U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

The Geography of Chaos:
William H. Emory's Images of the Texas Borderlands


Ryan Carey

University of Texas at Austin

Published in

The Paisano

Volume 1, Issue 1: 
June, 1998 
Austin, Texas 


This is a map ofthe American Southwest charted by William H. Emory 
Map of lands surveyed by the United States - Mexico Boundary Survey. From William H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, made under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior, (Washington, D.C.:Wendel, 1857).

I. Introduction
Hundreds of books have been written that illustrate “how we won the West.” But one question that is only now being considered is “why we won the west?” In the past, historians were willing to point to “Manifest Destiny” as the spark that lit our expansionist fires: Americans believed that God had deemed expansion righteous. The ideology of Manifest destiny, however, is not that simple. Some, such as Richard Slotkin, claim that the driving force behind expansion was base land hunger from the “developing political economy of the Metropolis.”  1 In this framework, Manifest destiny is stripped of its religious connotations and re-emerges as a slogan produced by conspiratorial capitalists solely to cover up their wicked intentions. But Slotkin, and his followers, have erred in asserting this thesis as the sole cause for all Western expansion. 2 In many instances government explorers created images of the West that were new to the “metropolis.” It is true that many industrialists appropriated these images, but to assign the creation of Western imagery to Eastern capitalists is absurd.

 The Topographical Corps of Engineers, whose job it was to map American territory, were responsible for some of the most lasting images of the American West. Explorers created detailed reports which made the West comprehensible to those in the East. As Howard Lamar argues, “for the American West to come into a national consciousness as a concept it had to be invented or defined, then explored, and then occupied and redefined on the basis of actual experience.”  3 This concept of place construction is at the heart of modern geographers’ inquiries about place: Yi-Fu Tuan argues that “words alone, used in an appropriate situation, can have the power to render objects, formerly invisible because unattended, visible, and impart to them a certain character.” 4 Most explorers, writing for would-be emigrants, not Eastern capitalists, pictured the West as a land of agricultural opportunity befitting the promise of Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian republic. 5 The West, they argued, held America’s future: each man could own his own plot and work his own land.

The myth of the agrarian republic that fueled the fires of expansion, however, was not representative of the entire West. And a few who traveled to America’s terra incognitae did not return with such glowing descriptions. These men were scientists, and many felt themselves capable of objectivity in the field. If the land did not conform to their preconceived notions, they were unwilling to claim that it was all “the Land of Promise, and the Canaan of our time,” as most emigrant guides argued.  6 One such scientist was William Hemsley Emory, the first astronomer for the United States-Mexican Boundary Survey who later became the final boundary commissioner in 1854. When we investigate the images contained in his report to Congress, we see Emory consciously reacting to those whom he called the “hypothetical geographers”—those individuals who painted the entire West as an edenic paradise. He used hard scientific data to argue that his view of Texas, which differed greatly from that of his contemporaries, was the most accurate. By his numerous astronomical calculations, and his tireless reporting of facts and figures, Emory constructed an air of authenticity that was lacking in other descriptions of the land.

Texas, in Emory’s eyes, was not the picturesque land of agricultural settlement filled with “the farm, steamboat, church, and schoolhouse.” 7 Instead, it was a sublime landscape of gaping canyons and scorching deserts. It was a landscape of chaos and disorder filled with hostile Indians, and criminal Mexicans. But far from useless, Texas was home to rich mineral deposits, waiting to be reaped by large mining concerns. All of these factors combined to form an expansionist view, just not the expansion to which America was accustomed. Instead of the lone settler in the wilderness followed by the government, as was the paradigm of Oregon expansion, Emory argued for a governmental expansion which justified a large military role. Emory’s voice was one of many involved in a battle over the image of the West. His primary opponent in this battle, however, was his predecessor on the Mexican Boundary Survey, John Russell Bartlett.

II. Emory the Scientist vs. Bartlett the Hypothetical Geographer 
When the Mexican war ended, the task of drawing the boundary line between the two nations became the most important commission available for a member of the Topographical Corps of Engineers. Holding such national attention, it also became one of the most political of all the Corps positions, and a history of the boundary commission is as much a history of the presidential administrations of the period. By the time Emory had received the nod for commissioner, four others had been appointed to the task, including America’s favorite Western adventurer, John C. Frémont. The only man to hold the position for any length of time before Emory, however, was his immediate predecessor John R. Bartlett.

