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No. 702.


Survey of Public Lands.

System of Rectangular Surveying.*

1. The public lands of the United States are ordinarily surveyed into rectangular tracts, bounded by lines conforming to the cardinal points. 2. The public lands are laid off, in the first place, into bodies of land of

* To the Surveyors-General of public lands of the United States, for the surveying districts established in and since the year 1850.

February 22, 1855.

By the direction of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the accompanying instructions are prescribed for your official government, including a Manual of Intructions to regulate the field operations of your deputy-surveyors. The latter is a revision of the Manual of Surveying Instructions prepared for Oregon in 1851, (the edition of which is now exhausted,) and presents, in some respects, more copious illustrations, both in the specimen field notes and in the diagrams, than could be furnished amidst the pressure of the exigency under which the former had to be prepared. It will be observed that, in the former edition, the township and section lines south of the base are made to start therefrom, and close on the first standard parallel south; whereas, under the present instructions, such lines are made to start from the first standard parallel south, and to close to the north on the base: and thus there will be closing corners and starting corners, both on the base and standard lines. Such modification is introduced for the sake of entire uniformity of method in new fields of survey, and will not, of course, affect any past operations under the original instructions.

The starting corners on the base line and on the standards will, of course, be common to two townships, or to two sections lying on and north of such lines; and the closing corners on such lines, from the south, should be carefully connected with the former by measurements to be noted in the field book.

Where stone can be had to perpetuate corner boundaries, such, for obvious reasons, should always be preferred for that purpose, and the dimensions of the stone, as herein prescribed, (page 711,) are to be regarded as the minimum size; but in localities where it is found practicable to obtain a stone of increased dimensions, it is always desirable to do so, particularly for township corners, and especially for those on base, meridian, and standard lines; and to such purport the deputy-surveyor is to be specially instructed.

Prior to entering upon duty, the deputy-surveyor is to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the official requirements in regard to field operations in all the details herein set forth, and to be apprized of the weighty moral and legal responsibilities under which he will act.

Unfaithfulness in the execution of the public surveys will be detected by special examinations of the work to be made for that purpose, and, when detected, will immediately subject the delinquent deputy and his bondsmen to be sued by the district attorney of the United States, at the instance of the proper Surveyor-General, the institution of which suit will act at once as a lien upon any property owned by him or them at that time; and such delinquency, moreover, is an offence punishable by the statute, with all the pains and penalties of perjury, (see Act of 1846, quoted on pages 718 and 719,) and will of necessity debar the offending deputy from future employment in like capacity. Hence, in the execution of contracts for surveying public lands, there is every incentive to fidelity that can address itself either to the moral sense, or to motives of private interest.

By order of the Commissioner:

JOHN M. MOORE, Principal Clerk of Surveys.

six miles square, called Townships, containing as near as may be 23,040 acres. The townships are subdivided into thirty-six tracts called Sections, of a mile square, each containing as near as may be, six hundred and forty acres. Any number or series of contiguous townships, situate north or south of each other, constitute a R inge.

The law requires that the lines of the public surveys shall be governed by the true meridian, and that the townships shall be six miles square,— two things involving in connection a mathematical impossibility-for, strictly to conform to the meridian, necessarily throws the township out of square, by reason of the convergency of meridians, and hence, by adhering to the true meridian, results the necessity of departing from the strict

Under the Act of April 24, 1820, Statutes at Large, vol. 3, p. 566, and the instructions issued under the same, the Surveyor-General was bound to divide fractional sections into as many half-quarter sections as practicable, by north and south, or east and west lines, so as to preserve the most compact forms; and if this be not done, the Register cannot legally sell the land, and the act of the Surveyor-General, in making a different division, is void.—Brown's Lessee v. Clements, 3 Howard, 650; 15 Condensed Reports, 580.

A patent which, by reason of such a void entry and division, appropriates to one pre-emption claim what belongs to another, is void as against the owner of the latter claim.-lb.

Though natural objects capable of being identified, called for in a survey, will control courses and distances, yet, if the land is only described by courses and distances, and reference to objects not distinguishable from others of the same kind, then course and distance are the only guides, and must alone be used to designate the land granted.-Chenoweth v. Haskell's Lessee, 3 Peters, 92; 8 Cond. Reps. 301.

