Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mapping your Marriage in the 1850s by Vince Szilagyi

We see maps of all sorts in our line of work, but recently the shop acquired one that had even us shaking our heads in amusement. The map in question is a marvelous and charming 1850 lithograph by Philadelphia printmaker Augustus Kollner which examines and charts one of the most important and difficult areas of the human experience, marriage!


At the top of this map, an appropriately solemn wedding is being conducted in front of a crowd of earnestly praying guests. Beneath this scene lies “The Great Ocean of Love.” This ocean, according to the text on the map, “represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass. By an examination of the chart voyagers will be enabled to avoid the dangers that beset them, and arrive safely at the haven of felicity."


The aforementioned dangers are graphically illustrated in the map by the numerous islands, bays, straits, gulfs, harbors, rivers and other geographic features which dot the Ocean of Love with names like “The Rocks of Jealousy”, “Mountains of Deceit” and “Divorce Isle”. The left and right sides of the map are filled with text detailing the various locations in the Ocean of Love, and how they are to be traversed safely in order to reach a happy and loving marriage. The dangers presented range from the serious, [“River of Abuse”, “Mountains of Hatred”], to flippant [“Silly Isles”] to memorable [“Hymen’s Light-House”]. Guiding the would-be lovers is a compass rose in the bottom left corner, on which the cardinal directions are Hope, Love, Despair and Hatred.


My personal favorite of the obstacles and descriptions is Port Desire. “Port Desire, From what cause we are unable to explain, is not visible on any of the Charts. Yet it affirmed to by many, that from time immemorial, it has been a place of great resort, by all classes. The tides about the coast are very rapid, so much so, as to rise and fall almost beyond the power of imagination. In running for the harbor, it is necessary to bear up betwixt the rocks of Philosophy and Prudence. After passing them, the traveler may be considered clear of danger, always taking care never to bring too at shallow water.” While Bachelor Fort, is a strong contender, Port Desire neatly encapsulates the unique combination of 1850’s American culture, artwork and humor that make this map so charming.


This print is exceedingly rare, with the only other extant example we could find being a copy at the Library of Congress. However, as seen above, this copy lacks the descriptive text along the left and right of the image. The Library of Congress states that this space was for recording marriages but we disagree. We feel that the blank columns indicate that this version of the map was sent to the Library of Congress before the print was finished as a copyright copy, designed to guarantee Kollner ownership of the image itself. With the copyright secure, Kollner finished the map and began to sell copies with descriptive text in the columns, like the one the shop now holds.


Although this particular map is rare, there are some other matrimonial maps in private collections and in the hands of particular dealers. Matrimonial maps originated in late 18th century in Europe, and became fairly popular in the 19th century in both Europe and the United States. Maps like this were used both as décor and as a tool to help preserve the virtue of young men and women and help guide them into happy, stable marriages. Using these maps people could avoid obstacles like the “Sands of Inconstancy” and the “Floating Isles of Flattery” and eventually reach the promised land of “Lake Affection” and “Baby Fort”. Some struggles really are timeless.


Matrimonial maps faded in popularity but some examples of 20th century maps do exist. A British collector and antiques dealer named Rod Barron has a wonderful collection of matrimonial maps on his website Thanks to the Library of Congress and to Ella Morton at www.altaobscura.com for putting us on to Mr. Barron’s collection.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

American State Exclaves: The Dakota Thump

One of my favorite exclaves is the Dakota Thumb, which existed for five years in the Bitterroot Mountains, where a part of the Dakota Territory lay separated from the main part of Dakota by about 365 miles!


In 1838, the northeastern part of the original Louisiana Territory, those lands lying between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, north of the state of Missouri, became a very large Iowa Territory.


Eight years later, the southeastern part of the territory was admitted as the state of Iowa, with the remainder of the region—those lands between the Mississippi and Missouri River north of Iowa, becoming the Minnesota Territory in 1849.


In 1850, the vast lands north of Texas between the Missouri River and the Continental Divide were unorganized, with no formal government. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act created two large territories in this area, with a vast Nebraska Territory consisting of all the lands north of the 40th parallel that lay west of the Minnesota Territory and east of the continent divide.


Four years later, the eastern part of the Minnesota Territory was made into a state, with the western part being left legally unorganized, though a provisional government for a territory to be called Dakota was set up.


