ARIZARD-L ArchivesArchiver > ARIZARD > 1999-11 > 0941919187
From: "Robert W. King" <>
Subject: [ARIZARD-L] Land Surveying in Arkansas - Part 2
Date: Sat, 6 Nov 1999 14:13:07 -0600
The survey of Arkansas, as we've found, started in November of 1815. On July
26, 1815, Edward Tiffin, Surveyor General, had issued instructions for
deputy surveyors to follow in subdividing townships of the public lands.
They were to begin at the south corner of sections 35 and 36 and work east
to west and north to south, so that all excess or deficit would fall on the
west and north sides of the township. Quarter corners to be set at every
half mile (from section corners) on the north lines; at mid-point on the
east-west lines except on the last mile on the north and west sides of the
township where they would be 1/2 mile from the last corner leaving the
excess or deficit on the last part of the line closing on the township or
range lines. Also, unless they hit the previously established corners on the
township and range lines, they were to set closing corners and note the
distance and direction to the existent corners. This resulted in the double
corners existing in all the early surveys to the confusion of most people,
including a great many surveyors. This method was in use until the Manual of
1855 ended this practice.
Tiffin further specified "a good compass of Rittenhouses' construction,
having a nonius division and movable sights, and a two pole chain of 50
links." The chain was to be adjusted by the standard in the office of the
Surveyor General and it and the compass were to be frequently examined in
the field. Further, the measurements were to be made horizontally by raising
or lowering one end of the chain and dropping a plumb.
One to two bearing trees to be marked at each corner, their name, estimated
diameter and course and distance from the corner noted in the field book.
Also, all trees actually falling on their line called station or line trees.
A letter of instruction dated September 23, 1831 modified these slightly by
specifying "the nearest trees from each corner." Also, he was to have two
chains, one to use in measuring and the other for a standard and check and
adjust the working chain at least every other day. Further changes allowed
an[d] even recommended the theodolite in lieu of a compass. Another
innovation had to do with prairie land which Tiffin had not envisioned. Here
would be used pits and mounds in place of leaving trees.
>From the field notes of George Dougharty, Mississippi Territory:
Thursday, July 24 - - "Rain! Rain! Rain! and no tent, cooped up in a small
pine-bark camp with a yankee and two runaway Georgians, all great travellers
and monstrous liars.'
In December 1831 it was suggested that trees should be bark blazed rather
than cutting into the wood. Also, was given some precautions about local
magnetic attractions, static electricity, back sighting, etc.
The 1831 instructions to deputy surveyors at Little Rock had few changes
except the people to be hired were to be of good character, free and white,
and mature enough to understand the nature and solemnity of an oath. Two
bearing trees specified.
1837 instructions call for a tree in each section or a notation that there
are no trees within a reasonable distance. Thus four bearing trees at
section corners and two at quarter corners or corners on township and range
In 1842, in instructions for Florida surveys the chain was to be "made of
good iron wire of such size as to prevent the chain from stretching by use,
and yet light enough to be readily straightened in measuring, - the handles
should be made of iron or brass, at least a fourth of an inch in diameter."
The standard could be made of lighter wire.
1843 (Little Rock) instructions added a new provision - -limits of accuracy:
Township line - 5 chains
Section line - 1 chain
Mile of meanders - l~ chains
Finally a letter of instructions in Wisconsin and Iowa dated May 28, 1846
specified an instrument operating independently of the magnetic needle for
'base, meridian, correction and township lines". Section, meander and other
interior lines could still be run with an approved compass. Burt's solar
compass had already been in use unofficially since its invention in 1836.
Also a change was made in chains to be used. For the first time it was
specified: "two pole chain of fifty parts, each measuring seven inches and
ninety-two hundredths. The length of your chain should be adjusted by means
of a screw attached to the handle of the hind end; every tenth link should
compose a swivel, and all the rings and loops should be welded or brazed."
RATES OF PAY
In the beginning of the public land surveys Congress fixed the rate of
compensation to the surveyors at two dollars per mile "including the wages
of chain carriers, markers, and every other expense attending the same.'
This idea of a rate per mile to cover all costs to the government was the
basic principle of the contract system.
Changes were made in the rate from time to time to take care of bad
conditions in the field, such as swamps, or rough, heavily wooded areas. It
was recognized early that a higher rate should be paid for township lines
than for section lines, and that the more skillful deputies should be
employed on the former. A differential of one-fourth to one-third more per
mile for township lines than for section lines was considered reasonable.
In 1833, in Iowa, for example, the fair average rate was considered to be
$3.00 per mile; but the rate on township lines was to be $3.50, while that
on section lines was about $2.75. In 1851, the rate on town lines was $3.75
per mile, while that on section lines was $3.00.