A prominent Whig from Rhode Island, Bartlett was co-founder of the American Ethnological Society along with Albert Gallatin. Bartlett was more interested in exploring the Romantic landscape of the Southwest than he was in marking the border. His primary goal was to produce a travel account similar to the one his friend John Lloyd Stephens wrote—Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.  8 In this he was successful, but to the new Democratic administration in 1852, he was suspect as a commissioner. An error in the original map used at the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 had led Bartlett to draw the line some thirty miles north of where the treaty makers had intended, thus giving up the valuable Mesilla Valley in New Mexico. 9 In addition, his junkets to Northern California and his general disregard for the progress of the boundary line finally resulted in his dismissal after Congress refused to appropriate any more funds to the Survey in 1853. Texas Senator Thomas Rusk spoke for the whole Democratic Party when he told Congress that he was so fed up with the Whig commissioner, he did “not intend to vote another dollar to this boundary commission—far from it, I mean to resist the appropriation of any more money.” 10 In 1854 Emory became the final boundary commissioner, and finished drawing the boundary within a year. About the same time, Bartlett published his Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua, which was a huge success. Unwilling to be shown up by the man whom he had replaced, Emory hurried to publish his own official report of the survey.

The images that Emory produced directly contradict those that Bartlett created for the American people, and Emory’s intense dislike for his predecessor suggests that he was indeed writing in reaction to Bartlett. Emory agreed with Congress’s opinion of Bartlett and believed him to be more concerned with ethnology and Romanticism, than with drawing the boundary. When he arrived to act as the survey’s astronomer in 1852, he wrote that Bartlett, out on one of his ethnographic tours, was “God-Knows-Where,” and that the boundary commission was in a shambles.  11 When Emory’s report finally came out, he had few good things to say about the actions of his predecessor. “I have confined myself,” wrote Emory, “to actual information, derived from instrumental survey, and in doing so, have sacrificed considerable general interest.” 12 He implied that Bartlett had roamed all over the country and completed little of the survey, while he, himself, managed to create a lengthy and informative report in addition to quickly finishing his official task. At the heart of Emory’s criticism lay the belief that civilians such as Bartlett were unsuited to the task of marking the boundary because they lacked the military discipline necessary for a speedy completion of the border survey. 13

Emory’s critique was intimately tied to his belief that he was a real scientist while Bartlett was simply a “hypothetical geographer” searching for publicity rather than truth. Emory stressed this point, not just because he believed Bartlett’s description of Texas to be wrong. In constructing his identity as a “real scientist,” Emory lent to his report an air of authenticity that exceeded Bartlett’s and was crucial if his report was to be accepted by the American public. “Hypothetical geography has proceeded far enough in the United States,” Emory argued in his report.

In no country has it been carried to such an extent, or been attended with more disastrous consequences. This pernicious system was commenced under the eminent auspices of Baron Humboldt, who from a few excursions into Mexico, attempted to figure the whole North American continent.… On the same kind of unsubstantial information maps of the whole continent have been produced and engraved in the highest style of art, and sent forth to receive the patronage of Congress, and the applause of geographical societies at home and abroad, while the substantial contributors to accurate geography have seen their works pilfered and distorted, and themselves overlooked and forgotten.  14

Emory’s critique was not pointed solely at Bartlett, but at all the Romantic Scientists. By taking aim at Alexander von Humboldt, the world’s most famous scientist, Emory constructed himself as Humboldt’s superior. He portrayed himself as the conqueror of false information, even if that information was produced by the scientific leaders. The quest for authenticity became a major motivating factor in Emory’s description of Texas. By investigating Emory’s images, we will see the many ways that Emory constructed himself as a “real scientist,” and his report, as the “true” picture of Texas.

III. The Finest Agricultural Country or a Dull Wide Waste 
John Russell Bartlett was the epitome of a nineteenth-century Romantic, and his narrative reflected his Romantic sensibilities—especially his attention to the sublime and picturesque. The sublime was “nature at its extreme.” Developed by Scottish philosopher Edmund Burke in an essay entitled “A philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” in 1758, the sublime consisted of awe-inspiring landscapes that could “lift up the soul” and “exalt it to ecstasy,” in the religious sense. The sublime was the terror felt in confronting the unknown, or the intense solitude and silence of the vast and infinite wilderness. It could reveal to their occupant the very existence of God—no trivial thing in the uncertain world of the nineteenth-century. The picturesque acted in opposition to the sublime. As Beau Riffenburgh writes, “the picturesque was keyed to a lower emotional threshold [than the sublime] and had as a basic premise that when individuals looked at nature they found combinations of elements that corresponded to what they had already experienced in art.” A meandering river, rolling meadows covered in bright flowers, and broad plains gently buffeted by surrounding hills, these were some of the elements that made up the picturesque. Picturesque stylistic elements also created landscapes very congenial to the farmer’s eye as well as the artist’s.  15

Whereas the sublime landscapes of Texas were not very practical landscapes to the would-be emigrant, in Bartlett’s framework the sublime punctuated a series of agricultural wonderlands that would attract farmers to Texas. It served in juxtaposition to magnify the picturesque nature of the more bucolic regions of Texas. Hence, in his personal narrative of the boundary survey, Bartlett could claim that “a finer agricultural country does not exist on the face of the globe,” even though his experience had led him through both the gloomy sublime as well as the edemic picturesque.  16

