The Mexican-American War was a mere six years in the past, and the international boundary line between the United States and Mexico was still being debated, when in early 1854 Carl Schuchard passed through the Mesilla Valley as artist with the A.B. Gray survey for the Texas Western Railroad Company. Schuchard’s drawings of scenes in the Mesilla Valley are among the earliest visual depictions of our region, showing views of the Organ Mountains, Fort Fillmore, and the newly founded town of Mesilla (still in Mexico at the time). Prints made from Schuchard’s drawings appeared in the inaugural edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, December 15, 1855, and in Gray’s published 1856 report Survey of a Route for the Southern Pacific R.R. on the 32nd Parallel, giving many Americans their first views of some of the new territory recently acquired as a result of the war with Mexico.
The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was part of an aggressive land acquisition strategy of the United States government under the administration of President James Polk. The goal, to create a coast–to–coast nation, included the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the acquisition of Oregon from the British in 1846. The Mexican territory, through New Mexico to California, was valued in part because it could provide a route for a railroad to the Pacific coast. Members of the U.S. Boundary Commission were bitterly divided between 1850 and 1854 as they argued about exactly where the international boundary line should be placed through the New Mexico territory. Andrew Belcher Gray, who served as surveyor for the Boundary Commission between 1849 and 1851, was an outspoken proponent of ensuring the international boundary was far enough south to allow for the railroad route. After he was dismissed from this government appointment because of his intractability on the subject, Gray took the job to survey the line for the Texas Western Railroad.
Carl Schuchard was born in Germany in 1827. He was educated as a mining engineer, but also possessed great skill as an artist. He emigrated from his native Germany, along with his brother August, arriving at the port of Galveston in the newly formed state of Texas in September 1851. His original destination had been the gold fields of California, but instead, like so many other of his countrymen, he settled in the hill country of eastern Texas, at Fredricksburg. In January 1854, Gray was outfitting his survey team in the area, passed through Fredricksburg, and hired the 26-year-old Schuchard to accompany his small party as artist.
The Gray survey set out from Fort Chadbourne on January 17, surveying 783 miles of Texas, including the forbidding Llano Estacado, and arriving at Paso del Norte (today’s Ciudad Juarez) one month later. Gray’s report describes the land vividly and Schuchard’s illustrations, particularly of the Paso del Norte area and the Mesilla Valley, depict a landscape and culture that must have seemed quite exotic to the immigrant Schuchard. Around El Paso, he sketched the Hueco Tanks, the passage of the Rio Grande between the Franklin and Juarez mountains, the town of El Paso del Norte (Ciudad Juarez), the Molino del Norte (Hart’s Mill) at Franklin, and the falls of the Rio Grande. In the Las Cruces area, Schuchard sketched the “silver mines” of the Organ Mountains, the recently created army post of Fort Fillmore, and the town of Mesilla, which at that moment was the center of the controversy over the proper position of the U.S./Mexico boundary. In April, the controversy would be resolved when Congress approved the Gadsden Purchase, placing the town and valley of Mesilla in the U.S. and providing the necessary land for a southern railroad to the Pacific. The survey team then continued through the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Chihuahua, Sonora and California, reaching San Diego on June 6.
Following the survey, Schuchard spent five years in Arizona dabbling in mining activities, but in 1859 he returned to Fredricksburg. Without delay, he married Anna Stahl. The couple had a daughter, Emilie, born June 1860, and a son Hermann, born October 1861. In 1862, Anna died and Carl Schuchard soon cut his ties with Texas to pursue mining interests in Mexico. At various times, he was involved with mining outfits in Nuevo Leon, Zacatecas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. By around 1880, he was managing the mining works at the Corralitos hacienda in Chihuahua, not far across the border from New Mexico, an area he had first visited during his stint with the A.B. Gray survey. “Don Carlos” Schuchard died at Corralitos in 1883 and was buried in the small cemetery of the hacienda.
Schuchard’s original drawings created during the Gray survey reportedly were donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where they burned in a great fire in January 1865. NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections holds 48 lithographs of the Schuchard drawings, created for the 1856 publication of Gray’s report to the Texas Western Railroad. The lithographs demonstrate Schuchard’s artistic hand and represent an era of unprecedented U.S. expansionism. The lithographs can be viewed in the department’s online image database – just type “Schuchard” into the search box.