At the same time the rate in heavily wooded, rolling regions in Wisconsin
might be 50 percent higher, and that in the swamps of Louisiana twice as
high. As early as 1820, Edward Tiffin received $5.00 per mile on the
boundary between Ohio and Michigan. As the value of the land rose, and the
requirements for closures in the surveys became more rigorous, the rate per
mile was increased.
The deputy paid all of' the costs out of his mileage. This included pay for
his help (about $15.00 per month per man in 1840), food, equipment,
transportation costs. Sometimes he made a profit; but often times he found
no pay for himself, after paying expenses, at the end of several months of
Most of the office staff of the surveyor general were paid on the annual
salary basis. Some of these in 1840 were:
Surveyor General $2,000 per year
Chief Clerk $1,500 per year
Draftsman $400 to $1,300 per year
Clerks Price per hundred words copied.
The two officials who received the highest pay in 1840 were the Register and
Receiver. The amount varied some ~ but a typical scale was a base pay of
$500 per year plus a percentage of the land sales. This was 1 percent for
the Register and 11/2 percent for the Receiver, the latter having the
SOME FRAUDULENT SURVEYS
The Land Office Report for 1849 has several detailed discussions of
fraudulent and erroneous surveys. The Surveyor General of Arkansas, Mr. L.
'Notwithstanding there were rumors of fraud and forgery of field notes in
circulation many years since, the subject was never, perhaps, brought to the
notice of the earlier surveyors general, upon such reliable evidence as
would authorize them to take any action in relation thereto; nor was it
until these rumors had become well established truths, that the late
surveyor general felt himself authorized to resurvey or correct this
description of work. . . I, therefore, caused the old field books, to the
number of 500, to be examined and verified by plats Twenty-six of these
townships were very badly surveyed, and lie almost entirely in the "Grand
Prairie," in which there is not a corner to be found and identified as
(The "Grand Prairie" is the area in the vicinity of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
In consequence of which, county surveyors, in tracing out old lines or
running the interior subdivisional lines between quarter and half-quarter
sections, are often compelled to seek a known corner for the basis of their
operations at such a distance (say 6 or 7 miles) from the tract proposed to
be surveyed, that the departure of a few degrees from the proper variation
would probably place the owner of the tract upon an entirely different one
from that claimed by him.
Mr. Gibson included in his report a copy of a letter from a county surveyor,
who reports on errors that he had found as follows:
'The errors are such that no compass, chain or even a surveyor, is required
to detect them at once. Any backwoodsman, who can read field notes can
distinguish a pine from a post oak, or a cedar from a black jack. In one
instance which I examined, where the notes designated pines as the index
trees, all were post oaks; in an other, where nothing but post oaks were
called for, all were pines; in a third, where cedars were specified, I found
black oaks and pines, etc. And as to their relative position to the corner,
compared with the notes, none can be found to coincide. In short, the errors
are so general that . . .but one conclusion is forced upon the mind of the
observer, which is, that these notes were never taken upon the field work.'
(At this point, the draft contained a table showing the progress of public
land surveys in the states using the Federal Land Survey system. It records
that for Arkansas, the survey began in 1817, was 1/4 completed in 1825, 1/2
completed in 1837 and 3/4 completed in 1843. By 1849, the initial survey had
been essentially completed for a total of 33,200,000 acres. By 1910, the
total surveyed acres had risen to 33,616,00 acres and has remained stable at
that figure since.).
THE GUM TREE LANDMARK
A very interesting and valuable document is contributed by Mr. F. T. Bryan
of Clarendon, in regard to the first horizontal base line survey west of the
"An aged tupelo gum tree on the eastern boundary of Monroe County, where Lee
and Phillips Counties join, bears marks placed there more than a century
ago. These marks designate what is probably the most interesting and
important geographical point west of the Mississippi. The tree is the
starting point from which all of the township and section lines in four
states, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota, are based. All deeds of
property in those states describe the land as so many townships north or
south and so many ranges east or west of where the gum tree stands.
The tree marks the intersection of the Base Line and the Fifth Principal
Meridian, and the surveys of those two important lines will rank with the
greatest of engineering feats for all time. Modern implements have corrected
many flaws of the surveys made in the early part of the nineteenth century,
but nothing modern can compare with the hazards of running a line through
the unbroken wilderness infested with hostile tribes of Indians.
The base line was the first horizontal line surveyed west of the Mississippi
River, and the fifth principal meridian was the first longitudinal line run
by engineers in the western half of the United States. The surveys were made
in 1815 under Surveyor General William Rector of Missouri and Illinois,
whose offices were in St. Louis. By an act of congress in 1812 two million
acres of land in what is now Arkansas were set apart to satisfy claims of
the soldiers of the War of 1812. Preliminary to surveying the lands in the
Missouri territory, of which Arkansas was then a part, a principal meridian
and base line had to be established in order to identify the tracts to be
designated as military bounty.