Emory disagreed, and in opposing this view, implied that he was again correcting a false image of the land in the Southwest. He argued that men like Bartlett, who were simply trying to gain political favor, or make a dollar in speculation, had produced a “fanciful and exaggerated description . . . of the character of the western half of the continent.” These descriptions, Emory claimed, did not give “due weight to the infrequency of rains, or the absence of the necessary humidity in the atmosphere to produce a profitable vegetation.” Instead they concentrated on the quality of the soil alone. The result, he argued, “has been equally unfortunate by directing legislation and the … occupation of the country, as if it were susceptible of continuous settlement, from the peaks of the Alleghenies to the shores of the Pacific.” This was a direct assault on Bartlett, for in Emory’s eyes, Texas was “a dull wide waste around us; its parched barrenness, combined with the influence of a scorching July sun, was enough to madden the brain.”  17

Emory gained the most over his competitors when he showed his scientific hand. A tireless astronomer, and intent on accurately marking the boundary, Emory took great pains to compile as much scientific information about the natural world of Texas as he could. He created vast meteorological charts, either from his own observations or from the various Army posts on the Rio Grande. With these he set out to prove “how unsuited for agricultural purposes, according to the notion entertained of farming in the eastern States,” Texas really was. From records sometimes even “used in preference to [his] own, as they cover a much longer space of time,” Emory illustrated the true character of the desert along the Rio Grande. By using an “independent source,” records that were not his own, Emory showed his audience that he was willing to bury his own ego in the “quest for truth.” At Fort Brown, on the Rio Grande, Emory noted that the mean temperature was in the mid-70s, and rainfall averaged 33.65 inches. Although this appeared to be “an abundance of rain for all the purposes of agriculture,” Emory alerted his readers that “more than one-half the rain falls in the autumn, which is followed by a winter during which the thermometer frequently falls below the freezing point. One-fourth the whole quantity of rain falls in a single month, and it very often happens that no rain whatever falls in the months of May, June, and July.” 18

An Emorydrawing of cacti set against a dry landscape 
Cacti. From Emory, Report. Spiny cacti and other desert flora such as these, added to the image of Texas as a land inhospitable to farming.

With the help of botanists John Torrey and George Engelmann, Emory produced extensive documentation of Texas plant life. Page after page of detailed woodcuts occupied the third volume of the report, with over half the space dedicated to cacti alone. As the reader sifted through the seventy-three intricate drawings of cacti, he would be hard-pressed to find a more forbidding collection of plants. Living on little water in rocky ground, cacti were not the types of plants farmers liked to see. The sharp thorns and web of spines that surround the plants was illustrative of the nature of the country as a whole: the desert was an inhospitable, barren landscape, where a farmer’s plow would have no effect (fig. 1).

 Emory played more than just the role of scientist in his report to Congress. He also assumed the air of advisor to the government, as many of his colleagues in the Topographical Corps of Engineers had done before him. In his report he told Congress that “whatever may be said to the contrary, these plains west of the 100th meridian are wholly unsusceptible [sic] of sustaining and agricultural population.” John Wesley Powell would make the same statement to Congress twenty-five years later, and is most often given credit for trying to dissuade Congress from extending the same program of land management all across the continent.  19 But it was actually Emory whose lead Powell followed. The former claimed that 


the whole legislation of Congress, directed heretofore so successfully towards the settlement of lands east of the 100th meridian of longitude, must be remodeled and reorganized to suit the new phase which life must assume under conditions so different from those to which we are accustomed. 20

The land adjacent to the Rio Grande differed greatly from the land that bordered the Mississippi or the Missouri, and the model of rich agricultural land adjacent to a large river system did not hold.

 If Emory could not compare the land along the Rio Grande with other rivers, then how did he describe it? What came from Emory’s report was actually a completely new geography, foreign to Eastern audiences and, at first, to Emory himself. In Emory’s descriptions, Texas was so different and strange that English geographical terms at the time could not describe the landscape. Emory fell back on the original terms that the Spanish created to make Texas comprehensible for his audience. For instance, trying to describe the canyon at Big Bend, Emory called it “one of the most remarkable features on the face of the globe—that of a river traversing at an oblique angle a chain of lofty mountains, and making through these on a gigantic scale, what is called in Spanish America a cañon—that is, a river hemmed in by vertical walls.”  21 For Easterners living in the valleys of the Hudson or Connecticut river, or even those dwelling in the Shenandoah, the bare, rocky terrain of Texas was as far removed as the moon (fig. 2).

 An Emorysketch of a smooth, rounded canyon 
Cañon of the Rio Bravo. From Emory, Report. Most Americans in the 1850s had never before seen a canyon. Indeed Emory had to import the word from Spanish to describe this exotic geography.

