Tales from the Tread: Historic maps of the U.S. reveal history of the Yampa Valley

Tread of Pioneers Museum
Tales from the Tread
Patrons of the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs visit the museum’s new historic map exhibit.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

“History is geography over time.” Playwright Lee Blessing

Did you know that Spain, Mexico and the Republic of Texas each claimed ownership of the Yampa Valley? Throughout the 19th century, the land that is known today as the Yampa Valley fell under various ownership. A new exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, featuring 12 historic maps of the United States, explores that history.

The maps are on loan from the collection of Dr. Hans Binnendijk, who is a part-time resident of Steamboat Springs. Trained in history as an undergraduate, Dr. Binnendijk pursued a career in Washington, D.C., in international affairs. For decades, he has collected antique maps as a hobby, including those that plot the changes in the American West and the Yampa Valley.

“Understanding changes in political geography makes history come to life,” said Binnendijk. “I am pleased that the Tread of Pioneers Museum has allowed me to share this understanding of the geographic history of our valley with our community.”

The maps on display span a period in the United States from 1785-1937 and tell a compelling story of land ownership. Just after the American Revolution, the area that is now the Yampa Valley is identified on an original 1785 map as part of “unknown territory.”

By then, the Spanish had explored to the south, and Sir Frances Drake had laid claim for England to “New Albion” in California. However, at this time, American explorer Robert Gray had yet to sail into the Colombia River, leaving the area from the Pacific Northwest to the Yampa Valley open to indigenous people and a few trappers and traders.

A map from 1814 clearly shows the area of the Yampa Valley as part of Spain. A dozen years later, another map from 1826 shows the area as part of Mexico. The Mexican Revolution had toppled Spanish rule, and the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty reset America’s western border, with the Yampa Valley again just outside of the United States. Mexico would claim these borders until its defeat in the Mexican-American War in 1848.

An 1841 map shows the Republic of Texas’ claim to the area now known as Steamboat Springs and Hayden. The Republic of Texas claimed the area between the Adams-Onis Treaty line to the east and the headwaters of the Rio Grande to the west and held that claim until it became a state in 1845.

In 1848, today’s Yampa Valley became part of the United States but under the Utah Territory, as shown on an 1859 map. After the formation of Colorado Territory in 1860, the Yampa Valley was transferred from Colorado’s Summit County to Grand County and finally to the newly formed Routt County in 1877. An 1864 map published amid the American Civil War fairly accurately depicts the “Yampah” or Bear River area within Colorado Territory.

A Colorado statehood map from 1885 shows the new towns of Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Meeker, with Hahns Peak as the county seat of Routt County. The last map, dated 1937, depicts Steamboat Springs as the county seat and includes several mining towns such as Mount Harris and McGregor that have subsequently disappeared.

“It’s fascinating to see the changes to the United States throughout all the maps on display,” said museum Curator Katie Adams. “I was most curious to see the 1841 map that shows a stovepipe shape capturing a narrow portion of today’s northwest Colorado and southern Wyoming, then owned by the Republic of Texas.”

Tread of Pioneers Museum staff are grateful to Dr. Binnendijk for the opportunity to display these valuable maps and invite everyone to visit the museum to see them. The exhibit is on display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum until January 2024.

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