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Harry P. Hewitt

MEXICAN-UNITED STATES BOUNDARY COMMISSION. Article five of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo set the boundary between Mexico and the United States and provided for the establishment of a Mexican-United States Boundary Commission to survey and mark that boundary. In December 1848 President James K. Polk named Ambrose Sevier as the United States commissioner, but Sevier died before he could be confirmed by the Senate. John B. Weller replaced Sevier and traveled to San Diego. On July 6, 1849, the United States commission met formally for the first time with the Mexican commission headed by Gen. Pedro García Conde. The joint boundary commission ran the portion of the line from the Pacific Ocean to the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers. On February 15, 1850, the boundary commission met for the last time on the Pacific Coast. Weller and García Conde agreed to recess until late 1850 and to arrange for the survey of the El Paso area, at the other end of the line. Weller departed the commission sometime after February 15, 1850, the victim of political intrigues and infightings. John C. Frémont was to be Weller's successor, but Frémont resigned upon his election as the first Senator from California. John Russell Bartlett officially replaced Frémont as the United States commissioner on June 15, 1850; William Hemsley Emory served as temporary commissioner in the interim. On December 3, 1850, the joint commission met in El Paso and resumed its deliberations. Immediately an impasse developed over the location of the southern boundary of New Mexico. The Mexican commissioner caught Bartlett unaware of the fact that there were several serious discrepancies in the official Disturnell Treaty map. The resulting negotiations led to the Bartlett-García Conde compromise in the spring of 1851; the compromise caused a crisis that was not resolved until the Gadsden Purchase was negotiated in 1853.

The commission's survey of the Texas portion of the Rio Grande did not produce any major territorial disputes, although the Mexicans were unhappy about a change in the Rio Grande river bed as a result of an 1850 flood. Both sides were eager to survey river channel changes that were beneficial to them, and it was this sort of occurrence that caused the Chamizal Dispute. The first surveys of the Rio Grande north of El Paso to the New Mexico border were carried out by Lt. Amiel W. Whipple and José Salazar early in 1851. In the summer of 1851, with the survey stalled in New Mexico over the Bartlett-García Conde compromise, the joint commission took steps to begin the survey of the Gila River and the Rio Grande south of El Paso. This latter effort was initially undertaken by Lt. Col. James Duncan Graham and José Salazar. However, Graham had a serious conflict with Bartlett over his title and role as astronomer and was subsequently replaced by Emory. Emory also replaced the astronomer Andrew B. Gray thus combining both jobs in the same person similar to the Mexican Commission. Emory arrived at El Paso in November of 1851 and found the Rio Grande survey stalled and the American commission in complete disarray. Salazar, showing Mexican unhappiness with the United States suspension of its survey of the Bartlett-García Conde line, began delaying tactics of his own, hampering work south of El Paso. The death of García Conde in December of 1851 eventually led to the appointment of Salazar as the Mexican commissioner, and by the spring of 1852 the river survey commenced in earnest. The American portion of the survey reached Laredo in December. Marine T. W. Chandler and Lt. Duff Green worked south of Presidio surveying the Big Bend until forced to abandon the effort. Lt. Nathaniel Michler worked south from Fort Duncan near Eagle Pass to Laredo. Bartlett, who had been absent from this portion of the survey since the spring of 1851, arrived in El Paso from California in August of 1852. When he reached Ringgold Barracks in December of 1852 and finally met with Emory, he discovered that the United States Congress had shut down the commission until the Bartlett-García Conde line dispute was settled. Senator Thomas J. Rusk led the Texas delegation in this effort, but special legislation permitted the completion of the Rio Grande survey in 1853 under Emory with Gen. Robert Blair Campbell serving as the United States commissioner. Lieutenant Michler completed the survey north of Eagle Pass to the point where Chandler had stopped. Arthur Schottqv, James Radziminski, and G. Clinton Gardner also participated in surveying alternating sections south of Laredo. The Mexican portion of the survey was carried out under the direction of José Salazar. Francisco Jiménez surveyed the Matamoros section north to Laredo in the fall of 1852 and spring of 1853, and Agustín Díaz surveyed sections south of El Paso. After this work was completed the only part of the boundary in debate was the Bartlett-García Conde line. With the dispute settled by the Gadsden treaty, Emory was made United States commissioner and joined Salazar in El Paso in the fall of 1854 to complete the final survey. The Mexican-United States Boundary Commission finished its surveying work on October 15, 1855.

John Russell Bartlett, Personal Narrative of Explorations...Connected with the United States and Mexican Boundary Commission (New York: Appleton, 1854; rpt., Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1965). Comisión Internacional de Límites entre México y los Estados Unidos, Memoria documentada del juicio de arbitraje del Chamizal (3 vols., México, D.F.: Talleres de Artes Gráficas, Granja Experimental de Zoquipa, 1911). Odie B. Faulk, Too Far North, Too Far South (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1967). W. H. Goetzmann, Army Exploration in the American West, 1803–1863 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959; 2d ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1991). Ronnie C. Tyler, The Big Bend (Washington: National Park Service, 1975). U.S. Senate, Report of the Secretary of the Interior (Exec. Doc. 41, 32d Cong., 2d sess., February 17, 1853). Edward S. Wallace, The Great Reconnaissance: Soldiers, Artists, and Scientists on the Frontier, 1848–1861 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1955).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Harry P. Hewitt, "MEXICAN-UNITED STATES BOUNDARY COMMISSION," accessed April 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ncm04.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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