It wasn’t until 1861 that the Dakota Territory was officially created, but when it was created it was much larger, encompassing not only what had been the western part of the old Minnesota Territory, but also that part of Nebraska Territory north of the 43rd parallel.


At about this time, gold was discovered in the eastern part of Washington Territory (which basically surrounded the state of Oregon in the northwest) and as new emigrants moved into the area, it was decided in 1863 to create a new territory—-called Idaho-—which included not only the eastern part of Washington Territory, but extended well to the east, as far as the 104th degree longitude. This included what had been the western part of the very large Dakota Territory, leaving Dakota encompassing what is today North and South Dakota.


Within a year, miners in the eastern part of the vast Idaho Territory requested that a new territory be created for them. They were located on the eastern side of the Bitterroot Mountain Range and felt cut off from, and ignored, by the Idaho government located on the far side of the Bitterroots. Thus in 1864, the Montana Territory was created. Its eastern border was the old Idaho Territory with Dakota down to the 45th parallel. The southern border followed this line of latitude to 111 degrees west, then turning south for half a degree (44°30’), where it turned west again until it ran into the Continental Divide in the Bitterroots. From thence it ran along the crest of those mountains until it intersected the 116th degree line, which it then followed to the Canadian border.


Idaho’s border was also redrawn south of the 44°30’ line. It followed the Bitterroot range as far as the 100th degree, at which point it dropped straight south until it intersected with the Utah border. This left an almost-rectangular shaped section of land south of Montana—-which had been part of Idaho Territory-—which now was attached to Dakota Territory, giving it a strange butterfly-like shape.


The re-enlarged Dakota was not only very large, but its strange shape was impractical, so in 1868, the southwestern block was separated to become Wyoming. This territory was created as a rectangle, with the eastern border simply continuing the Montana border down to Colorado, thence running along the 41st parallel to the 111th meridian, which the border then followed up to the Montana border at the 45th parallel.


This all sounds very reasonable, but a small exclave was created because of how the borders of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana were defined.
  • Wyoming’s western border was the 111th meridian
  • Idaho’s border followed the Continental Divide until it intersected with the 111th degree line
  • Montana’s border followed the 111th meridian to 44°30’, whence it turned west until that line intersected the continental divide.
The map above shows how Wyoming would have looked if Congress had not determined to make it a rectangle. That little pointed bit at the left is the area which would have been included in Wyoming, but was not.


That little wedge of land was actually left out of all the territories because the Continental Divide runs into the 111th degree line south of 44°30’. As it had been part of the Dakota Territory previously, and the new borders didn’t change its status, this little “thumb” of land remained part of Dakota, detached and well west of the rest of that territory. Very few maps show the thmub; the detail above comes from the 1868 GLO map of the United States. The thumb remained as part of Dakota until 1873, at which time it was given to Montana.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

American State Exclaves: The Kentucky Bend

An exclave is a section of land which is not conterminous with a larger political entity to which it belongs. That is, an exclave is physically separated from the main part of its political unit by one or more other political entities, so that is would be impossible to get by land from the exclave to the main part of the political entity without crossing territory belonging to a foreign entity. An example of such an exclave in the United States is Alaska. (Note that, strictly speaking, an exclave has to be surrounded by alien territory, but in this discussion we will include pene-exclaves, or practical exclaves, such as Alaska, which are partially bordered by their own territorial waters.)


There are quite a number of exclaves in the world, most of them of very local character (for instance as part of a county or city). Over the years, however, there have been some interesting exclaves as part of American states. One of the earliest was what is today the state of Maine, which from the seventeenth century until 1820, when it was admitted as as state, was part of Massachusetts. Another was the Western Reserve, in present-day Ohio, which was an exclave of Connecticut until the year 1800.


Those exclaves were the result of political claims, but there are three interesting U.S. state exclaves which were created becaue of maps, which of course is of particular interest to me. In today’s blog we’ll look at the 17 square miles called the “Kentucky Bend” (also the “New Madrid Bend” or “Bessie Bend”).