The unknown quality of Texas was an integral part of its appeal, and helped Emory construct himself as an explorer. As William Goetzmann writes, “the exotic was all-important; and the West was an exotic place…. Here could be found stupendous canyons, breathtaking evidences of erosion, [and] immense lakes of undetermined origin.” 22 Although Emory despised Bartlett’s attempts to actively seek out the exotic, Emory was not about to ignore it when he came across “the most remarkable features on the face of the globe.” He spared no literary device as he played up the sublimity of the Texas landscape. As he sold the West to his audience, he simultaneously sold himself. “By far the largest portion of [the Rio Grande],” he told his readers, “had never been traversed by civilized man.” 23 Emory attached himself to the myth of the explorer, and manipulated it to gain authority. By claiming his survey was the first to actually encounter the canyons at Big Bend, Emory added credence to his survey, while deflating the maps and claims of others.

 Canyonopening with the Rio Brazos flowing out of it 
Entrance to a Cañon on the Rio Bravo. From William H. Emory, Report.

In order to expedite the survey, Emory split the boundary commission into several small groups. He sent two expeditions to survey the boundary line in the Big Bend—one led by Lt. Nathaniel Michler and the other by civilian W.M.T. Chandler. Michler surveyed the Pecos from present day Sheffield down the Rio Grande, and then west from the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande to Ft. Vincent, near present day Boquillas del Carmen. Chandler led his surveying party from the town of Presidio del Norte to Fort Vincent. Together, they brought back with them some of the most sublime visual and textual representations of Texas, which Emory gladly inserted into his report (fig. 3). Chandler called the area “another of those rocky dungeons in which the Rio Grande is for a time imprisoned.” To his eye, “no description can give an idea of the grandeur of the scenery through these mountains. There is no verdure to soften the bare and rugged view, no overhanging trees or green bushes to vary the scene from one of perfect desolation.”  24

The sublime nature of the Rio Grande that emerged from these two explorers’ reports was intimately tied to the surveying itself. Both the explorers constructed their reports around taught narratives of adventure and danger. But their reports were not exaggerated incidents; they were very real adventures that would shake even the most avid outdoorsman of today. Michler wrote of the “constant excitement” he experienced in “the descent of numerous falls. Ignorant of what unforeseen dangers awaited us, our frail boats were dashed blindly ahead by the force of a swift current over rocks and rapids, hemmed in on both sides by insurmountable walls which seemed mountain high.” Shooting rapids in the deep chasm of the canyon, Michler felt, “there was but little chance of escape from destruction, letting alone the immediate peril of drowning in case of any accidents to the boats.”  25 Of course when Michler wrote his report after the survey, he knew the outcome. In constructing his narrative, however, he did not shrink from using elements of adventure to create tension that helped to sell his story. But that should not take away from the very real danger he experienced while shooting the rapids.

 Chandler’s vision of the sublime was filled less with tension, and more with the shear toil of man in the wilderness. In the Big Bend, where “rocks [were] piled one above another,” for Chandler and his men, “it was with the greatest labor that we could work our way.” While marking the Big Bend, Chandler’s supply boats, made of poorly-constructed, heat-damaged wood, were dashed upon the rocks of the river. “The loss of the boats, with provisions and clothing,” wrote Chandler, “had reduced the men to the shortest rations, and their scanty wardrobes scarcely afforded enough covering for decency. The sharp rocks of the mountains had cut the shoes from their feet, and blood . . . marked their progress through the day’s work.”  26 Canyons were precipitous because the surveyors had to stand on the edges to calculate the speed of the river. Rapids were treacherous because the men careened through the canyon in poorly-constructed boats. For Chandler and Michler, the very real dangers associated with the physical geography of the Big Bend played as large a role in the construction of landscape imagery as literary conventions of the sublime and beautiful. Although Bartlett utilized these narratives of danger as well, he did so for a different purpose. Bartlett used the sublime to magnify the bucolic picturesque areas, as if he implied that what lay beyond the sublime was worth the effort. 27 But Emory constructed Texas in a sublime style to highlight the absence of agricultural areas.

The land, although unsuitable for agriculture, was still not worthless in Emory’s view. To the natural scientist in Emory, Texas was rich in mineral resources, both precious metals as well as more common minerals, such as iron and coal. “Silver mines of richness,” Emory wrote, “have been discovered . . . at Presidio del Norte . . . and other localities.” Emory was very optimistic, and for once was willing to engage in that “hypothetical geography” he was so critical of in others. “It will not be extravagant,” he conjectured, “to predict the discovery of many localities where silver mines can be worked to advantage throughout the whole region . . . of the Rio Bravo, in Texas.” Emory wrote freely of the mineral resources of the region noting copper deposits returning yields of 75% pure copper. He printed, in full, a letter from Smithsonian chemist and mineralogist, John D. Easter, which attested to the “high expectations of the mineral wealth” in the region.  28

