Sunday, December 22, 2013



James Polk #11

Zachary Taylor # 12

Franklin Pierce #14
I am a history buff as most readers can tell from the nature of many postings.  Is seems to me that many geologists (especially stratigraphers) are historians; however, we just study “old stuff.”  In my introductory geology classes there were always the questions about paleontologists and archaeologists, about how old a bone must be before it is classified as a fossil, about the ~10k boundary between the Pleistocene and the Holocene (Recent).  My standard answer was if the bone smelled, give it to an archaeologist.  On the other hand, I did notice that many geologists took a big interest in history and were always willing to help the field historians decipher the local stratigraphy, soil zones, bones, etc. 

The other day I was thinking (daydreaming?) about what it would have been like to explore some old Arizona mines during times of magnificent crystals falling off the walls---or something like that.  This made me wonder about how many rockhounds recognize a mapmaker by the name of John Disturnell?   If it had not been for ole John’s goof-up, the U.S might have been cut off from some really nice crystals in southern Arizona, not to mention some really large copper deposits.

Disturnell was a publisher of guidebooks, maps, tourist directories, railroads, etc. and without any real experience in drafting accurate maps or presenting valid statistics. His company simply drew upon whatever older editions were out there and plagiarized about anything.  However, from what I can tell other publishers were doing the same sort of piracy.
I recently read a biography of James K. Polk, the 11th President of the U.S. (1845-1849).  Like collecting strange minerals, I am a sucker for reading about “relatively unknown” U.S. statesmen (Millard Fillmore anyone).  So, Polk was a strong promoter of territorial expansion, the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. -- all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  However, he had a small problem with land claimed by Mexico in the southwest and the “Oregon Question” in the northwest---not to mention the Republic of Texas and the fledging Republic of California.  Of course, no one bothered to consult with the Native Americans living in the area.
Map of the Republic of Texas. The land claimed by Texas is in light green, while administered territory is in dark green.  Public Domain photo.      
Polk seemed most concerned with acquiring Texas as a first step to continental domination.  The Texians had declared independence from Mexico in 1836 but of course that action precipitated a couple of well-known battles that are ingrained in Texas history books:  the Alamo, and Goliad (Texians losing), and San Jacinto (Texians winning).  After the Battle of San Jacinto, Mexico, really the losing general Santa Anna, and the Texians signed the Treaties of Velasco (plural since one copy was public and one secret).  The important part, at least too many Texians, was the establishment of the Republic’s southern boundary as the Rio Grande River (rather than the Nueces River to the north).  The kicker to the Vilasco document---the official Mexican government did not accept the Treaty (Santa Anna did not have signing authority), especially the Rio Grande part, and Mexico continued to claim Texas, and especially the land as far north as the Nueces (Nueces Strip).  
Map showing land ceded to the U.S. by Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Photo courtesy of World Book (1999).    
In 1845, the U.S. annexed (mostly with permission) the Republic of Texas---with boundaries at the Rio Grande (although this boundary was not explicatively stated in the congressional annexation resolution).  Texas then became the nation’s 28th state.  Mexico had stated for years that if the U.S. annexed Texas, a region they still claimed, war would be inevitable, and so it came to be.  The President sent General Zachery Taylor (future 12th President) to south Texas to show the flag and construct a fort (Fort Texas) on the banks of the Rio Grande. After a battle with Mexican forces (Thornton Affair) President Polk claimed Mexico soldiers were on U.S. soil, north of the Ro Grande, and had “shed American blood on American soil.”  War was declared in May 1846 and finally ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic).  With this treaty the U.S. acquired Texas, California, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.
Here is where John Disturnell comes in.  His maps of the southwest, mostly plagiarized and not quite accurate, essentially were the only game in town and therefore were used in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo---but in different versions.  The seventh version of the map (The Republic of Mexico) was attached to the U.S. copy while the 12th version was attached to Mexico’s copy.  However, since Disturnell plagiarized previous errant maps the documents used in the Treaty negotiations were also in error, especially concerning the location of El Paso and the Rio Grande River; both were key points is establishing the international boundary.  The Treaty specified that the southern U.S.-Mexico boundary would follow the River from its mouth to a point eight miles north of El Paso and then head west.  Well, Disturnell’s errant map showed El Paso to be about 35 miles further south and about 100 miles further west than the “correct” location determined by various surveys.  It stands to reason that Mexico favored the map while the U.S. was partial to the land surveys.  The critical point with the U.S. was a possible route for a southern transcontinental railroad trending through southern New Mexico, the Mesilla Strip. 

