Hamilton County Map by Eltea Armstrong

Female cartographer celebrates women's history

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By Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content

In her nearly 40 years as a draftsman for the Texas General Land Office (GLO), Eltea Armstrong drew over 71 distinct Texas county maps. A history buff as well as a cartographer, Armstrong honored the history of the counties for whom she rendered maps by memorializing them in artistic scenes drawn on each map. Her map of Hamilton County depicts the story of two heroic pioneer women, Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard.

Ann Whitney was a schoolteacher who, in 1867, held off a Comanche attack on the one-room schoolhouse where she taught. She was killed, but only after helping all of her students escape. Amanda Howard, a 17-year-old woman, was breaking a horse nearby when the attack began. Determined to warn others in the area, she rode through the attacking Comanche, outrunning them to alert the neighboring families.

On this map of Hamilton County, draftswoman Eltea Armstrong represented the heroism of the two women by drawing the schoolhouse, surrounded by Comanche warriors, and Howard on her horse riding up a steep hill. She drew Ann Whitney inside the schoolhouse pierced with arrows as the children scrambled to safety under the schoolhouse and into the woods. Armstrong's brief description of these events is in the upper margins of the map.

Armstrong frequently depicted violent relations between American Indians and Texas settlers in her county maps. Her interpretation of American Indians as the aggressors, and Texas settlers as the victims, was a commonly held historical interpretation during the years Armstrong was active at the GLO.

Armstrong herself was a pioneer among draftsmen. A woman in a dominantly male profession, she was the most prolific draftsman of the 20th century at the GLO. Armstrong began her career there in 1935 and was assigned the meticulous task of drawing cadastral county maps.

Cadastral maps show the boundaries and ownership of parcels of land. Every outlined area represents an original land grant, and shows the name of the grantee, GLO file number, type of land grant, and other reference information. Each of Armstrong's maps took approximately 900 work hours to complete. She patiently drew, inked, and lettered every survey by hand. Her beautiful hand-lettering of each map's title remains a hallmark of her work. Her artistic style is easily recognizable among GLO maps — she favored a drawing method known as pointillism, a technique where dots of ink are applied overlapping or close to each other to achieve tone and texture.

This map is on display in Mapping Texas, a special exhibition featuring maps from the Texas General Land Office.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Hamilton County Map by Eltea Armstrong Artifact from Hamilton County
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