Drawing Maps for the Victorio Campaign of 1879-1881

By Dr R.N. Watt – The University of Birmingham

Maps and diagrams can speak a thousand words. Good maps can make a huge contribution to transmitting a historic narrative effectively. Conversely, poor maps, or no maps at all, will cripple any attempt to deliver a coherent account of the Victorio Campaign.

One of my frustrations with existing literature is that maps of the Apache Wars are usually not very clear and/or incorrect. Places can be named in the text but not marked on the relevant map. I did not want this to be an issue with my history of the Victorio Campaign.

However, drawing one’s own maps is a daunting task. I had not attempted anything like this before, but my purchasing power did not extend to the realm of the professional cartographer.

What I hope to show you here is how I drew the map for a single episode of the Victorio campaign where the Apaches attacked a specific area of New Mexico between 10 and 13 October 1879.

The first step is to determine the overall extent of a master map which would cover the entire campaign. To do this effectively, one needs to have finished writing the narrative. The next step was to purchase the relevant professional maps in a standard scale which would show sufficient detail to give a good idea of the physical geography of the area.

Checking the maps online, I decided to purchase the 1:250,000 scale maps. This was complicated by the fact that this overall map would need to cover both sides of the US-Mexico border between Eastern Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico and Eastern Arizona, Western New Mexico and Western Texas in the USA. Thus, I had to purchase the maps from the US and Mexico Geological Survey. The creation of a Master map of the Victorio Campaign would allow me to create a single scale grid system which would allow me to zoom in on specific episodes of the campaign where no matter the grid size on each individual map, the scale would be the same.

Diagram 1

Taking one of the 1:250,000 scale maps and using a ruler and a calculator, I determined that the map showing Las Cruces and the surrounding area of New Mexico (Diagram One) could be divided into a four by seven square grid where each individual grid measured approximately 27.5 km. Thus the map in Diagram One covers an area of 110 km by 192.5km. I checked these measurements with all the maps I had purchased and confirmed that they also fit this pattern. The maps were laminated and I carefully drew the grid pattern with a fine permanent marker pen.

Diagram 2

This allowed me to construct a simple blank grid pattern diagram which would cover the whole campaign area (Diagram Two). Each individual map I had purchased was given a code letter (A through to V missing out ‘I’ as I also numbered each individual grid square and ‘I1’, ‘I2’ could be read as all numerals). This resulted in a pattern of 27 vertical squares by 21 horizontal squares which covered an overall map area of 742km by 577.5km.

The map from Diagram One corresponds to the area marked H1 to H28 on Diagram Two. Knowing what specific maps were required for the book allowed me to plot them on this grid system so that I could determine the number of 27.5km by 27.5km grid squares which would be required for each map.

Diagram 3

Where the map for 10-13 October 1879 was concerned, this involved quite a small area on the master grid plan. At first glance, this would involve four grid squares from the map shown in Diagram One. (See Diagram Three). However, closer examination of the map shown in Diagram One suggested that my original grid system did not quite fit the required area so I re-drew the 27.5km by 27.5km grids to fit the required area of the map. (See red outline on Diagram Four).

Diagram 4

My final involvement was to hand draw in pencil all the geographic features. Once satisfied, I then finalised these using very fine point felt pens.

I then added the details of the locations of ranches and the movement of the Apaches and their enemies on the map.

Again this was done in pencil and finalised with coloured felt tip pens to produce Diagram Five.

Diagram 5


I then typed up a map key in Word, printed it off and added this to Diagram Five. I scanned the finished copy into my computer and submitted this to Helion.

While, I was pleased with Diagram Five, the final version, produced by George Anderson from this diagram for Helion, is outstanding. (See Diagram Six).

Diagram 6

One final thought: I purchased the maps from the USA and Mexico Geological Surveys in 2009-10.

It did not occur to me that buying maps from both sides of the border might cause some interest in those waging the War on Drugs etc. in the USA and Mexico.

I never received any indication that Homeland Security may have had a brief interest in one Dr RN Watt. They will have quickly realised my interest was accounting historic warfare and not plotting contemporary villainy…

‘I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail’. The Victorio Campaign 1879 by Robert Watt is available to preorder here


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