Department of Special Collections and University Archives
McFarlin Library. University of Tulsa.  2933 E. 6th St.  Tulsa, OK.  74104-3123 (OKT - OkTU)

Maps of the American West

Stephen H. Long's 1822 Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory (from the Carey and Lea Atlas of 1822)


Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory
by Major Stephen H. Long, Topographical Engineers
from the Carey and Lea’s Atlas of 1822

The most interesting map for students of the trans-Mississippi West contained within the 1822 Carey and Lea Atlas may be the “Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory.”  It is essentially the map documenting Major Stephen H. Long’s 1819-1820 expedition.  Illustrated is the geography of the western drainage of the Mississippi River from the Mandan villages along the Missouri on the north to the deserted Pawnee villages on the Red River to the south.  Although the narrative account of his expedition was not published until 1823, an immense manuscript map seems to have been drawn by Long in 1821 and quickly became available to cartographers.   Long’s masterpiece was one of the most important maps of the Great Plains printed prior to the Civil War, according to geographer John Logan Allen.

The Long map became a “master map,” to be built upon and added to by a generation of cartographers, a good example being Henry S. Tanner’s map of North America.  Long’s map portrays the country between the Platte and the Red River with the highest degree of accuracy of the day, correcting many of the errors on earlier maps.  His expedition located what he believed to be the western end of the Red River (repeating one of Pike’s errors), where Long then turned east for his return journey.  Only later, far downstream, did Long realize that the Red River lay further south; he had been traveling down the Canadian Fork of the Arkansas River. The correct positioning of the Red River, even if by accident, was critical since it formed part of the boundary between the United States and the new Republic of Mexico.

Like so many maps of the time, Long’s suggested the future opportunities for trade and commerce just beyond the horizon.  Long notes the “Great Spanish Road” leading to Santa Fe as the road of the Pawnees and Konzas.  The Santa Fe Trail would soon utilize a significant portion of this route, connecting the Missouri traders of Independence to their fortunes in Mexican Santa Fe.  Long’s route up the Platte would also provide the way for the mass migration of settlers, Mormons and gold rushers of the 1840’s as they ventured west to the Oregon Country, Utah and California.   

One of the map’s most notable features and a source of its enduring power was the label “GREAT AMERICAN DESERT” Long used in describing the American Great Plains (“GREAT DESERT” in the Carey and Lea Atlas).  As Long’s party traveled across what is today the High Plains area of southwest Kansas, the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma in the heat of July and August of 1820, what they saw and endured would have certainly seemed a “desert” to men of the East.  The delineation of the area as a desert, unsuitable for sustainable agriculture such as was known to Long, a man from New Hampshire, illustrates how the expectations Americans had for the West were turned upside-down when confronted with its realities.  The western Plains were not the farmer’s garden or paradise as imagined by Thomas Jefferson; the area was exceedingly arid with unbroken grasslands compared to the wet, green and timbered east.  For many in the nation, Long’s notation that “The Great Desert is frequented by roving bands of Indians who have no fixed places of residence but roam from place to place in quest of game” defined the area.  This was a home for nomadic Indians and a buffer against rival empires..

Special Collection's Maps of the American West

Thomas Jefferys' 1776 American Atlas


Alexander von Humboldt's 1803 Map of Kingdom of New Spain Zebulon M.Pike's 1810 A Chart of the Internal Part of Louisiana Stephen H. Long's 1822 Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory (from the Carey  and Lea Atlas of 1822) Henry S. Tanner's 1822 Map of North America Josiah Gregg's 1844 A Map of the Indian Territory, Northern Texas and New Mexico Showing the Great Western Prairies Augustus Mitchell's 1846 A New Map of the Texas, Oregon and California With the Regions Adjoining 

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