Witte Exhibition Celebrates Tricentennial Through 'Trails, Rails and Roads'

From Native American trails to cattle drives to railroads to superhighways, transportation has made Texas over the centuries, and 'Connecting Texas: 300 Years of Trails, Rails and Roads' which is opening at the Witte Museum studies the amazing ways all those are interconnected, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

"Over the last 300 years, everybody has kind of built on top of what previous generations have done," said James Harkins of the General Land Office, which has lent some of its priceless original maps of Texas, some dating from the 16th Century, to the exhibition, which runs through September 17.

"Connecting Texas" pulls from the unique archival resources of the Texas General Land Office home to over 45,000 maps and sketches that detail the history of the public lands of Texas, Land Commissioner George P. Bush said.  "It examines, how explorers, Native Americans, armies, immigrants, and early settlers moved in, around, and across Texas over the last 300 years.  The exhibit also celebrates the tricentennial of San Antonio's founding, and emphasizes the integral role of the city to political, cultural, and economic movement through time."

All across the state we see every day the way we travel in the footsteps of our ancestors every time we drive across Texas. 

The MoPac Expressway in Austin follows the route of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, hence its name.  Nacogdoches Road in San Antonio really was the 'Royal Road,' which once stretched all the way from Mexico City to Nacodgoches, which was the easternmost point in the Spanish Empire in the Americas.  People who drive west out of San Antonio on I-10 not only follow the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1880s, but routes blazed by Native Americans centuries before that.

Harkins aays one map which shows the route traveled by a French traveler through Texas in the 1780s includes observations which could have been made yesterday.

"He is talking about how he passed thorugh the Missions in San Antonio.  How he discovered tortillas for the first time."

Witte President Marise McDermott says the maps of Texas and the transportation patterns in the state are extremely powerful ways to study the state's development.

"The power of Connecting Texas is the evidence of how the state was pieced together thorugh a confluence of cultures, from American Indian trails, Spanish Camino Reales, Cononies of the Empresarios, German immigration routes, cattle trails, railways, and highways," she said.  "The complexity of these pathways symbolize the many cultures that found a place in the landscape and created what is now Texas, once almost half of what is now the United States."

Among the maps that are part of the exhibition include Stephan F. Austin's 1830 map designed to draw settlers to the territory, and a map that dates from the mid 16th Century, not long after Cabeza de Vaca became the first European to set foot on what is now Texas.

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