The last week or so I’ve been playing with the historic geography of my mother’s family. I’m not sure it counts as either history or genealogy but it’s fun in the way it personalizes history for me.
My mother was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming, which lies in what used to be Mexican Territory. And she grew up 50 miles north, in Farson, which lies in what used to be Oregon Territory. The dividing line turns out to be somewhere south of Eden. I never knew that. Seems like there should be a state historical marker and pull-off on Highway 191. If there is, I’ve never seen it.
I was born in Laramie, which should be much easier to figure out. I always see on maps that east of the Continental Divide was the Louisiana Purchase, and west of the divide was Mexican Territory. So, I was born and currently live in what was the Louisiana Purchase, but I grew up entirely in what was Mexican Territory.
The only time any of this ever really comes up for me is when we’re on a trip, say down to Santa Fe, and we cross the Arkansas River. Even if we don’t stop, I like to remember the Arkansas was the old boundary between Louisiana and Mexico (1819 Treaty Line). And if we have time to stop, maybe even read the marker, even better.
Looking into these boundary lines, there’s still one I haven’t explored. That’s a Texas claim that went up and into Colorado and Wyoming. Now, as a Colorado boy, I’m certainly not going to credit Texas’ claim to anything. But in 1850 they did manage to con the Feds into paying off $10 million of their war debt in exchange for giving up some territorial claims they’d never been able to enforce anyway.
I thought as long as I’m looking around at boundaries, I might as well see if I can figure out whether Laramie (where I was born) was really in territory claimed by Texas. Some maps seem to show it was; others make it look like it wasn’t.
First, though, I asked my Mom. She’s a font of information about Western History. But no, she didn’t know. She had an idea the claim went up through the Colorado mountains, so it might have been a bit too far west to include Laramie.
I looked through some Internet maps, but they are all too high-level, and in some cases they clearly disagree. How can that be?
Here’s one where Texas’ claims would clearly include Laramie, and south along the Front Range in Colorado, perhaps even including Denver. (There is a thing about Denver and the 105th Meridian. The meridian runs right through Union Station, where I worked for a couple of years, just as the 40th Parallel runs along Baseline Road in Boulder. Easy to fix our general location in this neck of the woods.)
What seems to be wrong here is the eastern boundary of the spur is too far east. I was sure I remembered the border with Mexico ran along the Arkansas River to its headwaters. The line would go north from there. I wasn’t sure where the headwaters are, but they’d have to be up in the mountains. Turns out they’re up by Leadville. No surprise there.
I looked at USGS Bulletin 1212, Boundaries of the United States and the Several States (1966). It has a lot of detailed information. It gave me a piece I hadn’t thought about–when they drew the treaty line they didn’t know where the headwaters of the Arkansas were going to be. They believed the headwaters of the Arkansas would be somewhere around the 42nd Parallel. The treaty makes alternative provisions depending on whether it turned out to be north or south of the parallel:
“But if the source of the Arkansas River shall be found to fall north or south of latitude 42, then the line shall run from the said source due south or north, as the case may be, till it meets the said parallel of latitude 42, and thence, along the said parallel, to the South Sea” (Adams–Onís Treaty, Art. 3 (1819)).
Here, Wikipedia comes to my aid. It tells me the headwaters of the Arkansas are at 39° 15′ 30″ North 106° 20′ 38″ West (Adams–Onís Treaty). Has to be approximate. Even so, that makes this part of my project much easier.
The eastern boundary of the spur I’m looking at runs north along this line. Laramie is at 105° 35′ 27.96″ West. East of the line. So, not in the area claimed by Texas. (And neither is Denver. As I noted above, Denver straddles the 105th Meridian.)
What will the western boundary be? This part was harder for me to figure out because I didn’t really have a clear idea what I was looking for. The maps make it look like the starting point is the Rio Grande River. So, north from its headwaters?
