American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



The 1849 Navajo Expedition was the first official US military mapping of Navajoland after the Mexican Cession, and has been recognized by historians as the first sustained window into the region and its people. Lieutenant James H. Simpson of the US Topographical Corps of Engineers was ordered to accompany the punitive expedition to document the route. Captivated by the stone ruins of Chaco Canyon, Simpson made a side excursion to record and map the structures, and contributed to the way Chaco is interpreted and imagined to this day. In this paper, I follow Lieutenant Simpson's survey party, tracing their "discovery" and mapping of Chaco Canyon. Through an analysis of Simpson's map and journal, I argue that the mapping effort served to fix Chaco in a new geography of antiquity that redrew the history and future of the nation, and attempted to discipline unfamiliar peoples and landscapes into the national body. This mapping constructed Chaco as a national resource, fixing its significance in both prehistory and the moment of its discovery. Tracing the particular ways this knowledge was produced through the discovery and mapping of Chaco shows how both colonial cartographies and notions of antiquity are foundational to the ongoing project of settler colonialism.




Chaco Canyon, critical cartography, settler colonialism, Southwest, Territorial, 1849, military mapping, Navajo Expedition of 1849, Lieutenant James H. Simpson

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alyosha Goldstein

Second Committee Member

Maria Lane

Third Committee Member

Christopher Montgomery Wilson