Van Arsdale Maps

van arsdale map

I came across these Perry Van Arsdale maps at a small gift shop in Pinos Altos, a nothing town outside the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. They’re absolutely beautiful and wildly detailed, which is hard to see in the poor image above, the only one I could find on the ol’ internets. Van Arsdale made a few maps in his day, including Native American maps and a whole slew of pioneer maps that include old roads, trails, emigrant routes and supply points, railroads, towns, cattle trails, forts, mines, mining towns, stage and freight routes, cattle trails, fur posts, Indian tribe areas and villages. You can find them all here.

A little more info about PVA:

Perry Van Arsdale began his mapping of pioneer history (history prior to the 1900’s) because his 7-year old granddaughter needed help researching the Sante Fe trail. With his obsession for accuracy and his personal knowledge of the trail, he set off to correct the information he thought to be erroneous in his granddaughter’s textbook. Thus began an odyssey which would not end until his death in 1976.

Perry and his granddaughter began by sending postcards to local postmasters requesting information on ghost towns and mining towns. The postmasters put Perry in touch with judges, sheriffs, and descendants of historical figures. Encouraged by the enthusiastic written responses of people, Perry gathered his research tools – clipboard, paper, and pen – and his family to visit the people and places in person. After interviews, he followed up by verifying the accounts in town and court records. All the stories and facts were carefully recorded and transferred to 3×5 cards for future reference.

With a mounting amount of information, Perry decided upon detailed maps as the best way to easily pass his knowledge on to others. Over a period of 15 years, Perry produced a series of 9 hand-drawn and hand-lettered maps that depict the United States of America as she entered the 20th century. By combining names, dates, and events on a map, he was able to present history with the broad perspective that it requires.

In the 1970’s, Perry had copies of his maps made to give to friends and students. The popularity and demand for the maps grew as word of mouth increased. Word eventually reached the Smithsonian Institute which still has the maps on display. Today, his family continues to make his maps available through this web site.

Perry put his life into his maps in order to share with us the history that was omitted because it was ugly, political, or morally unacceptable. He wanted children and adults to learn about history as it actually occurred so he devoted himself to finding and presenting the truth. Each map took at least 2 years to research and draw. This is how he filled his “retirement years.” His final map was Illinois which was completed only a month before his death. His next map would have been California in its entirety, but his life ran out before his enthusiasm.


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3 Responses to Van Arsdale Maps

  1. MPR August 9, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    What a tremendous eulogy; “His life ran out before his enthusiasm.”

  2. HTCO September 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    It’s always amazing to see what they did back before the days of GPS and topo-maps. Guys like this had some serious skills…most of which are dead today


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