President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857; the only President ever elected from New Hampshire) was often called a “doughface”, a northerner with southern sympathies.  He had selected Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Confederate States of America, as his Secretary of War and yielded to Davis’ insistence to locate a southern route for a future transcontinental railroad.  So, he sent James Gadsden to Mexico in order to purchase a rather large hunk of land covering southern New Mexico (west of the Rio Grande) and about the southern one-third of Arizona.  The expanding nation also wanted the northern tip of the Gulf of California in order to build another seaport; however, Mexico would have then been shut off from the Colorado River and would not accept the terms.  The Gadsden Purchase was ratified by the U.S. Senate in mid-1854 and the last major land acquisition to the lower 48 was completed, mainly to appease southern congressmen and their dreams of the first transcontinental railroad linking southern states to the Pacific Ocean.  
Land acquired via the Gadsden Purchase.  Public Domain map.
Of course, the initial transcontinental railroad was built in the north across Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah into California (see previous posts); however, the Gadsden Purchase did include that large hunk of southern Arizona.  And, that parcel included Tucson, and the gigantic metallic deposits of places like Bisbee, Tombstone, Tiger, Old Hat/Mammoth, Old Yuma, Ajo, Ray, the mines in the Patagonia and Catalina Mountains, and a host of others.  Silver, gold, lead and some other metals were extracted from many mines in southern Arizona; however, when I think of Arizona metals my first thought is copper, and copper, and more copper.  Since the early part of the 20th century Arizona is usually listed as the leading U.S state in the production of copper, not all of it in southern Arizona (remember Jerome and Clifton) but much of it was located in lands obtained via the Gadsden Purchase for a whopping 10 million dollars.

Most rockhounds have, in their collection, at least a few specimens of native copper.  Generally the nuggets (mostly flattened blogs) are from the Keweenaw area of Michigan where Precambrian rocks of the Mid- Continent Rift System produced prodigious amounts of the metal, some even found as large boulders.  Arizona rocks are famous for yielding crystals of native copper often growing as arborescent masses or tangled branches.  My modest collection has three specimens from the 79 Mine near Hayden, and a couple labeled “Bisbee” without additional information about a specific mine.

Arborescent copper from Bisbee.  Length ~1.4 cm.
Crystals of arborescent copper, Bisbee, Arizona.  Close-up of top photo showing crystals.

Length ~ 1.5 cm.
Length ~2.1 cm.

Crystalline copper from 79 Mine near Hayden, AZ.  Length ~3 cm.
So, although the southern congressional delegation missed out on an early transcontinental railroad, significant minerals were later mined on lands acquired through the Gadsden Purchase.  If it had not been for John Disturnell’s plagiarism and errant maps, and for three relatively unknown Presidents---Franklin Pierce (signed the Gadsden Purchase), Zachary Taylor (commanded troops in Mexico), and James K. Polk (acquired large tracts of land) --- these critical metallic resources may have remained with Mexico.

In this short posting I can’t begin to explore all of the ramifications, back-room dealings, implications, lies, interesting facts, etc. associated with the Mexican War and the later Gadsden Purchase---they are fascinating.  For example, many of the well-known army officers in the Civil War (on both sides of the conflict: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Meade, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Winfield Scott) were veterans of the Mexican War.  John C. Fremont raised the U.S flag in California and later was the first presidential candidate (1856) of the new Republican Party.  Franklin Pierce won the presidency by defeating his old military commander in Mexico, Winfield Scott.  U.S. Grant became the 18th President of the U.S. And then, there were the persistent questions about slavery and the introduction of “free states” or “slave states” into the Union.  And in Washington, a congressman from Illinois was asking embarrassing questions about the administration and the War.  

There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of before I became President of the U.S. 
        James K. Polk


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