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The Gadsden Purchase of 1854 and the Survey of the US-Mexico Border, 1857


The Gadsden Treaty or Venta de la Mesilla as it is known in Mexico, added a 29,670 square mile area south of the Gila River to the present U.S.-Mexican border. The southern states of the U.S. were particularly interested in securing enough territory south of the Gila River to build a southern transcontinental railway to connect the new state of California (1850) to the east which would establish a southern trade route and which could also provide the means by which slavery could be extended west to the Pacific. In addition, there remained boundary disputes with Mexico in the Mesilla Valley from geographical errors in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, claims from Mexico seeking indemnification for Apache Indian raids in northern Mexico and concerns that the French were interested in the purchase the state of Sonora. Finally, Santa Ana, dictator of Mexico in exile, returned to power declaring himself dictator for life of Mexico. It was clear to the President Pierce and his government that to fulfill his political ambitions, Santa Ana needed money.

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis persuaded President Franklin Pierce to appoint James Gadsden, president of the South Carolina Railway, as Ambassador to Mexico to negotiate the purchase of 98,000 square miles for up to $50 million, including Baja California and part of Sonora a little beyond Magdalena. An avowed southerner, Gadsden years before advocated the secession of South Carolina from the union, and considered slavery a blessing and abolitionists a curse. Perhaps the advantages of the U.S. acquiring Baja California might have outweighed the abolitionist’s fears of slavery.

The 98,000 mile deal failed because abolitionists were unwilling to support a deal that could extend slavery, many Mexicans were opposed to selling any land to the U.S. and Gadsden’s high handed manner offended Santa Ana, who rejected the 98,000 square mile deal. Instead, Gadsden and Santa Ana settled on a deal for 38,000 miles. In Washington to get needed votes to pass the Gadsden Treaty, the area had to be cut another 9,000 miles and a total payment of $15 million. Santa Ana was furious at the deep reduction in price, but as more than 2/3ds of the land proposed by the U.S. was to cut to less than 30,000 square miles, he accepted the deal.

Finally approved by Congress on December 30, 1853, it became law in June of 1854. Under the terms of the treaty, a commission was to be appointed to survey the border and establish a boundary. A 1931 graduate of West Point, William H. Emory trained as a topographical engineer, surveyed the U.S. – Canada border and established his skills as a surveyor of great precision. It was no surprise Emory was appointed to survey the new U.S. – Mexican border, 1848-1955. As photography, a European invention, was still in its infancy, Emory took a sketch artist to sketch scenes of the border topography for future reference. Emory also left stone border markers knowing full well Indians might remove them. The title of Major William Emory’s three volume report published in 1857 was “Report of the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey.”

It is interesting the Emory, recognizing the land grant ranch “Los Nogales” of the Elias family, refers to the area as “Camp Nogales.“ In Volume I, page 95 Emory’s report on the general area of the Santa Cruz valley and what will become our city of Nogales begins: The most considerable and interesting settlement in the new territory is composed of a confederacy of semi-civilized Indians, the Pimos and Coco Maricopas. Their population is variously estimated at from five to ten thousand. The military commandant at Santa Cruz estimated the number of warriors which they could muster at two thousand. They are located on the Gila river, and form the most efficient barrier for the people of Sonora against the incursions of the savages who inhabit the mountains to the north of the Gila, and who sometimes extend their incursions as far south as Hermosilla, in the state of Sonora.

I have become acquainted with the people in 1846, and in another work eulogized their advance state of civilization, their proficiency in agriculture and the art of war, and their morality. While at Los Nogales, our last astronomical station near the 111th meridian of longitude, a delegation, consisting of the chiefs and head-men, visited my camp, nearly two hundred miles distant from their homes, to consult as to the effect upon them and their interests of the treaty with Mexico, by which they were transferred to the jurisdiction of the United States. I give below a copy of the statement made at the meeting, where it will be seen I said all in my power to silence their apprehensions. They undoubtedly a just claim to their lands, and if dispossessed will make a war on the frontier of a very serious character.

I hope the subject will soon attract the attention of Congress, as it has done that of the Executive, and that some legislation will be effected securing these people in their rights. They have always been kind and hospitable to emigrants passing from the old United States to California, supplying them freely, and at moderate prices, with wheat, corn, melons, and cotton blankets of their own manufacture.

Camp at Los Nogales, June 29, 1855: Capt. Antonio Azul, head chief of the Pimos; Capt. Francisco Luke, Coco Maricopa
chief; Capta Malia, Coco Mariopa chief; Capt,. Shalan, a chief of the Gila Pimos; Capt. Ojo de Burro war-chief of Pimos; Capt. Tabaquero, a chief of the Gila Pimos; Capt La Boca de Queja, a chief of Gila Pimpos: Capt. Jose Victoriano Lucas, head chief of San Xavier Pimos; Capt. Jose Antonio, chief of the San Xavier Pimos, have this day visited my camp for the purpose of ascertaining in what manner the cession of the territory, under the treaty with Mexico, will affect their rights and interests. I have informed them, by the terms of the treaty, all the rights that they possessed under Mexico are guaranteed to them by the United States; a title that was good to them under the Mexican government is good under the United States government.

I informed them that, in the course of five or ten months, perhaps sooner, the authorities of the United States would come into the ceded territory and relieve the Mexican authorities; until that time, they must obey the Mexican authorities and co-operate with them as they have done heretofore, in defending the territory against the savage Apaches. I have examined the testimonials give by numerous American emigrants to Azul and his captains, bearing testimony to the kindness and hospitality of himself, and the Pimo and Coco Maricopa Indians generally. I can myself bear testimony to the truth of these statements. I therefore call upon all good American citizens to respect the authority of Azul and his chiefs. W.H. EMORY, U.S. Commissioner, Major U.S.A. ANTONIO AZUL, alias CHE-T-A-CA-MOOSE; FRANCISCO LUKE, ” SEE-COOL-MAT-HAIS; MALAI; SHALAN, ” KI-MA; OJO DE BURRO, ” WAH-LA-WHOOP-KA; TABAQUERO, ” VIRAH-
KA-TA; LA BOCA DE QUEJA; ” KI-HO-CHIN-Ko; José VICTORIANO LUCAS; José – ANTONIO. I furnished the head-chief a copy of this paper and gave him for distribution among his subalterns, some silver dollars, and all the blankets and cloths which could be spread from camp.

I conclude this chapter by giving a series of views along the line, sketched by Mr John E. Weyss. These views commence at the point where the boundary line leaves the Rio Bravo, and terminate at the 111th meridian of longitude. They were taken to perpetuate the evidences of the location of the boundary, in the event of the Indians removing the monuments erected on the ground. They give also a very good idea of the topography of the country. The result of Emory’s survey still stands. The integrity of his work held. The integrity of his word regarding ownership of the land would not, perhaps could not hold. The issue of ownership of some properties within the Gadsden Purchase would be litigated before into the early years of the 20th century. The integrity and character of one the finest American engineers webremains intact. The loss to the U.S. however, was that the politics of the abomination of slavery
played a significant role in the loss of the acquisition by the U.S. of Baja California.

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