Thomas Coulter's 1835 Map

Image of the Coulter Pine, also called the Bigcone Pine

Coulter's name may sound familiar to local hikers and backpackers for the Coulter Pine Tree was discovered in 1831 by Thomas Coulter, while collecting plants in California and Mexico.

The Coulter Pine, also called the Bigcone Pine, is native to central and southern California. It grows to a height of 40-70 feet with evergreen needles, three to a bundle. This pine tree has the heaviest cones of all pines in the world, often weighing four to five pounds and growing 8-12 inches in length. People working in Coulter Pine groves have actually been advised to wear hardhats. The local Native Americans once gathered and ate the large seeds of these cones.

Thomas Coulter discusses San Bernardino Peak and Rancho San Bernardino in his Notes on Upper California and published a map of Upper California in 1835 that accurately depicts the location of San Bernardino.

In 1951 Glen Dawson began publishing original accounts of early California, with selections limited to obscure and rare texts not generally available. The first such publication was:




The NOTES ON UPPER CALIFORNIA were originally printed in the "Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society, 1835."

In his introduction, Glen Dawson says, "...since Coulter's manuscripts were lost and there is no other contemporary account of Coulter's trip we had printed his Notes and map without changes or omissions."

"Thomas Coulter was born in 1793. He studied in Dublin, Paris, and Geneva. He sailed from England in 1824, taking a position as physician for the Real del Monte Mining Company in the State of Hidalgo, Mexico. During 1829 and 1830 he visited Guaymas and was located at Hermosillo, Sonora. Wherever he went he collected plants.

" In November 1831 he arrived in Monterey, California, apparently by sea from San Blas. Coulter undertook a journey...crossing the Colorado Desert of California to the Colorado River and then returned to California.

"When he returned to Europe by way of Mexico in 1834 his collection is said to have contained over 50,000 specimens, representing between 1500 and 2000 species. His manuscripts were lost in transit between London and Dublin, apparently including the work mentioned at the end of the Notes. His collection of plants was placed in the Botanical Museum at Trinity College, Dublin, where he worked as Curator until his death in 1843."

Thomas Coulter begins his Notes on Upper California with a description of the state boundaries, "UPPER CALIFORNIA is usually considered as extending from the coast of the Pacific to the Rio Colorado, and from the boundary with Lower California, a few leagues south of San Diego, to the parallel of 42 1/2o N., which is supposed to run through the middle of the lake Timpanogos..."

Coulter discusses a wide range of topics, including the great sand plain, early Spanish expeditions, and the weather, the inhabitants, rivers, wheat, vines, fruit trees, locust, cattle and sheep.

In his discussion of the mountain ranges Thomas Coulter states:

"The great snowy peak of San Bernardino, east of San Gabriel, being the point from which the two principal ranges start; the one, the great snowy chain, separates the sand plain from the Tule Lakes; and the other separates the Tule Lakes from the seaboard, not running farther north than San Francisco."

Coulter mentions several towns and missions in his Notes, including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Pedro, Santa Ynez, San Luis Obispo, and Rancho San Bernardino:

"The only settled portion of Upper California lies along the coast; the missions being nearly all within one day's journey from it. The only point where a mission has any settlement farther inland is at San Gabriel, where the Rancho of San Bernardino is at the head of the valley, some thirty leagues from the port of San Pedro. This is indeed the only point of either Californias, south of San Francisco, capable of sustaining a large population."

The loss of Coulter's manuscripts was certainly unfortunate for the scientific and botanical community. However, we are very fortunate to have one of the earliest maps of California to depict San Bernardino on it.


In 1839, David H. Burr, Geographer to the House of Representatives of the U.S., published a "Map of the United States of North America With Parts of the Adjacent Countries" with "San Bernardino" clearly annotated on it.