All Over the Map: The Southwestern United States in 1866

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After the American conquest of much of northern Mexico in the late 1840s, organizing a huge mass of territory stretching from Texas to the Pacific had to be accomplished during a time of intense debate about the spread or limitation of slavery.

As mentioned here before, the question of what to do with California, the population of which skyrocketed after the astounding news of the Gold Rush reached the east, and statehood led to significant delays.  In fact, Californians set up their own constitution and government before Congress, finally stirred to action, enacted the Compromise of 1850 to allow California to enter the Union as a free state.

As for other lands including New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, the initial decision was to incorporate the first two as part of a large New Mexico Territory and the third as part of the Utah Territory, created once the Mormons established their Zion at Salt Lake City around the time of the Mexican-American War.

Maps of the 1850s, for example, reflected this orientation of the newly appropriated western and southwestern areas, but further changes were afoot.  This included the interesting example of what to do with Nevada once immense silver deposits were found around Virginia City, northeast of modern Reno, at the end of that decade.

This image and the following closeup details of an 1866 map from the Homestead collection shows the established boundaries of what became six states in the American West and Southwest at a time when significant changes were taking place in the broad region as well as in greater Los Angeles.

When the Civil War erupted just a couple of years later, the Union recognized the importance of Nevada silver filling the coffers of the treasury.  Despite the fact that Nevada was sparsely populated, legislation was quickly passed to admit the Silver State into the Union in 1864.  Consequently, Utah Territory shrunk considerably in size and assumed the boundaries it had when statehood came in 1896.

In Arizona, mining, mainly copper, was also heavily underway during these years and so it was assigned territorial status in 1863 and separated from New Mexico.  The latter finally achieved statehood in 1907, with Arizona admitted to the union five years later.With these changes to states and territories by the mid-1860s, the outline of the American Southwest became fully established on maps.

An example from the Homestead’s collection is the very detailed and colorful “Johnson’s California, also Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona” issued by Alvin J. Johnson of New York.  Johnson, who worked as a salesman for the widely known map publisher Joseph H. Colton launched his career in making maps and atlases in 1860, but they became quickly well-known for their beauty and attention to detail and are prized by collectors.  Johnson continued in the business until the late 1880s.

The map not only shows the modern boundaries of these six states, but zooming in on the greater Los Angeles area provides some interesting detail and material.  For example, Los Angeles County was larger than it is today, because Orange County was not carved out of the south and eastern portions until 1889.  However, Kern County had only recently been established and Los Angeles County lost some of its territory to its new northern neighbor.

1866 map S. Calif.
Note that Orange and Riverside counties were roughly a quarter century away from creation, while Kern County, at the upper left, had just been created a couple years prior to the map’s publication.

To the east, San Bernardino County, separated from Los Angeles County in 1852, remains the largest county in America (Alaska has larger boroughs and census tracts that are not counties technically.)  Then, because Riverside County was not set up until 1893, San Diego County extended further north and west.  Color coding shows all of this.

With respect to our area, it is shown as too straight a line, but Valley Boulevard, heading east from Los Angeles, passes through El Monte, established in 1851 by migrants from the South, and then out through another route to “Qui Qual Mongo,” better known as Cucamonga.

Other recognizable place names include Chino, meaning the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, a popular stop for travelers coming in from the southern migration route from Arizona and up through San Diego County; “Los Coyotas” or Rancho Los Coyotes in what is now portions of Orange and Los Angeles counties today; Anaheim, established in 1857 by German immigrants interested in setting up vineyards; Wilmington, a harbor town started by Phineas Banning, a native of Wilmington, Delaware; and Cerritos, which just that year, 1866, passed from the ownership of Jonathan Temple, who purchased it in 1843, to the Bixby family.

1866 Map LA area 2
Towns, ranches, main roads, mining regions, and other details are of note in this detail of Los Angeles County and some surrounding areas.

Another interesting element to the map are the indications of silver and copper mines in the San Gabriel Mountains and in the deserts in the northern reaches of the county.  Because of the activity in Arizona and Nevada, as well as the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada range in California, there was quite a bit of activity in Los Angeles County, though nothing as successful as those in the other areas mentioned above.

Finally, 1866 was one of those watershed moments (literally) for greater Los Angeles.  The first half of the decade saw the region wracked by terrible flooding in the winter of 1861-62 (up to 50 inches fell that winter), followed a devastating drought from 1862-65 (4 inches of rain two successive years) in what we now know as the El Niño/La Niña cycle.

The cattle industry was decimated, locusts and other pests proliferated, smallpox epidemics raged, especially affecting the native Indian and Latino populations, and the economy was severely impacted, though Union Army investment locally as attempts to keep Confederate sympathy, widespread in the region, in check brought badly needed funds.

But, once the drought abated and the Civil War ended, a significant change happened as greater Los Angeles entered its first significant growth period, which started just after this map was published and lasted into the mid-1870s.  William Workman and F.P.F. Temple, who survived the drought and flourished in a switch of emphasis to agriculture, also aspired to take part in the business boom.  Their Temple and Workman bank, however, collapsed in 1876 as the boom went bust.

So, this map has an important part to play in helping to show the myriad changes taking place locally and more broadly.

2 thoughts

  1. Hi Luanne, yes, the map was issued not quite 20 years before Ramona, which was published in 1884. Thanks for the comment and your interest in the blog.

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