In 1663, King Charles II created the Carolina Colony, establishing it to the south of the Virginia Colony with their mutual border being set at 36 degrees, 30 minutes. (This border is one of the most significant borders in the United States, playing a huge role in the history of slavery and the American West, as explained in my blog on “Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West”). In 1792, Kentucky was created as a state out of the western part of Virginia, retaining the same southern border. Its western border was set as the Mississippi River where 36°30’ intersected it.


Initially, this seemed to be unproblematic, as the 1795 map of Kentucky by Mathew Carey shows. However, surveyors did not actually lay the border on the ground that far west until well into the 19th century (and, indeed, the surveying of the border between Kentucky and Tennessee further east was also problematic, creating anything but a straight line along the 36°30’ border).


As better surveying of the region of western Kentucky, southern Missouri and the Mississippi River around New Madrid was gained, the realization came that the Mississippi River came awfully close to the 36°30’ line in the area, as Anthony Finley shows in his 1824 map.


By the beginning of the next decade, it was discovered that the Mississippi River, on one of its meander loops, actually crossed that line of latitude three times, creating a small peninsula which stuck up north of the border line, which made it part of Kentucky, but which was not connected to the main part of the state to the east. This is nicely shown on Henry S. Tanner’s map of 1833. According to Kentucky, that peninsula, though unattached to the rest of the state, belonged to her, as it has been since accepted. Tennessee, however, initially claimed the peninsula as well, only giving up its claim in 1848. The Kentucky Bend is an exclave, as you cannot get from it to the rest of Kentucky without crossing either into Missouri or Tennessee.


Some have claimed that the river originally did not drop south of the 36°30’ line until it flowed past New Madrid, but that its course was changed by the large earthquakes centered on that town in 1811 and 1812. That would have meant that this exclave was originally attached to the rest of the state. However, it does not appear that this shift in the river ever happened (though the Mississippi did, in effect, flow backwards in the region at one time because of those quakes). This unusual exclave, shown on the map above by Jim Efaw, was simply the result of borders being defined on maps before those maps were truly accurate.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Antiques Roadshow: the 20th season

I just returned last night from the second city of filming, Spokane, for the 20th year of Antiques Roadshow. The show films in the summer (this year in six different cities around the country), the takes are edited and episodes put together and finally aired beginning in January of the following year.


This anniversary season certainly got started with a bang, for just before we opened our doors for the thousands of clients to bring in their objects to be appraised, a small fire was discovered on set!


The first stop was in Tuscon (on May 30th) and as I was about to jump on the van to take me to the convention center, at 6:15 in the morning, a producer rushed up and told the van to take her to the set right away, leaving me stranded behind. I soon learned that a battery had started a fire on the set, Luckily, it was discovered almost immediately and, because of the quick thinking of our head of security, Sean Quinn, was put out with relatively minor damage to the set and no harm to any people or priceless objects.


Still, the fire made a mess, with smoke and ashes covering the set. The crew of the Roadshow and the convention center did a remarkable job of clearing things up and we got started only about 2 hours late. Of course, since we are usually filming for about 12 hours, we were on set until 9:30 that night, but everyone was amazed at how well the day went after that rather unusual start.


Last weekend we moved on to Spokane, Washington, where the filming went on in a more normal way. As at every stop, the crew and appraisers did an amazing job of running thousands of people with objects of every age and size through the process of, first, getting to the right appraiser, then getting their appraisal, and in the case of those few "special" items selected for possible airing, having their appraisals filmed.


Looking back on my 19 years of working as a print and map expert for the show, I am amazed at how it is still fun and often exciting to do the show, despite the extensive travel and long hours. After all these years, the show now has a stable of regular appraisers and we have gotten to know each other very well, spending a "fair bit" of time together in the bar and restaurants after the show finishes. It is also remarkable at how patient and friendly are all the guests, many who have to wait hours to see us, only to be told that their items have mostly "sentimental" or "decorative" value.


The people I spoke with in both Tuscon and Spokane were terrific and I saw a good number of interesting and wonderful prints and maps. I was filmed in both cities, so if the segment comes out well, you'll be able to see the result sometime next year. In the meantime, however, keep watching this year's shows (filmed in the summer of 2014). In Chicago I saw some great stuff and those episodes will be run for the first time this coming fall.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Poor Utah: The Black Sheep Territory

Mormons have been controversial since their founding in 1830. This was in part because of the peculiarities of their religion, in part because of the insularity of their social lives, and—perhaps as important as any of these factors—because of their practice of polygamy. Due to local conflicts, the Mormons were forced to move a number of times from places they tried to settle, culminating in 1839 in an attempt to found their Zion on the banks of the Mississippi at what became Nauvoo, Illinois.