In the volume devoted to geology, Emory went into intricate detail about previous mining operations. For one mine he listed everything from how many men it employed, how much they were being paid, how many loads were extracted monthly, and how much silver each load contained. He even went so far as to quote the average monthly expense of running the mine. Far more than just making the region comprehensible to those in the East, Emory laid out blueprints for mining operations in Texas, providing a framework for expansion of capital investment. In 1856, he was the first to do so; all others before him stressed the West as a farmer’s paradise, not a miner’s. Whereas the gold fields in California helped Emory see the West as a land of mineral wealth, California was still a place where a single man could strike it rich. Texas, however, needed a more organized and cooperative system of expansion. Agricultural regions were “the exception rather than the general rule,” hence, the future settlers “must be dependent on mining.”  29

 This is acolor painting of a Seminole Warrior with red headband, leaning on aflintlock rifle 
View of a Seminole Warrior. From Emory, Report.

IV. Texas: Land of Chaos
Convinced as he was of the mineral wealth of Texas, Emory argued for the swift expansion by large organizations, not by individual settlers. To this end, he portrayed the inhabitants of the region, primarily Native Americans and Mexicans, as either barbarous savages, or unruly outlaws. The borderlands, for Emory, was a frontier landscape of chaos and crime, a land desperately in need of order and the strong hand of government. He lamented the passing of the Spanish empire, its system of rule and government. And contrary to the anti-Catholic feelings of the day, he had nothing but praise for the effects of the Catholic Church on the wild frontier population. Describing the inhabitants of the border region as he did implied the need for military expansion into the region which would pave the way for commercial interests, and make the land safe for investment. Emory, living in the Romantic age, focused his comments on Indians and Mexicans, and spoke little of the whites living in the region. Even so, his views on race were more complicated than we might think. Although he had few good things to say about the borderlands inhabitants, he did not simply fall back on “racist” notions of the Native Americans or Mexicans. Emory constructed a complicated intra-referential system of categorization based on the actions of the inhabitants that he observed, and what he believed to be cultural traits of the various groups he encountered. 
Indians were constantly on his mind throughout the surveying expedition. Although Emory did not lose a man to Indian attack, he did not downplay what he believed to be their violent character (fig. 4). His views were not cut out of whole cloth, however, for Emory felt justified in reporting the war-like nature of the Indians. Once, outside of Fort Davis, the survey team nearly engaged a band of Kiowas and Comanches led by a Comanche named Mucho Toro. Emory and his men had just finished a long march to Comanche Springs and had been without water for days, when Mucho Toro and his party took an aggressive stance toward the survey team. Emory managed to avoid a conflict, but incidents such as these made Emory uneasy toward Native Americans. His experiences, although without direct violence, combined with the rumors that abounded within the region to create a less-than-flattering view of the Indians.

Emory met and spoke with a number of military men in the borderlands. From the various military outposts along the Rio Grande Emory encountered numerous tales of “Indian depredations.” Relaying some of these stories to his readers, Emory wrote that “at Cantonement Blake, on the Devils’ [Pecos] river, [Indians] waylaid and killed a couple of soldiers; at Live Oak they drove off, in open day-light, all the animals of the military post…. At Fort Davis, we found they had attacked a party and killed a sergeant and a musician; just beyond, at Dead man’s Hole, they attacked the mail party.”  30 Stories such as these played a large role in Emory’s overall depiction of the region. His fellow soldiers had been attacked before, and part of Emory’s task was to make sure his party was safe while surveying. Emory did not play up Indian violence simply because he knew it would add an air of adventure to his narrative, although it did. The constant fear of Indian attack was legitimate, and as such, was all the more important to Emory’s construction of the Indians.

 Experiences and stories of Indian savagery compelled Emory to play Congressional advisor once again. Bartlett had viewed the Native Americans through the lens of an ethnologist and a Romantic; he had portrayed the Indians in a state of natural decline. They were no longer a threat to the white settlers of the Rio Grande. He concentrated on the agricultural tribes of the region and constructed an image of them in peaceful acceptance of Christianity. In addition, as an ethnologist, part of his job was to document a vanishing past on the eve of white settlement. 31 But Emory’s views of the Indians were much different. He too wrote about sedentary agricultural tribes, but only in juxtaposition to the nomadic tribes. “There are distinct races among the Indians as among the white men,” Emory told his readers.


Before the advent of Christianity they were divided into semi-civilized and wild races. The semi-civilized then, as now, cultivated the soil, lived in houses, some three stories high, and kept faith with each other, and it is among these that Christianity has made any permanent impression. The Wild Indians were then, as they are now, at perpetual war with them, leading a nomadic life, defying all restraint, and faithless in the performance of their promises. They have but two principles of action—to kill the defenseless and avoid collision with a superior force.… Experience proved to me that no amount of forbearance or kindness could eradicate or essentially modify the predominant savage element of character.  32

How a group of Indians reacted to Christianity was one standard that Emory used to judge them. The agricultural populations of the borderlands had accepted Catholic attempts at Christianization, but the nomadic tribes of the regions had not. Emory mentions the “semi-civilized” tribes only to magnify the depredations of the “wild Indians.”

