|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 3x5 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.
n 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.
His Maps Reflect Infinite Patience
|The world of the Maps of Perry Van Arsdale.
Incredible seems a small word to apply to them.
The "world" of Van Arsdale is the mainland of the United States before 1900.
The maps are a series of seven, hand-drawn and lettered in such astounding and complete detail that it could take historians months, maybe years, to pore over them.
It took years for Prof. Van Arsdale to make them-practically his every waking moment for more than 15 years.
For those years he roamed the land, talking to old-time sheriffs, county clerks, other historians, and digging into thousands of dusty turn-of-the-century archives to research and authenticate his information.
Then, in the evenings, he would sit over his drawing board, carefully lettering in this nation's pioneer history.
"John Wesley Hardin's brother lynched here."
"Conrad Hilton's father's first hotel here, 1882."
"Jeff Davis funeral train route, May 29, 1893."
"First gold mine in United States, 1799."
Detail after detail, thousands and thousands of them, hand-printed on seven tabletop-sized maps so finely that a magnifying glass is a real help in reading them.
The maps are one man's lifework, a massive and painstaking search into the nation's past and probably one of the most complete and unique historical research projects ever undertaken in this country by an individual or a group.
And each detail on the maps is really just the title of a research paper Van Arsdale has done on the subject.
Perry Van Arsdale is in his 60s now. He was 45when he started his project. He is artist, historian, researcher, a professor of romantic languages and a contributor to life.
"I was lucky," the soft-spoken professor says."First, that I could retire and do exactly as I wanted at the age of 45. Not many people have that kind of fortune."
What Van Arsdale wanted to do was to complete his maps in time for the nation's bicentennial celebration.
The professor has one more dream. He hopes someday to have all his maps and research information programmed into some kind of computer system so that students, writers and historians of the future can have instant research information on this country's pioneer history. I'm just going to dream that part of it and let somebody else get the job done," he said. "My work is finished."
Moriarty Man Maps History
By ROBERT LOCKE
MORIARTY, N.M. (AP)Perry C. Van Arsdale says he got tired watching historian tamper with history, removing blemishes from their heritage.
So one day he gave up his white-collar and his mahogany desk and set out to find "the truth of things..."
For 18 years Van Arsdale and his wife, Mildred, wandered America in a succession of vehicles, collecting the"annotations of history."
The result is a growing series of historical maps that trace the march of progress - the cattle trails and stage routes, the railroads and forts.
The maps, which cover the continental United States by regions, chronicle the births and deaths of towns, the folly and courage that pushed the frontier across a continent.
And all over each map are "bits of history - the peculiar melange" that is the American heritage.
In 1886, one map notes there was a Chinese opium den in Deming. An area of southern Utah is sited as a "hideaway for surplus wives" of Mormons trying to avoid polygamy charges when their religion permitted more than one wife. And a notation says, "One surgeon, with 79 percent deaths, quit" in the 1870s.
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."
His conversation takes frequent side trips into the little things of the past and his yarns are told in the dialogue of his subject: an Irish brogue, a New England twang, a southern drawl.
Sitting at the kitchen table in his modest home, Van Arsdale said his travels ended a few years ago - a victim of arthritis, a heart attack and advancing age. He says he's "about 66 ... and I can't get around like I used to."
So many of his years are represented by the maps, and he's proud of them.
"They've been accepted as authentic by university departments of history and historical societies. Some people have disagreed with me, but I'm very fortunate in never being found wrong," he says, knocking on a wood drawing desk.
"All it was was hard work," he said. "Anybody that wanted to could do it. So if you were to say I work hard, I'd accept it. But if you were to say I was some kind of something more than that, I wouldn't accept it."
The first of the maps, meticulously drawn, was produced nearly a decade ago. He still draws them in the add-on work room he built himself.
But now he must steady his pen with both hands.
Van Arsdale says "history is supposed to be the truth of things" and he worries about "a constant panoply playing of various ones who are distorting the truth. They all have their particular selections (of false hoods) and they all work at digressment from the truth."
He said he wants his maps, currently printed and sold on a limited basis, "to get to people who want to know about their country. I want to get children started with the truth the bad and the good. I want to tell them the truth about the Indians, and the truth about the white man."
A notation from one map reads, "Both Indians and whites practiced slavery. Therefore, both were uncivilized."
When he concentrates, moving back into his own life or that of his country, Van Arsdale tilts back his head and half-closes his eyes, sometimes brushing a white cowlick from his forehead.
Then, his thoughts composed, he begins: "I was told when I was young that I should become gentleman, that I should look forward to wearing a white-collar. Then I found I out. I got up into that world and I was very disappointed. I saw the lack of honesty."
So he left.
Van Arsdale, educated as a linguist and a mechanical engineer, spent nearly two decades visiting the ruins of the frontier, talking to old-timers and digging through dusty archives.
"We were very fortunate with money, so we got along, Mom and I. I'd take jobs here and there. I used to do a lot of consulting work."
During those years, Van Arsdale transcribed history on"thousands and thousands" of index cards, now the basis of his maps.
The cards tell mostly the footnotes of history:
In 1870, "A U.S. Army private was paid $13 a month ...and (in 1872) 30 percent of the Army was deserting."
The country's first pay telephone was installed at Hartford, Conn., in 1889.
"Spaniards bought Indian slaves at Santa Fe and Taos, NM, then sold them to mine owners in Chihuahua."
And from secret archives comes an intriguing tale of Texas history.
Gen. Santa Ana, whose Mexican troops stormed the Alamo, was captured and his army defeated at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, thus insuring Texas independence.
The Texans stood the enemy general before a firing squad but the Texas commander, Gen. Sam Houston, inexplicably spared his life.
Van Arsdale says Santa Ana saved his life by giving a secret signal, which Houston was honor-bound to respect. Both men were Masons, Van Arsdale says, and the signal was a Masonic distress sign.
Van Arsdale's "favorite Indians are the Kickapoos," once of southern Illinois. So impressive were they that few warlike tribes would approach them, he says.
"Let's go back to the 1830s, "he says, his mind already there. "The government of Old Mexico learned of the great ability of the Kickapoo - they were a tremendous people and sent a delegation to Illinois. They promised them land and sustenance in perpetuity if they would come and live in Mexico - and try to keep away the marauding Apache.
"And even now, through all the ensuing (Mexican) regimes, revolutionary and republican, that have come along since then, they still keep that contractual agreement alive. Their lands are still inviolate and they still live there today.
"This is very important to me, "Van Arsdale said. "Of all the things that have been dishonored, all around and everywhere, these Mexican governments still recognize that agreement."