Tensions continued, however, with those in the surrounding region harassing the Mormons and in June 1844, with a mob actually murdering the sect’s founder, Joseph Smith. Violence against persons and property continued in the following year, so that finally Brigham Young, the new leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, decided that he would lead them west to a place where they could be practice their religion without interference, free from the prejudice and violence they had always faced.


In February 1846, the Mormons crossed the frozen Mississippi and over the next year moved slowly across Iowa, finally settling in what became known as “Winter Quarters” in the Nebraska Territory, across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. Young’s ultimate goal, though, was further west, in the Great Basin which at the time was part of Mexico. This remote area was essentially unpopulated and was far away from any government or other settlers.


In April 1847, the Mormon’s headed west along the California Trail, arriving in July of that year. They immediately beginning to build their new community by the Great Salt Lake. In 1847, about 1,600 Mormons arrived there, followed the next year by 2,500 more, and then thousands more in the next decades.


Brigham Young wanted to create a wide spread Mormon community, sending out settlers throughout the Great Basin, and he wanted the entire Great Basin to be politically run by the Church. His plans became more difficult when, as a result of the treaty which ended the Mexican War, what had been Mexican territory because U.S. territory in 1848. In 1849, Young sent a petition to Congress to create a territory of Desert (the name derives from the word for “honeybee” in the Book of Mormon), which would have extended to all the lands lying between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, from Oregon Territory in the north and Mexico in the south.


At that time, the citizens of the other areas acquired by the United States as part of the Mexican Cession of 1848, California and New Mexico, were applying for their admission as states, so Young soon modified his application to Congress for Desert to become a state instead of just a territory. He and the elders of the Church meanwhile drafted a state constitution and set up a provisional state government, so that they would have the wheel of power when the new state was created.


Congress definitely had an unfavorable view of the Mormons, with most Congressmen finding the religion heretical and polygamy reprehensible. This anti-Mormon feeling meant that there was no chance that Young’s proposed Desert would be realized. Instead, in 1850, Congress broke the Mexican Cession into three parts: the state of California, and the large territories of Utah and New Mexico. Utah extended from the continental divide to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, separated from New Mexico at the 37° parallel.


Interestingly, Young did not give up on his hope for a Mormon state of Deseret even after the new territorial government was set up. Young and the elders met for almost ten years in a shadow government, which ratified all the laws passed by the territorial legislature, so theirs could be created as the official government if the state were ever created. Young petitioned for the state again in 1856, 1862 and finally in 1872, but it never came to pass.


Despite this disappointment, Brigham Young and the elders did dominate the Utah territorial government and this began to lead to new tensions as non-Mormons moved into the territory. There were complaints about the theocratic rule of Utah and also about the continued practice of polygamy. This spurred the U.S. government to send troops to Utah, causing the Mormons to react as though they were being invaded.


The upshot of this was the “Utah” or “Mormon War,” which lasted from May 1857 to July 1858. There was considerable posturing and some skirmishes, with the greatest loss of life occurring when a party of California-bound emigrants were killed by a group of Mormon militiamen in what is now called the Mountain Meadows massacre. Eventually an agreement between the Mormons and the federal government led to Young giving up his governorship, though the Mormons were able to retain their operative control of the territorial government.


All of this set the scene when events began to create a need for the division of the large southwestern territories into smaller units. The Utah territory, effectively run by the Mormons, was definitely not popular with Congress, which was able to show its displeasure over the next decade. Utah and New Mexico were huge territories and as new populations moved into them, the new settlers began to demand regional divisions so they could control their own affairs with a local government. Between 1861 and 1868, Congress did create new territories out of parts of Utah and New Mexico. Not surprisingly, as Utah was apportioned, none of the divisions favored the Mormon-led government of Utah.


The division of Utah was a direct result of the movement into the region of gold and silver seekers. In 1859, a major discovery of silver—what came to be called the Comstock Lode—was found on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in far western Utah Territory. Miners poured into the area and these were definitely dissatisfied with being under the control of the Utah Territorial government. Not only was the center of the government located almost at the other end of the territory, in Salt Lake City, but these miners were for the most part strongly anti-Mormon. They soon petitioned for the creation of their own territory out of the western part of Utah.


