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Native American Spaces: Cartographic Resources at the Library of Congress

Indian Maps, Mapping, and Geographic Knowledge

Maps drawn by Indians and Indian mapping abilities have been documented in a number of sources, but because of their ephemeral nature, relatively few Indian-created maps exist today. The indigenous population was often sought out by European explorers to guide or provide geographical information about unknown lands, and Indian guides were also often enlisted to provide reconnaissance data for military and commercial activities Responses to solicitations for geographic information were sometimes given in a cartographic format. The cartographic and geographic information provided by Indian guides could appear in the explorer's report and might eventually be incorporated into published maps. Maps drawn by Indians, as well as evidence of their contributions to European-created maps, are valuable and rare documents for studying Indian peoples' geographical knowledge and spatial understanding. They complement the oral record, and they also help establish and clarify the Indians' role as guides and informants in furthering European explorations in North America. The Geography and Map Division does not have original examples of Native American cartography that pre-date European contact, but it has two eighteenth-century manuscripts created by Indians for use by Europeans and a few reproductions and facsimiles of other maps drawn by Indians.

Digitized Maps

The maps in this section have been digitized by the Library and are available for viewing and download online. Select the link on the map or in the caption to view a copy of the map that can be enlarge to view the detail.


Manuscript Map of the Outer Banks, 1590

John White. Americæ pars, nunc Virginia dicta: primum ab Anglis inuenta, sumtibus Dn. Walteri Raleigh, Equestris ordinis Viri, Anno Dn̄i. MDLXXXV regni Vero Sereniss. nostræ Reginæ Elisabethæ XXVII, hujus vero Historia peculiari Libro descripta est, additis etiam Indigenarum Iconibus. 1590. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Mathematician Thomas Harriot and artist John White were among the first English colonists settled at Roanoke Island in 1585. Their manuscript map of the Outer Banks was revised and engraved by Theodore de Bry, and published in 1590 to accompany his reprint of Harriot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. The map covers the North Carolina Coastal Plain, including the Chesapeake Inlet, Pamlico and Albermarle sounds, and Roanoke Island, and extends westward to the sources of the rivers of the sounds. It includes information derived directly from Native American sources and observations, such as the names and locations of Native American villages, most palisaded as in their actual construction; pictorial representations of individual Indians, taken from White's drawings; native canoes in Pamlico Sound; emblems for various species of trees; and a heavily-forested mountain region that serves as the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

First Published Map of the Chesapeake Bay Region, 1624

John Smith. Virginia. Discovered and Described by Captain John Smith, 1606. Graven by William Hole. 1624. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

This map, based upon a three-month survey by boat by Captain John Smith and a small party of colonists, is the first published map of the Chesapeake Bay region. The copy here accompanied the 1624 edition of Smith's The generall Historie of Virginia. Sailing up the major rivers flowing into the bay from the west, Smith and his party encountered numerous Native American villages, in the process recording their names and populations. The legend on the map and its concomitant symbols differentiates between areas and features that have been discovered by the English and those learned about by Native American informants. Indeed, the Maltese crosses on each river indicates the extent of the party's actual personal knowledge, versus the remainder reported as being taken from instructions furnished to them by local Indians. A cartouche in the upper left hand corner illustrates the chief of the Powhatan federation of Indians in council.

Map Showing the Mississippi Drawn by an Indian, 1755

Chegeree. Map of the country about the Mississippi. [ca. 1755]. This map was drawn by Chegeree (the Indian) who says he has travelled through the country. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Coverage on this map extends from the Middle Mississippi to what is now western Pennsylvania, and from Lake Erie to the mouth of the Ohio River. The information on the map concentrates on the Twightwees, the English name for the Miamis, which raises the possibility that its author, Chegeree, was a Miami, who had migrated in the area of the Wabash and Maumee rivers in the beginning of the eighteenth century. While the map emphasizes the strategic location of the Miamis, it also shows the locations of Indians allied with the French along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

Catawba Deerskin Map

Author unknown. Map of the several nations of Indians to the Northwest of South Carolina 1929. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Often referred to as the "Catawba Deerskin Map," it was drawn on behalf of English colonial administrators to illustrate the strategically important network connecting Indian groups located on the South Carolina piedmont, and with South Carolina and Virginia. The inset on the left depicts Charleston with its rectangular street grid pattern, below which is a picture of a ship at harbor. It's formal title is "This map describing the scituation [sic] of the several nations of Indians to the NW of South Carolina was coppyed [sic] from a draught drawn & painted on a deer skin by an Indian Cacique and presented to Francis Nicholson Esqr. Governor of South Carolina by whom it is most humbly dedicated to his Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales". The original map is in the British Library External.

