Brain Food: Century-Old Cowboy Maps Tell Flagstaff’s History

Jul 27, 2017

A Flagstaff librarian is restoring century-old maps of Flagstaff once used by cowboys to determine grazing areas and water sources. Claudine Taillac says they were found in the basement of the historic Babbitt Building and were in need of some TLC. They were weathered, frayed and covered in dirt.

Flagstaff librarian Claudine Taillac examines century-old cowboy maps discovered in the Babbitt Building.
Credit Bonnie Stevens

“They were, of course, preserved rolled because that’s how they were used. Some of them were folded and so the fear for us is opening them and having them fall apart. When we got them were weren’t really sure what kind of shape they were in,” says Taillac.

To clean and better preserve them, Taillac puts the maps in a humidity chamber. The water inside doesn’t touch the documents, but it creates a moist atmosphere that relaxes the brittle paper.

Credit Bonnie Stevens

“And then we just take a brush and we just very carefully brush off any surface dirt that may be on the maps … We have a cleaning eraser, which isn’t really an eraser, it’s actually more of a bag that has some particles in it that you just rub gently, and you have to just really be careful to not get it on any torn edges … Once everything’s cleaned, then it is ready to be repaired,” says Taillac. 

Credit Bonnie Stevens

The newly refurbished maps tell the story of Flagstaff’s ranching, lumber and railroad roots. They reveal 100-year-old landmarks noted by cowboys roaming the range—things like stock tanks, springs, railroad tracks and homesteads. The maps are being archived at the downtown Flagstaff library.