The Chance of a Lifetime

It was the chance of a lifetime: going into the backcountry to search for section corners and quarter-section corners set by surveyors one-hundred and one years before. The fly-in-the-ointment was that the surveyors probably had done their work while perched on a barstool in 1882. Someone knew how to nurse a beer.

In cadastral surveying the place to start is to assume that the survey was done and either the evidence has been lost, obliterated, or simply not found. You begin searching for clues in the field notes that the surveyor took. These notes state the where they ascended, descended, crossed creeks and such along the way to setting a corner. The early surveyors carried a metal tape called a “Gunter’s Chain” to measure distance. (There are 80 chains in a mile and 640 acres in a section.) For instance, the notes might say, “at 25 chains 24 links, crossed a small creek.” You can put the items on a piece of Mylar and overlay them on a topographic map to see if maybe the notes match up in any way to the actual terrain.

Mountain Home State Forest is located in Tulare County, twenty-two air miles northeast of Porterville, CA. It is situated in the middle north fork and north fork drainages of the Tule River. Elevations from 4800 to 7600 feet above sea level. And for over forty years of state ownership, about half of the boundaries were not known. These were primarily in the township of 19S 31E.

A survey crew in 1919

So, based on these field notes and any hare-brained cockamamie idea or hunch, we went out and searched for the rock mounds and sticks and bearing trees (a tree that bears witness to a monument by having a rectangular section of bark removed and the distance and bearing is scribed onto the exposed wood). We did find one: an interior corner that had been missing for one hundred years. When our licensed surveyor (under who’s license we did all our work) went to the spot, the post crumbled in his hand as he dug it out.

To be continued…

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