Though many in Congress were favorable towards the notion, the creation of such a new territory was at first impossible. A new territory created out of western Utah would almost certainly prohibit slavery, both because it was north of the original Compromise of 1850 latitude line of 36°30’, but its citizens were also anti-slavery. The southern Congressmen were unwilling to allow such a new free territory and so an impasse was reached. However, when all the southern Representatives and Senators left with the beginning of the Confederacy in early 1861, the remaining Congressmen were easily able to create the territory of Nevada on March 2, 1861. This territory was created out of all that part of Utah west of the 116th meridian, about one third of the original area of the Mormon-run territory.


This, though, was not the only land which was taken from the Utah Territory in 1861. The silver rush in Nevada was paralleled on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains when gold was discovered in 1858 near the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek in far western Kansas Territory. This led to the “Pikes Peak Gold Rush” and a heavy influx of miners in such new communities as Auraria, Denver City, and Golden.


Similarly to the miners in what became Nevada Territory, the settlers along the Front Range were unhappy with what was their very distant government, located at the other end of the Kansas Territory, well to the east near the Missouri River. They also petitioned to Congress for a new territory; one group tried to create the territory of Colona and one to create the territory of Jefferson. For the same reasons that Congress was unable to act on the petition of the settlers on the east slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, it was also unable to act on the petitions of either of these Front Range groups until early 1861, when the new territory of Colorado was created.


Colorado mostly was created out of the western part of Kansas, but it also got some land from the northern part of New Mexico, the southwestern part of Nebraska, and, naturally, the eastern part of Utah. Kansas Territory had extended west as far as the continental divide and many of the initial proposals for breaking off a new territory also were limited to that western border, but when Congress did create Colorado on February 28, 1861, it was extended well west of the divide, taking up all of eastern Utah as far as the 109th meridian. Just to add insult to injury, the small northeastern triangle of Utah—between the 110th meridian and the continental divide, north of 41° latitude—was given to Nebraska Territory.


Things didn’t end here for poor Utah. In 1862, silver was discovered in the western part of the shrunk-down territory, in what would be the Reese River Mining District. Congress didn’t hesitate in deciding to move the border of Utah one more degree east, so these new mines would be in Nevada. On March 1863, the Utah western border was moved one degree further east, to the 115th meridian (note how on the bottom map above the border runs right next to the "U" in "Utah," as compared to the map above).


Just three years later, essentially the same thing happened again. Beginning in 1865, a rumor appeared concerning new mineral riches, including perhaps the legendary silver mountain, located in what was then western Utah, in an area which would become the Pahranagat Mining District. It was not known at the time whether this area was located in Nevada or Utah, so in order to be sure, in 1866 Congress once again shifted Nevada’s border one degree further east, to the 114th degree line.


Not done with their work, that same year, another chunk of the northeastern part of Utah was bitten off—the lands lying north of the 41° and east of the 111th meridian—and given to the new Territory of Wyoming.


So, from 1861 until 1866, Utah Territory lost well over half of its land through acts of Congress. It was too large to be governed practicably when first created, but much of the reduction in size had to do with Congressional bias against the Mormons. This bias is further evidenced by the fact that Nevada Territory, created in 1861, became a state only three years later in October 1864, whereas Utah Territory, created in 1850, didn’t become a state until almost half a century later, in 1896! This, naturally, happened only after polygamy was renounced in the territorial constitution that year.


Monday, May 11, 2015

20th Century Pictorial Maps

Maps have long had a pictorial element to them. Maps can, of course, be fairly “cartographic” in appearance, using lines, dots, contour lines, and other symbols, but for centuries other maps have been more illustratively graphic.


Pictorial images have been scattered about their surface from as early as fifteenth and sixteen century portolan maps, with vignettes of walled cities, to the putti of Dutch seventeenth century maps, to the elaborate title cartouches of the eighteenth century.


Other maps have been themselves pictorial, for the image was designed to look like some object such as a person or creature. The Leo Belgicus maps from the seventeenth century are among the most famous of these, but there are many others were made over the years.