I thought I’d find the answer by looking at the lands Texas ceded to the U.S. But, no. As part of the Compromise of 1850 Texas ceded all land west of 102° longitude and north of the Red River to the United States. That didn’t really help me. They were giving up everything that would no longer be Texas but not detailing the claims they were giving up.
The problem was harder (for me, anyway) because the United States had previously acquired title to these lands by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which ended the war with Mexico (plus a few bits from the 1803 Louisiana Purchase). That was the point of the dispute–the U.S. and Texas had conflicting claims to this area. What I needed to find was the source of Texas’ claims. (It took me a bizarrely long time to see that.)
The missing piece was the Treaty of Velasco (1836), the treaty that gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Not a detailed document, though. It says, “The mexican [sic] troops will evacuate the Territory of Texas, passing to the other side of the Rio Grande del Norte.“
I found a description of the boundaries on the Daughters of the Republic of Texas website (“Boundaries of the Republic of Texas“), but the description is vague at exactly the points that interest me. Surprise: the Daughters are more interested in Texas than in Colorado and Wyoming.
Back to USGS Bulletin 1212. It describes the Republic of Texas at the time of its admission to the Union (1845) as “Beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River and running west along the Gulf of Mexico three leagues from land to the mouth of the Rio Grande, thence up the principal stream of said river to its source, thence due north to the fortysecond degree of north latitude, thence along the boundary line as defined in the  treaty between Spain and the United States to the beginning.”
The bulletin further explains, “The claim by Texas to land north to the 42d parallel and west and south to the Rio Grande was based in part on a secret treaty between President Santa Anna of Mexico and officers of the Texas army at the end of the war between Mexico and Texas in 1836.” That would be the Treaty of Velasco.
I see why there was a dispute about the boundary. Anyway, this is a lot of searching to find that the western boundary of the spur was defined by the headwaters of the Rio Grande.
Having a better idea what I was searching for, eventually I found a Google map that shows Texas’ claims. It places the headwaters of the Rio Grande at approximately 107° 33′ 2.16″ (converted), “about 10 miles east of present day Silverton, Colorado”. Bearing due north to the 42nd parallel puts the northwest corner of the spur about 27 miles northwest of Rawlins. Say, maybe 100 miles east of Farson.
And there we go. Laramie and Denver weren’t claimed by Texas, and neither were Farson and Rock Springs. Armed with the details I can now enjoy the chatty version developed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas: “The Republic of Texas boundaries would thus have included many well known present day areas. Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Taos, New Mexico would be near the boundaries of the west side of the old Republic of Texas. Santa Fe, New Mexico and Alamosa, Colorado would have also been in the Republic of Texas. Rawlings [sic], Wyoming is included as part of the northern border. Kremmling, Vail, and Salida, Colorado would be near the eastern part of the border as would parts of Cañon City and Pueblo, Colorado. Also, La Junta and Lamar, Colorado are found near the boundary line along with the towns of Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas. In addition, there is the “panhandle” strip of Oklahoma that was included in the old Republic of Texas.“
A fun foray into local history, but I’ve spent far more time on this than I ever intended or would have budgeted.
Here I am writing about the territorial claims of colonizers. That isn’t the whole story. Behind these claims are the claims of the Native people whose land was taken for Euro-American settlement.
A while back I read a piece that asked whether you could name the tribal lands where your mother and grandmothers were born. That seems worth thinking about, particularly in connection with projects like this one.
Mom was easy. Rock Springs. Shoshone lands. I’ve known that from childhood. Grandma Swanstrom was also easy. Big Piney, Wyoming. Also Shoshone lands. Grandma Miller? Neligh, Nebraska. I didn’t know. It would be one of the Plains tribes, maybe Lakota, really maybe several of them. I’ve tried several times to look it up. I’m still not sure. Looks like Pawnee, which would make sense. Grandma said she didn’t know but always assumed her Indian ancestors were Pawnee.