‘Pivotal Points’ in western history mapped

Posted 10/1/10

“Pivotal Points: the Exploration and Mapping of the Trans-Mississippi West.” The title immediately summons up visions of Lewis and Clark, Zebulon …

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‘Pivotal Points’ in western history mapped


“Pivotal Points: the Exploration and Mapping of the Trans-Mississippi West.”

The title immediately summons up visions of Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, John C. Fremont, trappers and traders, Native American tribes and endless stretches of wilderness: terra incognito.

Engage the imagination and think of the adventurous men who set out to find the best routes across the west to the Pacific, to the Colorado gold fields, to the southwest and Spanish territories. And think of the ongoing political and territorial discussions and disagreements that drove shifting boundaries.

A beautifully displayed exhibit of historic maps, most from the Littleton Museum’s collection, opened Oct. 1 and will be in place for a year. A collection of books and reports accompanies the exhibit, including the portfolio-sized “Humboldt Atlas.”

Framed maps are mounted on Wedgewood blue panels, framed in white, which brings out hand coloring, when included and also makes the black and white maps pop. Some are yellowed and wrinkled, but most are in remarkably good condition and legible (at times in Latin).

Early maps have long been a particular interest of the museum’s deputy director Lorena Donohue and her depth of knowledge is reflected in selection and wall text. She said there were a few holes in the museum’s collection, but she knew where to borrow what filled those gaps from private collections. Bill Hastings installation design, as always, highlights the already intriguing material.

At the gallery entrance is the handsomely detailed 1720 “New Map of the North Parts of America Claimed by France Under Ye Names of Louisiana, Mississippi, Canada and New France With ye Adjoining Territories of England and Spain.“ We see New Mexico, Mexico and New Spain. California floats, a long island west of the Gulf of California. The Great South Sea appears. On the other coast, Florida appears truncated and the Bahamas and Cuba appear above the Great North Sea. H. Moll was the cartographer.

A quick search shows that Moll (1654-1732) was a Dutch emigre to London, where he became the most prominent and prolific cartographer in 18th century London, noted for the many annotations and illustrations on his maps.

A number of maps are specially marked as “Pivotal Points in exploration and mapping that have shaped the way we view this continent and this nation,” according to the Museum’s announcement.”

There are changes before and after Colorado’s statehood in 1876. It doesn’t often appear before that time, although it’s in Johnson’s Everchanging Southwest map, dated 1864, as well as Johnson maps from 1860 and 61.

A Pivotal Point: John C. Fremont’s “1845 Expedition to the Rocky Mountains and to Oregon and North Carolina 1843-44.” Ordered by the Corps of Topographical Engineers, it includes the Great Platte River Road, which started in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Another, noted “one of the most important” and dated 1804, shows Lewis and Clark’s route, copied by Samuel Lewis from William Clark’s drawing.

There are two maps by Zebulon Pike and a roadmap to the Pike’s Peak gold fields illustrating “all routes from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and Outfitting points.” It includes the Northern, Republican Fork and Arkansas routes.

Captain Gunnison’s 1853 map was to determine the route for the Central Pacific Railroad. Gunnison was killed by Indians — or perhaps by Mormons — according to conflicting accounts.

Closer to home is a map of the Colorado Territory, Denver City, Nov. 1, 1861, which established the baseline for surveying the state: the 40th Parallel. Think of Baseline Road in Boulder.

A sampling of these maps will undoubtedly lead a visitor to plan on more visits, as well as a return to those western history titles on the bookshelves for the colorful stories that accompany the maps. History buffs will be set for the winter.

If you go:

“Pivotal Points” continues through Oct. 16, 2011 at the Littleton Museum, 6028 S. Gallup St., Littleton. Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and Holidays. Admission free. 303-795-3950.


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