Learn more about this map on the Featured Maps page.

Sketch of the Monongahela, 1755

Author unknown. Copy of a sketch of the Monongahela, with the field of battle,done by an Indian. [ca. 1755]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Based upon the report of an Indian scout for the British, this map by an unidentified map maker records General Braddock's defeat on July 9, 1755, when he unsuccessfully attempted to attack Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh), which was defended by over two hundred French forces, in addition to over 600 Indians, mostly Potawatomis and Ottawas from west of the Great Lakes, who in turn were joined by parties of Miamis, Delawares, Shawnees, Mingo, and Ohio Indians. The verso of the map has been annotated by John Montrésor, a British military cartographer on the expedition to Fort Duquesne, and may have been in his possession.

Learn more about this map on the Featured Maps page.

Rare Map Showing Indian Tribes, Reservations, and Settlements, 1939

Sam Attahvich. Indian tribes, reservations and settlements in the United States. 1939. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This map, published under the auspices of the Office of Indian Affairs, was compiled and drawn by Sam Attahvich, a Comanche, and is a rare example of a map prepared exclusively by an American Indian for publication in the first half of the twentieth century. Per its title, it is a cartographic record of all tribes, reservations, and settlements in the United States and the Territory of Alaska around the end of the Great Depression. It distinguishes between tribal lands, reservations allotted in part, reservations allotted and open, colonies in Nevada, and rancherias in California.

Featured Collection

Please Note: a preliminary finding-aid prepared by Lewis accompanies the collection and is available for use in the Geography and Map Reading Room.

The G. Malcolm Lewis Collection of Cartographic Activities of the North American Indian and Inuit Peoples

Mixed manuscript and printed materials spanning the years ca. 1500 to ca. 1978.

G. Malcolm Lewis was formerly reader in geography at the University of Sheffield, U.K., and the foremost scholar of the cartography and geographic knowledge of North American Indians. The collection comprises approximately 700 items in 65 containers, plus 5 oversize containers, for a total of 10.5 linear feet. The materials essentially consist of his collection of reproductions of Native American maps and artifacts, as well as extensive published and manuscript notes on each piece, assembled in preparation for his publications on the cartography of North American Indian and Inuit peoples. Materials may include photocopies, photographs, photo-transparencies of maps; photocopies of related printed and manuscript materials; Lewis' manuscript notes and transcripts; and related correspondence.

The collection is organized into six broad, color-coded, series:

  1. the Red Series, arranged chronologically from 1600 to 1978, includes files with materials relating to Native maps, accounts of Native maps, accounts of Native map making and use, and non-native maps incorporating Native map content
  2. the Green Series, arranged chronologically from 1511 to 1775, which comprises materials on the nature of Native American mapping prior to 1776
  3. the Blue Series, arranged chronologically for the period 1540-1916, contains less thoroughly researched and less rigorously described accounts of Native maps, map making, and map use, as well as maps of various North American expeditions
  4. the Yellow Series, arranged by material type, includes copies of maps and supposed maps incorporated in petroglyphs, archeoastronomies, cosmologies, and artifacts
  5. the Orange Series, which is a randomly-assembled collection of chiefly secondary materials pertaining to cartography in continents other than North America
  6. the Black Series, arranged chronologically by year of publication, includes secondary publications relating to cartography in general on North American traditional societies.

Four oversize boxes contain card-mounted photocopies and photographs of materials from the red series of North American Indian and Inuit maps, and one includes miscellany.

Additional Maps in the Library's Collections

The following maps are only available at the Library of Congress in the Geography and Map Reading Room in the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress.

