A BLM cadastral surveyor with a tree originally marked in 1843.
A BLM cadastral surveyor with the BLM’s Eastern States Office, with a tree originally marked by John R. Cline, deputy surveyor, in December 1843. (BLM)

In Search of Original Evidence

By Dominica Van Koten, with Marshall Bolte

A unique aspect of the work of the BLM’s Eastern States cadastral survey program is the age of the surveys in our area of jurisdiction.  The main crux of performing a resurvey in the Public Land Survey System is relating present-day physical evidence to the evidence left by the original surveyor as noted in the record.  The older the original survey is, the harder it can be to find original evidence. 

Last year, Marshall Bolte, a long-time cadastral surveyor with the BLM’s Eastern States Office, was able to identify a tree originally marked by John R. Cline, deputy surveyor, in December 1843.  The original plat was approved on August 6, 1847.

The tree was evidence for the corner of Sections 17, 18, 19, and 20, within Township 11 North, Range 22 West, Fifth Principal Meridian, Arkansas.  The actual corner point was originally monumented with a wood post and accessorized with four bearing trees:  a 12-inch-diameter white oak located N. 53° E., 18 links distance (on the surveyors chain, a link is about 8 inches); a 12-inch-diameter white oak located S. 26° E., 18½ links distance; a 13-inch-diameter white oak located S. 25½° W. , 51 links distance; and a 16-inch-diameter black oak located N. 60° W., 47½ links distance from the corner.  This corner has been revisited many times over the years and noted in various records:

On March 5, 1938, U.S. Forest Service employee Garner Gifford recovered original evidence of three standing original white oak bearing trees and a stump hole at the location of the black oak.  He remonumented the corner position with a brass-capped concrete post and marked four new bearing trees.

On December 3, 1962, U.S. Forest Service employee George W. Phillips, a forestry technician, found the 1938 corner monument as described and marked one new bearing tree.

On April 8, 1992, U.S. Forest Service employee Brad Larson, a survey technician, found the 1938 survey monument as described and repainted the bearing trees.

As a result of the work Bolte has recently completed for the U.S. Forest Service, the following is to be added to the official records and the perpetuation of the original General Land Office survey:

On July 13, 2010, BLM employee Marshall Bolte, a cadastral surveyor, as part of the dependent resurvey of group 113, Arkansas, found the 1938 corner monument as described with original evidence of the white oak bearing tree in the southeast quadrant.  It is now a 20-inch-diameter tree, with an open hole/blaze at waist height.  He also found stump holes at the location of the other three original bearing trees.

In the life of a BLM cadastral surveyor, it doesn’t get any better than this!  Finding original evidence that was left more than 200 years ago is a testament to the incredible undertaking of the General Land Office and the foresight of the founding fathers of our country.  This evidence is a symbol of the system created to raise money for a new government, pay debts to soldiers, and settle the western territories:  our Public Land Survey System. 

The story of its creation is now mostly visited in history books; however, the system lives on.  It lives on in the deeds we hold to our property.  It lives on in a landowner’s security of title as represented by the ability to gain financing through mortgages.  It lives on through the public availability of land title records in state and county recorders’ offices.  And it lives on in the heart of every BLM cadastral surveyor.

Dominica Van Koten is the chief cadastral surveyor for the BLM Eastern States Office. She spent 17 years working as a land surveyor in various capacities at the Alaska State Office before moving to Virginia in 2008. 

Marshall Bolte has been a land surveyor with the BLM Eastern States since 1976.  He has performed cadastral surveys in eight states:  Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin.  He is currently assigned to perform surveys on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests.