Two Maps of Santa Fe

Maps have always been associated with military intelligence and map making has been high on the list of required skills in the officer corps. In about 1766 a Spanish colonial lieutenant, Joseph de Urrutia, surveyed "La Villa de Santa Fe, Capital del Reino del nueba Mexico", placing it by his own astronomical observations in latitude 36 degrees 10 minutes and, in keeping with Spanish custom, in longitude 261 degrees 40 minutes east of the isle of Tenerife.

Urrutia devoted considerable effort to show the location of the widely scattered houses, so much in contrast to the densely clustered buildings of towns in Spain as well as Mexico. Ignoring the Spanish colonial settlement ordinances each owner "built as he was able, wished to, or found convenient". [See Note] There was only one "quasi-street" in all of Santa Fe, while other visitors reported that there were none. Even going to the Governor’s "Palace" one had to pick his way through alleys and corrals. Yet roads or perhaps footpaths must have connected the many houses shown on the Urrutia map. The town had a population of 1,338 souls living in 272 families.

In keeping with Spanish policy it may be assumed that the Urrutia map remained for a long time a closely guarded military and political secret. Today the original is in the British Museum.

In 1846 another army came and brought their own surveyors. They were equipped with the latest survey instruments but had the same idea: produce a map and send it to headquarters. Among the officers was a twenty-eight year old second lieutenant of engineers, Jeremy Francis Gilmer. A native of North Carolina and 1839 graduate of the U.S. military academy, Gilmer had been educated as an engineer and surveyor. After his arrival in Santa Fe with Kearny’s "Army of the West" he was ordered to survey and to supervise the construction of Fort Marcy. When the Army moved on he stayed behind and surveyed the town, drawing a map at a scale of 1 inch = 200 feet.

In comparing the two maps is immediately apparent that in the intervening eighty years Santa Fe had not seen much of a building boom. The population had tripled, but unless Gilmer missed half of the houses one has to wonder where the people found shelter. The Santa Fe trade during the Mexican era may be mostly responsible for the wagon roads shown on the Gilmer map. Yet the Gilmer survey, executed with instruments greatly superior to anything Urrutia had, essentially verifies the earlier survey, and while Urrutia placed Santa Fe half of a degree too far north and a whopping 8 degrees too far west, that was probably the best he could do with the equipment at his disposal.

Little is known about Urrutia. He may have been the grandson of Jos Urrutia, a famous Spanish frontiersman who came to America in 1691, lived for many years with the Indians in Texas, and in 1733 became captain of the San Antonio presidio. As for Gilmer, he resigned his commission to enter the Confederate army where he was severely wounded at Shiloh. He rose to the rank of major general and became chief of the engineer bureau at Richmond.

Note: Curiously, the only town in New Mexico that was layed out according to colonial Spanish town design is Tularosa, a town founded by Hispanic settlers of the Mesilla valley not until 1863, seventeen years after New Mexico had come under United States control and forty-two years after it had passed out of Spanish jurisdiction.

About the Author

Fred Roeder, LS

Fred Roeder lives in Tularosa, New Mexico. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1957 and spent most of his surveying career in the Southwest, working for the U.S. Forest Service. Now retired, he started writing a regular column for the New Mexico Professional Surveyors Newsletter in 1988. In 1994, NMPS produced Antepasados, a book of his columns. Many surveyors are good writers, especially about technical or legal matters. However, it's not often that we find a surveyor/story-teller who can present historical facts in a manner that makes them fun to read. Fred Roeder is such a writer and we are pleased to present more than 80 of his stories here. Bibliography is a list of the books Fred used in his writings, and includes a numbered index of the articles. Index is a list of all the articles Fred has written and when. Editor's pick: The King Who Had No Title
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