 Contrary to most of his contemporaries, Emory did not view the Catholic Church as the ruin of mankind—experience had taught him otherwise. Perhaps this is because the Church in the Southwest did not represent the threat to Protestant hegemony that it did in the East. There was no surge of Irish Catholics in Texas as there was in Boston or New York. Along the border with Mexico, the Catholic Church seemed like a dying institution, and Emory saw it as less of a threat. To the survey team, it was just one of the structures of power that had recently lost control over the region to the detriment of all the inhabitants. The Catholics provided a “mild and humane government” for the Indians. “Nothing could exceed the judgment, perseverance, and humanity with which the various orders of the Catholic Church have pursued, for three hundred years, the work of redemption among these savages,” Emory reported. “But at the very moment when Christianity appeared most likely to triumph, the savages turned upon their benefactors and swept them from the face of the earth.” 33 Emory divested the Catholic Church of the threat it carried to influence whites in America, and described it as “mild and humane” when seen as an agent of civilization for the Native Americans. The Indians in these scheme appeared all the more savage and brutal for ignoring such wise and prudent men as the Catholic Missionaries.

 Emory truly believed that the Indians along the Texas-Mexico border were incapable of living side by side with whites. “Civilization must consent to halt when in view of the Indian camp,” Emory predicted. Whites and Indians could not live together. The problem was not so much the Indians themselves, although Emory never had faith in the “wild Indian.” What truly frightened the Commissioner was the possibility of whites and Indians mixing in marriages. Amalgamation was another horror brought upon Texas settlers by the Indians. To Emory, Mexicans, at least those who were not lily white, had “produced . . . irreparable ruin to the northern States of Mexico.” There were some good Mexicans, but those were individuals not tainted with Indian blood. “Where ever the white race has preserved its integrity,” Emory told his readers, “there will be found a race of people very superior in both mental and physical ability.” 34 The term “Mexican” designated a place of birth; it was a geographical and cultural designation, not a racial one. Whites in Mexico were as good as whites anywhere. But, amalgamated races in Mexico suffered the same consequences of mixed-bloods the world over—ruin.

For instance, Mucho Toro, the leader of the band of Native Americans with which Emory almost fought, “showed the profile of the Mexican Indian peon, but the warriors he commanded had the bold aquiline profile of the Kioways [sic] or the Comanches” (fig. 5). Mucho Toro, a ruinous “Indian” with a Spanish name perfectly represented the very ills that race-mixing could bring to a people. The Indian warriors, to Emory, although violent and savage, still had “bold” profiles. In his classification scheme, they managed to retain something of the myth of the “noble savage” which ethnologists from Thomas Jefferson to John. R. Bartlett had attributed to them. Race was not a simple issue of color where white reigned supreme. It involved intricate notions of how color operated to combine within a group of races as they came together. In this sense, Mexicans, who were the product of Spanish and Indian ancestry, were the lowest on the scale.

 A pictureof Mucho Toro.  He is kneeling and bears a large cross around his neck 
Mucho Toro. From Emory, Report.

Amalgamation led to an unhappy race. Dusky Mexicans, like Mucho Toro, were the products of hasty marriages, or often, just hasty unions. Amalgamation, according to Emory resulted from “the absence of women of the cleaner and colored race. The white makes his alliance with his darker partner for no other purpose than to satisfy a law of nature, . . . and when that is accomplished all affection ceases.” Clearly, whites would not have chosen to become involved with a woman of darker color had they the opportunity to court pure whites. It was only out of necessity that mixed-race children were ever born. The children from such unions were, to Emory, “a very inferior and syphilitic race.” And the white man who produces them, was “faithless to his vows, he passes from object to object with no other impulse than the gratification arising from novelty, ending at last in emasculation and disease.”  35 Emory felt that no worse fate could befall a region than a mass amalgamation of the races. In his estimate it was one of the most important factors in the decline of the entire region since the departure of the Spanish.

