Perry Van Arsdale's maps of US historic events
April 27, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

In 1960 or so, Professor Perry C. Van Arsdale was helping his 7-year-old granddaughter researching the Santa Fe trail. He found his granddaughter's textbook to have some number of errors. He set off to create a map of pioneer history (prior to the 1900's), using his own knowledge and information from judges, sheriffs, and descendants of historical figures. This was his start in creating the Pioneer New Mexico map, which would contain 300 towns that no longer exist, old trails of all sorts (including the three historic Santa Fe trails and various camel routes), locations of minor squabbles and major battles, and because he couldn't fit everything on the maps, he also included extensive notes in the corner of the map.

According to an article in the Albuquerque Tribune from 1975, Van Arsdale had a Ph. D. in romance languages and another in mechanical engineering. He retired at 45, and was able to devote time to researching forgotten moments of history. That article includes his summary of the three historic routes of the Santa Fe trail, and his thoughts on Colonel Krzy┼╝anowski (spelled Grzlekowsky in the article) and his unsung role in the Battle of Glorietta Pass, then known as Apache Pass.

In total, he created 8 more maps (Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, NorthWest, SouthWest, East South, and a US map of the territory inhabited by American Indian). He kept updating his maps until the mid 1970s, when he passed away. Unfortunately, there aren't any good large-scale images of these maps online, but they can be found in some libraries and local museums, and the links in this paragraph include some more detailed clips of the maps, plus small scale views of the complete maps.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
The website run by Van Arsdale's family mentions two books that have cited Perry's Pioneer New Mexico map. Both books are available to preview on Google books: Four Days from Fort Wingate: The Lost Adams Diggings by Richard French, in which a couple document their search for the Lost Adams gold, and Out of the Dust: Utah's Lost Mines and Hidden Treasures by Stephen Shaffer, a collection of stories and theories. The latter book has its own accompanying title: Following the Legends: A GPS Guide to Utah's Lost Mines and Hidden Treasures, by Dale R. Bascom, which is also available on Google preview.

There are more articles available on, but you can only view a single page for free.

On a personal note, I saw the Pioneer New Mexico map recently, and found the image astonishingly detailed. I took a picture of the whole map, but that didn't turn out well. I also snapped the picture of the bottom corner, so I'd remember what to look for. That is the last link above the break, which is an image hosted on Imgur. In finding out about Van Arsdale's process in making the maps, I figured it's almost as interesting as the maps themselves.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 PM on April 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

Fantastic post, filthy light thief. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 8:42 PM on April 27, 2013

Great post!

I spent a day last week visiting the Pecos National Historic Area and one of the features were wagon ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail. Danged if I could tell the ruts from the rest of the topsoil, but it was a fun hike nevertheless.
posted by jabo at 8:52 PM on April 27, 2013

I've just gotten started with this but want to say Maps! You are so very good to us, filthy light thief! Thanks especially for including the photo of the corner of the map. The neat, tiny lettering of his notes looks like the classified ads from an old newspaper but he is noting so much information there. My all too brief visit to New Mexico, when we drove the long way round to Santa Fe and watched for signs about the old trail, captured my imagination and left me wishing I could have returned often. The early railroad lines bringing tourists changed the economy of the pueblos and the Navajo. On our drive we saw only one ghost town so Van Arsdale's list of 300 names of towns that no longer exist just stuns me.

Thank you once again for this (and for the camel post where I got distracted again) and for many others I've yet to explore. As a relative newcomer, I could spend a very long while just digging in to your posts and I think I will get started on exactly that! I'm quite sure I shall enjoy seeing just how far your interests range.
posted by Anitanola at 9:28 PM on April 27, 2013

Thanks, y'all!

On our drive we saw only one ghost town so Van Arsdale's list of 300 names of towns that no longer exist just stuns me.

From the link to list of New Mexico ghost towns linked above the break, I think Van Arsdale was short by at least half. Then again, in this age, we have more resources to tap to put together such lists, and a website isn't limited by the size of a page with how much information they can cram in.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Awesome post, which I will examine in detail in the morning.

I read a fantastic book a few years ago that is a geologic and social history of the trail west to CA and OR at the start of the gold rush called Hard Road West. If you like rocks and/or pioneer history, go buy it right now.
posted by rtha at 10:32 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the stories and facts were carefully recorded and transferred to 3x5 cards for future reference.

That information wants to be free!
posted by Twang at 11:02 PM on April 27, 2013

Twang, I know. I just contacted them to see if they'd let me see his notes. I'd love to scan their collection of notes and ephemera, and/or transcribe it all, or even create higher resolution versions of the maps and annotating them online. I'd be interested to see if he didn't actually have more information than he could actually fit in his maps.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:07 AM on April 28, 2013

What a fascinating and idiosyncratic set of maps. It's almost like outsider art, but for history. The articles about him place him living in Moriarity or the "Lower Estancia Valley" and valuing his privacy. That's some seriously remote hermity places.

If there were any justice in the world these would be digitized and online. I wonder if the heirs are enforcing copyright? The family website has a store, but this other site also sells copies and feels a bit like someone may not be too worried about legal niceties.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 AM on April 28, 2013

More on my "outsider art" comment; it's hard to tell just looking at this material if the maps are real legitimate historical research, well meaning but poorly sourced speculation, or outright made up history. I love that ambiguity myself, but I'm curious what it really is. I've gone ahead and ordered the Southwest and Northwest maps, looking forward to seeing them in person.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2013

Meta note: I saw this post because it was aggregated into my Prismatic feed. Very cool, FLT!.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:34 AM on April 28, 2013

Superb post!

Van Arsdale's life, like his maps, is full of tidbits. "I firmly believe that little things make big things. We are nothing but a whole bunch of little things that have learned to live together."

I like this guy.
posted by languagehat at 10:38 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

languagehat, I tried to use some of that quote in my title, but it got too lengthy. I really liked that quote, too.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:42 PM on April 28, 2013

flt: even create higher resolution versions of the maps and annotating them online

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by jabo at 7:46 PM on April 28, 2013

jabo, if I do get in touch with those folks, I'll update y'all in this post. Who knows, I might even have a project submit in the future =)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:34 PM on April 28, 2013

So much to see here!!
posted by BlueHorse at 10:05 AM on April 30, 2013

I heard back from Perry's grand daughter, who (is one of the people who) runs She wrote me a long email, answering some of the questions in this thread. Regarding Nelson's question on copyright, Van Arsdale's grand-daughter knows the guy who runs Have Donkey Will Travel, and he buys the maps from her to sell online and at western shows. The maps are also sold at various trading posts, museums, and book shops.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:25 AM on May 1, 2013

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