory.

My favorite saddlebag map is of the state of Texas in 1855, which shows an accurate border of the state that we still know, but with most of the western part still virtually unsettled. This map shows what people knew of Texas at the time that Fort Mason was first occupied, and just a couple of years after the first German immigrants settled along the banks of the Llano River in what would become Mason County in 1858. This map shows a trail leading northwest from Fredericksburg to Fort Mason, but no other details beyond rivers, and at that time all of this area and to the west was part of Bexar County and is shown thus. It is hard to imagine just what those settlers had to deal with living here in the earliest years, but it is inspiring to hold a map that was made in those same years and look at just what was known of the frontier of Texas. I have no idea who might have carried that map or looked at it for guidance as they traveled, but it is possible that they came to the Hill Country and passed through the land we call home 150 years later.

I have another large saddlebag map of Texas in 1866 showing the expanded settlements that the veterans returning from the Civil War would find. Slowly more people moved west and more knowledge made its way to Philadelphia or New York where these maps were printed and some of the gaps were filled in and new maps were made. The final map I would like to mention was issued by the General Land Office of the United States in 1868 and shows the entire country and what was known at that time, after most of the exploring expeditions to the West had completed their work. This copy was used in the office of a US Senator of the era, and had been marked up and shows what was known about the mineral deposits throughout the west, and folds out to almost five feet long! It was linen backed to allow better handling and is housed in a larger book, but takes a special place in history at the end of the era of exploration and examination of the wild lands that have come to make up our country. Ten years later the period of pocket maps or saddlebag maps was effectively over, but they are a very interesting piece of history that we can still hold, examine and enjoy.

This coming Friday and Saturday is the start of the Spring Art Walk, and I will have the maps I have described briefly above on display. If you would like to come by and enjoy a peak into history, stop by Red Door Antiques on the north side of the Square and I will be glad to share with you one of my favorite “show and tell” topics. We are open Friday and Saturday in our new antique gallery, and we will have these pocket or saddlebag folding maps on display throughout March. Saddlebag maps show the evolving exploration and settlement of Texas and the West, and are a piece of our past. They have a place in our heritage, just like the glove box map of our childhood, and to look at and enjoy them is just another glimpse into ... The Way It Was.

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