 The only way to save the region, according to Emory, was extermination. Without mincing words, he told Congress the “wild Indians must be exterminated.” But he did not mean for the government to rush in with guns blazing, in order to cut down all the Indians in the region. Extermination, to Emory, could be accomplished through more humane practices. If enough whites came to the region, the Indians and Mexicans could be enslaved, and in effect, exterminated. “The introduction of both sexes, which with proper guards upon morals, results in exterminating or crushing out the inferior races, or placing them in slavery.” Emory himself held a slave, and in the middle of the nineteenth-century any self-respecting slave-owner would have fully believed in the beneficial aspects of the system of chattel slavery. Introducing whites into the region would bring order through a clear color line that could not be breached, as was the case in the South. Of course that was a myth, and the South was full of people who were the products of pre-civil war black-white unions. But the ideology of slavery that Emory had grown up with respected taboos against amalgamation. Slavery would have been useful to the non-agricultural development of the region, as well. Although very few slaves had been used in a context outside of agriculture, the mining operations that Emory described easily could be worked by a group of Mexican or Indian slaves. Both commercial interests and cultural values could be satisfied, if whites were to move in and occupy the region.

Emory did not see all the whites along the border as the harbingers of civilization, however. Traveling in the Southwest, he must have been aware of the notorious Glanton gang and other outlaw mercenaries hired by various Mexican governments to rid the region of Indians. American filibusters also roamed the border aiding in the countless revolutions in politically tumultuous Mexico. Although Emory never ran across any of these outlaws, he assured his readers that they did indeed exist. He thought it best to give the public “some idea of the reckless character of the persons then infesting that frontier,” so Emory included at least one description of the outlaw Americans. To a strict military man, they were crass “violators of the law, who at that time composed the majority” of the border population. Although he lacked any direct contact with organized gangs, most of the men he employed in a non-military fashion of the expedition were former filibusters, so he had some idea of their “character.” Emory did not report such unsavory characters in the spirit of Romanticism, but rather to show the “true” character of the borderlands. They made the landscape all the more chaotic and disordered, and their existence helped convince Congress that tighter controls should be brought to the region. 36

 The border between Texas and Mexico, populated by ruthless Indians, conniving Mexicans, and outlaw Americans, emerged as a land where chaos reigned, and crime was the most profitable business. Emory was not happy with the state of things, and by advertising it in his report, he was implying that order should be brought to the border. The town of Roma was a prime example. Although a small settlement, Roma was a “beautiful town, [with] fine residences and warehouses, all recently built.” Upon entering the town, Emory told his readers that he was at a loss as to how such fine buildings could have been erected and sustained by the small population. When taking astronomical observations of the area one night, he found his answer. That night, he could not steady his instruments, although the air was calm, and no storms seemed to be about. Returning to his quarters he came upon a large train of heavily laden pack mules en route to Mexico. This night travel was not merely a local custom favored by traders because of the intense desert heat. Rather, smugglers used the cover of darkness to sneak across the border and avoid various trade duties the United States and Mexico levied on import goods. Smuggling was a way of life, reported the disgusted Emory, and only a strong governmental presence could bring the criminal element back in line.

 The argument in favor of governmental expansion became most obvious when Emory wrote about the passing of the Spanish Empire. Emory’s military training and disposition made him quite receptive to the forceful presence of the Spanish. Since the Mexicans had won their independence, however, “the country has steadily gone backwards.” During the days of empire, the missionary zeal of the Catholics had combined with effective Spanish military rule to bring order and peace to the region while reaping the benefits of the Southwest. Emory called the days of the Spaniards the “golden age of this, now, vast deserted country.” The architecture, of both Catholic missions and military outposts, boasted “some of the most beautiful specimens of architecture on the American Continent.” The Mission of San José near what was then San Antonio de Bexar (present-day San Antonio), was a perfect example of the grand structures the Spanish had built (fig. 6). They stood in sharp contrast to the Mexican towns or military shanties erected in the early days of post-colonial rule. 37

 A black andwhite sketch of the San Jose mission 
Mission of San José outside San Antonio de Bexar. From Emory, Report.

Once again, Emory’s images on Texas were in drastic opposition to Bartlett’s. “What a marked difference there is in Spanish and English colonization,” exclaimed Bartlett, focusing on agricultural settlement, and the benefits to civilization from such expansion. Bartlett stressed the baneful effects of the religious nature of the Spanish empire. The evil Catholic Church drove the Spanish, and as a result, the Indians were privileged over settlers. Missionaries were too busy Christianizing, and nothing was gained from the land. American expansion, in Bartlett’s view, had been led by “the Anglo-Saxon pioneer” who brought a democratic civilization with him. In Bartlett’s eyes, “the result of Anglo American freedom from subservience to religion . . . was that American Settlers attained more wealth in a few decades than the Spanish had in two centuries.” Much less impressed with the Spanish empire, Bartlett was unwilling to give praise to such a monarchical system. But Emory, a military man, was more concerned with order and discipline than with democracy. 38