A new type of pictorial map, though, made its appearance about the second decade of the 20th century. These pictorial maps added a pictographic element to the underlying cartographic rendering, adding a visual narrative onto the geographic background. Rather than having small, illustrative images as an adjunct to the main map, the vignettes became much more the heart of the maps.


These maps were produced not so much to present a topographical image, but provide an informative and amusing picture of a place with the cartography providing the stage for the main roles played by the pictorial illustrations. These maps were usually drawn by illustrative artists for commercial or commemorative purposes. They were used to promote tourism, advertise products or companies, illustrate news events, or other similar non-geographic purposes. These maps were designed to appeal to the eye and mind, adding colorful vignettes, text and often a humorous element.


While issued in large numbers, these maps were ephemeral and so they are often quite uncommon. Many important American graphic artists, such as Ernest Dudley Chase and Jo Mora, created these maps, each developing his own style. Since the turn of the millennium, these maps have become increasingly collectible, with some maps reaching the four figure mark, though on the whole they remain much less expensive. For those interested in collecting maps which are still surprisingly affordable, these are a great choice.


The Rocky Mountain Map Society is featuring 20th century maps, including pictorial maps, as part of its 2015 Map Month. This year, the RMMS is working with both Denver Public Library and the University of Denver, both of which are holding major exhibitions of these maps through the end of June 2015. The exhibit at Denver Public Library focuses on 20th century maps from the collection of the Western History Department and the exhibit at University of Denver is exclusively about pictorial maps, showing wonderful images from a local, private collection. Both are well worth a visit if you are in Denver between now and the end of June.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

THE SEARCH FOR EL DORADO

Of all the legends relating to America, perhaps the most recognizable myth concerns “the search for El Dorado.” While this phrase is very familiar, the actual story behind the hunt of El Dorado is not. This myth is one of my particular favorites, for it has all the elements of a great story—-mystery, riches, adventures, madness, deaths--and to my delight, maps.


The myth of El Dorado started in the early sixteenth century as the search for “El Hombre Dorado,” that is, the golden man. By 1540, the Spanish in America very much had gold on their minds, and no wonder. In Cuba they had heard tales of a rich kingdom on the mainland of North America, and when Hernán Cortés went there in 1519, he discovered and conquered the immensely rich Aztec Kingdom. Just a few years later, the Spanish in the newly subjugated territory heard of another rich kingdom to south, and Francisco Pizarro soon discovered and conquered the also immensely wealthy kingdom of the Incas. After those two tales of rich kingdoms proved so fruitful, who among the Spanish would be lax in following up any subsequent rumors? Such a story soon appeared, that of El Hombre Dorado, and this led to one of the most horrific, bizarre and unending searches for riches in the history of the Americas.


The story of the golden man began in the Columbian highlands, fairly near present-day Bogota. There are a number of explanations of the true basis for this legend, but they all concern the Muisca Indians of the central Colombian plateau in the area of Lake Guatavita. There seems to have been some sort of religious ceremony concerning a Muisca chief, the lake and gold. One story had this chief coating his body with gold dust and then bathing in the lake, an event shown by Theodor De Bry (engraving illustrated above) and also supposedly depicted in the famous gold Muisca Raft. There does seem to have been some sort of ceremony involving the Muisca and gold, but whatever its factual basis, when the story of a golden man reached the Spanish about 1541, it set off a long series of searches for El Hombre Dorado.


A number of Spanish conquistadors set off in 1541 and did make it up to the area of Lake Guatavira, even attempting to drain the lake to find any gold under its waters. Using their typical methods of persuasion—-including torture—-the Spanish tried to get the Muisca to show them the gold. There was some gold in the area, but not nearly enough to convince the Spanish that they had found the true El Hombre Dorado. Finally the Muisca realized that the only way to get rid of the gold-crazed Spanish was to send them away by telling them, in effect, “Oh, that El Hombre Dorado. Yes, we know where he is, over the mountains that way....”


For the next half century, the search for El Hombre Dorado worked its way slowly across the northern part of South America, from the Colombia highlands, down into the Amazonian basin, working ever eastward. Time and again, the Spanish would arrive in an area that they had been told was the location of El Hombre Dorado, only to find none of the riches they sought even after “questioning” the locals, and then to be told, “Oh, that El Hombre Dorado. He resides over that way...”