The mouth of the Arkansas River was chosen as the arbitrary starting point
of the principal meridian and its course was to run north. The mouth of the
St. Francis River was selected for the base line with the course to run
west. The meager history of the first surveys west of the Mississippi states
that the two parties, led by P. K. Robbins on the principal meridian and
Jos. C. Brown on the base line, started from their points each on the 27th
of October, 1815, but Robbins' party probably started a week earlier.
Robbins and Brown were deputy United States land surveyors. Plats recently
found at Clarendon made as early as 1825 and signed by William Rector as
Surveyor General refer to the 1815 survey under Joseph C. Brown as being
made by deputy United States Land Surveyors, Stephen Rector and Jos. C
Brown. So Rector was probably commissioned during the time they were running
the base line. The two returned to the intersection of the Fifth Principal
Meridian and Base Line in 1816 and ran township and section lines in this
part of the territory.
The two surveying parties worked with only a compass to guide them through
the dense undergrowth of the swamps and over the rugged crevasses. There was
danger in penetrating the unscarred wilderness of meeting hostile indians,
and of swamp fever, poisonous snakes and wild animals. The surveyors were
forced to hunt and fish for their food as there was no way of conveying
heavy packs across the rivers and through the thickness of the unsettled
Half-chains which measure 33 feet were used to establish the distance of the
two lines. There was not a white settlement within several miles of either
course and, strange to say, these lines could probably be run today across
more uninhabited and uncultivated acres than any two straight lines of
similar length and directions in Arkansas.
November 10, 1815, the two parties came together. Two gum trees standing
within a few feet of each other were at the exact spot of the crossing of
their lines and one was marked:
T 1 S
R 1 W
(Township No. 1 South, Range No. 1 West, Section 1.)
The other was marked:
T 1 N
R 1 E
The first inscription is deeply embedded within the growth of the tree now
standing near the center of a Cypress swamp several miles in area which
attests to the rough going when the young engineers blazed the first trail
through this territory. There had been many pioneer expeditions into
Arkansas before this survey but they led up the rivers across the easiest
routes. Running straight lines meant to these two expeditions meeting
everything as it came. This cypress swamp is inaccessible to exploration
nine or ten months in the year even now.
The stump of the tupelo tree which bears the second inscription is only a
few feet from its historic relative. A description of the two trees is on
file in the State Land Office. It is not known how the second was destroyed
but there is definite proof that it is the right one. The destroying of land
marks is prohibited by law.
Between the tree and the stump is a granite monument erected by the
L'Anguille chapter of the D.A.R. of Marianna. This was unveiled on October
27, 1926 and Senator T. H. Carraway delivered the dedicatory address.
Several hundred people from scattered sections of Arkansas attended the
ceremonies. The monument will serve to preserve the records of the historic
spot after the tree is decayed. The marks on the tree now standing have not
been visible in recent years but several people in the vicinity know that
they are there though it would probably kill the tree to cut into them now.
Whenever the tree decays until it is about to fall the State Historical
Department will probably cut out the block containing the inscription and
preserve it with other valuable records.
After the trees had been marked at this important geographical point, the
trailblazers paused a short time to celebrate. Afterwards they continued on,
one party into the territory of Missouri and the other many miles into
The history of the early surveys in Arkansas are vague. Many of the original
field notes are on file in the State Land Office but they shed little light.
The territory where the intersection of the Fifth Principal Meridian and the
Base Line was marked, was not inhabited for many years after the War of
1812. The town of Clarendon in Cache township was one of the first plats
made after the establishment of the initial starting point, and early
surveys reveal much interesting information regarding the Cache and White
Rivers. The town of Clarendon is the original site of Cache Point but there
is little information about the first homesteaders.
When Stephen Rector and Jos. C. Brown returned to the initial mark in 1816
the first township and section lines run were probably the one marked by the
tree now standing. John C. Palmer, a veteran of the Indian War of 1816
homesteaded about 2,000 acres in this township and the plot on which the
tree stands is now owned by his grandson, A. J. Gannon, who is mayor of
Clarendon. Palmer erected a palatial brick mansion in 1870 about a mile from
the intersection and it was probably the best home in this section of
Eastern Arkansas. The home is now occupied by his son, J. Coleman Palmer."
April 30, 1837
R. Roland, Deputy Surveyor, @ 1/4 14/23 R25W "This is a Hell!!! of a place
to survey in, I wish I was away from it."
Robert W. King
I'm an ingenieur, NOT a bloody locomotive driver!
SnailNet: 19023 TV Tower Rd, Winslow, Arkansas 72959
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