  • Pintura que por Mandado de D[on] Fran[cisco] Balverde de Mercado factor de S.Mag[estad] hizo Miguel yndio natural de la provincias de Nuevo Mexi[co]. . . . [1602?]. Photostat from original manuscript in Archivo General de Indias, Seville. Map 21 x 28 cm. Scale not given. Filed at New Mexico--1602?
    Drawn in April 1602 and transcribed shortly thereafter, this map by a captive Plains Indian called Miguel is the oldest extant transcript of a North American Indian map, and results from his interrogation by Don Francisco de Valverde in Mexico City. It possibly depicts the upper Pecos Valley as a tributary of a river in either Oklahoma or Texas. It also indicates pueblos and distances between them in days of travel.
  • A New Map of the Cherokee Nation with the Names of the Towns & Rivers they are Situated on, No. Lat. from 34 to 36Engrav'd from an Indian Draught by T. Kitchin. For the London Magazine [London, 1760]. Engraving, 18 x 23 cm. Scale ca. 1:1,100,000. Call number G3865 1760 .K Vault. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.
    The map depicts an area between the Mississippi River and the head of the Savannah River, in what are now Kentucky and Tennessee. Thomas Kitchin was a prolific British cartographer, engraver, and publisher. His source for this map of the Cherokee Nation is an unidentified Indian map.
  • An Indian Map of the Upper Missouri. 1801. Manuscript copy, pen-and-ink, 19 x 50 cm. Scale not given. G&M Kohl Collection, no. 243.
    This is a copy of a redrawing of a manuscript map by Ac ko mok ki, a Blackfeet Indian chief, who created it for Peter Fidler, a surveyor, explorer, and cartographer for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1801.  The map illustrates the headwaters of the Upper Missouri and Saskatchewan River systems flowing eastward from the Rocky Mountains, and supplies the Indian name for each. The original manuscript map External is in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
  • Wayishkee's Map of the Source of the Taquymenon and Maniste Rivers. 1826 [possibly 1820]. Manuscript, 41 x 35 cm. Scale not given.  Henry Rowe Schoolcraft Papers, oversized material container no. 91, Manuscript Division.
    This manuscript map shows the headwaters of the Manistique and Tahquanmenon rivers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  • Map copied from one drawn by the Tassel, and some other head-men of the Cherokees, to describe their territorial claims. 1785]. Original in Serial Set Vol. No. 773, Session Vol. No.2, S.Misc.Doc. 25, 33d Congress, 2d Session, 1855.
    Shows the area between the Savannah and Mississippi rivers, and identifies, by way of a keyed legend, various rivers and settlements in the region. Map External can be viewed onsite at the Library of Congress via the NewsBank/Readex electronic resource, "U.S. Congressional Serial Set."
  • Map of New Archangel (Sitka, 1841?)  Made by a Native during the Russian occupancy, ca. 1841. Facsimile of original printed in 1977?  Colored map, 42 x 50 cm. Scale not given. Call number G4374 .S5A5 1841 .M3 1977.
    Drawn by an unknown native Alaskan, this map shows indigenous and Russian settlements at Novo Arkangel'sk (New Archangel), Alaska
  • Lean Wolf's map from Fort Berthold to Fort Buford, Dakota, along the Missouri River, 1881. Redrawing from the 4th annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1885. Map on sheet 14 x 20 cm. Scale not given. Filed at U.S. -- Indians -- 1878.
    Employing several conventions of Plains picture writing, this map by Lean Wolf, second chief of the Hidatsa Indians, was made during his visit to Washington, D.C. in 1881.  It covers the area from the Hidatsa's village and up the upper Missouri River to Fort Buford in part of west central North Dakota.  The map recalls his horse raid upon a Dakota encampment.  A dotted line represents the first leg of his journey; hoof prints show his return, as well as attest to his raid's success; a pictograph signature identifies Lean Wolf himself; and other symbols identify Hidatsa, Dakota, and White dwellings, while superimposed symbols represent mixed communities.
    For a fuller description, see Wahrus, Another America: Native American Maps and the History of our Land, pp. 184-89.
  • Sketch of the Akularak Slough from the Catholic Mission to near the Yukon River, drawn by a native. Copied from original in possession of Father Barnum, March 1899... Blueprint map on sheet 32 x 20 cm. Scale not given. Filed at Alaska -- Akularak Slough -- 1899. Depicts watercourse in the Yukon River Delta and shows village locations.