V. Conclusion 
William H. Emory constructed an image of Texas based both on preconceived notions as well as his experience in the land. When he left for Texas, he felt he had a job to do—survey and mark the border. Too many civilian commissioners had been lax in their duties, and the boundary was long overdue. He was going to draw that line if he had to go straight through a wall to do it. Disciplined and strict with his men, he had little tolerance for incidents that took away from the efficiency of the survey. His personality helped shape the way he saw the land and its inhabitants, but he was not living completely inside his own head. Emory had indeed become intimate with the land along the Rio Grande. His experiences on the border played a large role in shaping his constructions of Texas, and he was willing to speak out against conventional images of Texas if he felt they were false. To Emory, the borderlands were hot and arid. The huge stony canyons of the Rio Grande appeared as if they would completely block significant settlement. Emory was ordered to make an examination of the country and collect information “in reference to the agricultural and mineral resources” of the region. 39 What he found was not the “Garden of the World,” but rather a forbidding, arid landscape of death and chaos desperately in need of order. If Texas was not a garden, it was indeed the treasure chest of North America, and history had proven it could be an integral part of empire. According to Emory, the Spanish had forged a profitable and civilized society before they were ousted by the Mexicans. America could do the same if it directed the full force of its institutions toward the region. By bringing the Indians and Mexicans into civilization through slavery, and investing capital in the region in the form of well organized-mining ventures, America would transform the borderlands from chaos to civilization within a generation. Whereas Bartlett saw the southwest as “the future, a place where an American vision of progress would expand its immense enterprise under the ideology of manifest destiny,” Emory had a new expansionist vision—organized capital and governmental institutions were needed to tame this frontier already inhabited by bandits and savages. 40 Unlike the Oregon Territory or the Great Plains where ethnologists had reported the “natural” decline of the Indian, and where the region appeared as an empty landscape, the Texas border area was a land already inhabited by a relatively large population. Outmoded visions like Jefferson’s and Bartlett’s simply would not work on this frontier. By righting the wrongs of previous explorers, correcting false notions of a land already within America’s borders, Emory gained authority over other commentators. He used scientific facts to “prove” that he was right and that others were wrong. And he used experience to show that the land was in desperate need of order. In doing so, he created an entirely new paradigm of American expansion that would come to dominate the latter half of the nineteenth-century. 

Works Cited

Bartlett, John Russell. Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua, vols. I-II. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1854.

 Buttery, L.M. The Emory Maps of 1847 & 1857. Lampasas, Texas: Old Maps of the Southwest, 1895.

Congressional Globe. 32nd Congress. (24)1852.

 Cronon, William. Discovered Lands, Invented Pasts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

 Dana, C.W. The Great West, or The Garden of the World; Its History, Its Wealth, Its Natural Advantages, and Its Future; With Statistics and Facts from Hon. Thomas Hart Benton, Gen. Sam Houston, and Col. John C. Fremont. Philadelphia: Duane Rulison, 1857.

 Emory, William H. Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, made under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior, vols. I-III. Washington: D.C. Wendell, 1857.

 Fremont, John Charles, and William H. Emory. Notes of Travel in California: Comprising the prominent geographical, agricultural, geological and mineralogical features of the country. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1849.

 Goetzmann, William H. Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.

 Goetzmann, William H. ed. Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey. Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association, 1987.

 Hall, Dawn, ed. Drawing the Borderline: Artist Explorers of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey. Albuquerque: Albuquerque Museum, 1996.

 Hine, Robert H. Bartlett's West: Drawing the Mexican Boundary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.

 Jackson, Donald, and Mary Lee Spence. The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont vols. 1-3 and maps. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

 Johns, Elizabeth. “Settlement and Development: Claiming the West,” in The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, edited by W. Truettner. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1991.

 Lamar, Howard. “An Overview of Western Expansion,” In The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, edited by W. Truettner. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1991.

 Limerick, Patricia. Desert Passages: Encounters with the American Deserts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985.

 Martin, Laurence. Disturnell's Map. Washington: n.g., 1937.

 Paredes, Raymund A. “The Mexican Image in American Travel Literature, 1831-1869.” New Mexico Historical Review. 52 (1): 5-13, 1977.

 Riffenburgh, Beau. The Myth of the Explorer: The Press, Sensationalism, and Geographical Discovery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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 Stegner, Wallace. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954.

 Sweeney, J. Gray. “Drawing Borders: Art and the Cultural Politics of the United States-Mexico Boundary Survey, 1850-1853,” in Drawing the Borderline: Artist Explorers of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey, edited by D. Hall. Albuquerque: Albuquerque Museum, 1996.

 Thrower. “William H. Emory and the Mapping of the American Southwest Borderlands.” Terrae Incognitae. 22: 41-91, 1990.

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(c)1998 Ryan Carey 
This copyrighted material is used with the permission of the author 
This paper may not be copied or quoted without the express written permission of the author.

About the Author: 
Ryan Carey is a graduate student in History at the University of Texas at Austin. Hailing from Beaverton, Oregon, Ryan graduated from Dartmouth College in 1996 and recently completed his MA in History at the University of Texas with William Goetzmann. Ryan plans to enter doctoral candidacy at Texas to study images of far western exploration and expansion.



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