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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

BIG MAP
and Charles W. Pressler

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
In a controlled-access, climate controlled room in the General Land Office sits the nation's largest-known map cabinet. And in a compartment labeled "Jumbo Drawer H" is a Texas-sized Texas map.

“The U.S. Geologic Survey has a bigger map of Texas, but I don’t know of a larger old Texas map,” said Jean Kilpatrick, one of GLO’s map experts.

Drawn by two Land Office draftsmen in 1879, the map is eight by eight feet square. Though its official purpose was to record areas of public land still available, it also shows all the existing counties (including two counties that no longer exist), the extent of railroad trackage up to the time of the map’s preparation, and, of particular interest, the state's network of roads.

At the time of the map’s drawing, of course, Texas had no official highway system. That would not come until 1917 when the legislature created the Texas Highway Department. But the state had a series of wagon roads connecting the various towns and cities. (Texas had many more towns than significant cities in those days.)

“It’s a wonderful map,” Kilpatrick said, pointing to the no-longer extant Greer County north of the Red River and just east of what is now the eastern base line of the Panhandle. Since 1896 it has been part of Oklahoma. The other ghost county is Encinal, once located between Duval and Webb county and later absorbed by those and other counties.

Chief draftsman Charles W. Pressler drew the finely detailed map with assistance from draftsman A.B. Langermann. The giant-sized original was then published in easier-to-handle sizes by a St. Louis-based lithography company. Copies of the map hung in real estate offices across the state for years during the last decades of the 19th century.

Of the men who made the map, not much is known about Langermann, but Pressler left plainer tracks. Born in Prussia on March 26, 1823 as Karl Wilhelm Pressler, he studied surveying and cartography in the early 1840s. Fed up with the state of affairs in his native country, he immigrated to Texas, arriving at Galveston on Feb. 1, 1845.

Almost immediately, Pressler began practicing his professional skills in Texas. He worked for noted land man Jacob De Cordova in Austin and assisted him in the preparation of his 1849 map of the state, today considered one of the most important of the early maps of Texas.

Newly married, Pressler went to work for the General Land Office in 1850 and spent most of the rest of his career there. His non-GLO interims included service in the Confederate army during the Civil War and for a time after the war as Galveston’s city engineer. As a federal employee in 1869-70, he did the field work for a map tracing the route from Austin to Yuma, AZ and did surveying at seven frontier forts from Jack County to Laredo. But Pressler soon was back on the state payroll at the GLO.

The giant map he and Langermann produced in 1879 would have been used by William S. Porter (later much better known as O. Henry) when he worked as a draftsman for the Land Office in the late 1880s. Porter reported to Pressler, and when the future short story writer later got indicted for embezzling funds at an Austin bank, Pressler went his bond.

Pressler stayed at the GLO until 1899. His big map eventually outlived its original usefulness and got rolled up and stored. With the passage of time and occasional un-rolling, its condition deteriorated. The Panhandle region, for instance, pretty much fell to pieces.

But in 2000, the GLO had the map restored. The Panhandle still looks like it got hit by a giant tornado, but the map has been stabilized and never will get in any worse shape. (Fortunately, the Panhandle survives on the small versions of Pressler’s map.)

Because of its size, the king-sized map has not been scanned, but Kilpatrick says that will happen sooner or later. Until then, 4 by 4 foot versions of the map have been reprinted and are available for purchase from GLO.

The GLO has more than 50,000 maps and documents in its archives. To buy a reprint of selected old maps and some newly prepared historical maps, check the agency’s Web site at www.glo.state.tx.us
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
June 27, 2007 column


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