A number of major expeditions went in search of this myth, including Francisco Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana in 1541 and Lope de Aquirre in 1560, wasting much effort, expenses, and hundreds of lives, both natives and Spanish. The huge effort and costs expended on the search and the horrors experienced made this legend one of the most powerful of American history. A nice depiction of the madness which consumed the Spanish is Werner Herzog’ movie, “Aquirre, the Wrath of God.”


At some point, the story began to morph in its content as well as location, for the search began to focus on a rich kingdom or city, rather than a man, the legend becoming that of simply “El Dorado.” One man who accepted as true this form of the legend was Antonio de Berrio, who believed the city lay in the Guiana Highlands. Berrio started to search there in 1584 and he heard from the Indians that there was a large lake south of the Orinoco River that was so large it took them three days to paddle across it, and upon the shores of which lay a rich city, that is, of course, El Dorado. He tried several times to find the city, eventually becoming convinced it lay up the Caroni River, a branch of the Orinoco. Berrio was unable to ascend the river, but his delusion was fully confirmed when he met a man named Juan Martinez (aka Juan Martin de Albujar).


Martinez had been on a ship sailing on the Caroni River when its gunpowder exploded. Martinez, blamed for the accident, was left behind as punishment. He eventually made it back to Spanish settlements, claiming that he had been rescued by friendly Indians who took him to a city called Manoa, where the palace was made of gold. He further claimed he was given great riches when he left, but that they were stolen from him on his return trip. Thus it was that El Hombre Dorado now became the city of Manoa, or El Dorado, located on a large lake in the interior of Guiana.


At this time another famous figure makes his appearance in our story, Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh set sail from England in 1595, in order to discover “a better Indies for her Majestie [that is Queen Elizabeth] then the King of Spain has any.” Ralegh captured Sa Jose on Trinidad in April 1595 and took Antonio de Berrio captive. Ralegh had heard rumors of El Dorado and was able to convince Berrio to tell him all he knew of this legendary city, a story which Ralegh bought into totally.


Ralegh wanted to convince the Queen to conquer Guiana so he published a report, The Discovery of a Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guiana in 1596. This included a full description of Manoa/El Dorado, conflating many of the old stories about El Dorado. About the same time Ralegh produced a map of northern South America showing the large lake, now named as Lake Parima, and the city of Manoa.


After Queen Elizabeth died, her successor, James I, who immune to Ralegh’s charms, threw Sir Walter into the Tower of London. Ralegh petitioned James to get out so he could go find El Dorado and make the monarch rich. James was convinced enough to allow Ralegh out on this mission, but only on the condition that he not get into a fight with the Spanish. Ralegh set off for South America in 1617, and through a series of misfortunes, including battles with the Spanish resulting in the death of his son, returned to England a failure. James threw him back into prison and soon thereafter, at the urging of the King of Spain, Ralegh was beheaded; one of the last deaths directly related to the legend of El Dorado.


Though his search for the fabled golden city failed, Ralegh did manage to put El Dorado on the map. Based on Ralegh’s book, Joducus Hondius, Sr., Theodor De Bry, and Levinus Hulsius all issued maps by the end of the sixteenth century showing Lake Parime with Mano or El Dorado on its shores.


The lake and its golden city continued to appear in the seventeenth century, changing shape and with Manoa moving around a bit.


In the eighteenth century, the lake began to be called into question. Some of the more scientifically inclined (and skeptical) cartographers such as Vincenzo Maria Cornonelli and Guillaume Delisle either showed the lake with notes calling it into question, or didn’t show the lake, but included notes mentioning its possible existence.


By the end of the eighteenth century, Manoa was pretty much forgotten and “El Dorado” had simply become a phrase meaning hopeless quest. Manoa/El Dorado soon disappeared from most maps, though interestingly, Lake Parima, which was simply one more fictional element of the El Dorado myth, did not disappear along with the city. This was an excellent example of how once some location—-real or fictional—-appears “on the map” it tends to stay on the map.


In the early nineteenth century, the famous German explorer and scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, went looking for Manoa and Lake Parima, concluding that neither had any basis in fact. His prestige was such that this tended to remove Lake Parima from many maps, but the lake did continue to appear on others well into the century.