To support an entry, the objects called for in it must be so described or so notorious that others, by using reasonable diligence, could find them readily.- Watts v. Lindsey's Heirs, 7 Wheaton, 158; 5 Cond. Reps. 241.

Claimants are liable for the expenses of surveys of private land claims, only where there had been no survey of the claim under the French or Spanish governments, previous to the delivery of possession of the territory; and where surveys are deemed necessary by the commissioners to enable them to decide on the validity of the claims.--(Opinion of Attorney-General, April 8, 1824, vol. 1, p. 655.)

The Act of April 24, 1820, and the instructions issued under it, directing the manner of subdividing fractional sections containing over one hundred and sixty acres, did not require the absolute platting of every quarter or half-quarter of which the section was susceptible; but contemplated the exercise of discretion so as to prevent small and inconvenient fractions of a fractional section.—(Opinion, August 2, 1837, vol. 3, p. 281.)

It is the duty of the Surveyors-General to subdivide fractional sections in conformity to law, and without reference to the existence of the pre-emption Acts of May 29, 1830, and June 19, 1834.-1b.

It is the duty of Surveyors-General to divide fractional sections containing over one hundred and sixty acres, into lots approaching as nearly as practicable to the form and quantity of half-quarter sections; and it is competent for the Department to direct the performance of the duty.—(Opinion, August 5, 1837, vol. 3, 284.)

The survey is to be made without reference to pre-emptions; but pre-emptors are entitled to a legal survey.—1b.

The lines actually run upon the ground, by the original surveyor, become the true external boundaries of all lands sold by the government, if they can be ascertained by reference to the monuments erected upon the land by the surveyor.--M'Clintock v. Rogers, 11 Illinois, 279.

A survey made by an officer authorized by law, is primâ facie evidence, and cannot be questioned by a mere trespasser.-Trotter v. St. Louis Public Schools, 9 Mo. Reps. 68.

requirements of law, as respects the precise area of townships and the subdivisional parts thereof, the township assuming something of a trapezoidal form, which inequality developes itself more and more as such, the higher the latitude of the surveys. It is doubtless in view of these circumstances that the law provides, (see sec. 2, of the Act of May 18, 1796,) that the sections of a mile square shall contain the quantity of six hundred and forty acres, as nearly as may be; and, moreover, provides, (see sec. 3, of the Act of 10th May, 1800,) in the following words: "And in all cases where the exterior lines of the townships, thus to be subdivided into sections or half sections, shall exceed, or shall not extend six miles, the excess or deficiency shall be specially noted, and added to or deducted from the western

The Surveyor-General of California, having returned a map, showing an anomalous subdivision to suit the location of a swamp, by a surveyed line, not conforming to the usual legal subdivisional lines, he was instructed on 14th instant, that this mode of subdivision is inadmissible, and the survey of such lines unauthorized; that the instructions of this Office require, when the smallest legal subdivision contains more of swamp or overflowed land, unfit for cultivation, than of arable land, it is to be taken as all swamp, and vice versa, that is, when there is more arable land in it than swamp, no part of it belongs to the swamp grant. To determine the fact in such case, it is only necessary, that the topography should show the out limits of the swamp or overflow, as near as can be designated, which determines how the land shall be classed.-(Report of Chief Clerk of the Land Office, November, 1855.)

Wolf Island in the Mississippi River in township 24 north, range 17 and 18, east, 5th p. meridian :—Question, as to whether it is an appendage of the State of Missouri or Kentucky?

Many years ago this island was surveyed and returned by the Surveyor-General as within the State of Missouri, and was regularly offered for sale in the year 1835. Private entries of the lands on the island were permitted until 1838, in which year the attention of this Office was called to it by a communication stating that the Legislature of Kentucky had passed a law directing its sale, as belonging to that State, and that the lands had been offered for sale by the State authorities, whereupon by instructions from this Office, all the unsold lands were immediately withdrawn from market, all the sales made up to that time suspended, and the Surveyor-General of Missouri called upon to institute careful examination on the spot, and report the facts to this Office, with a view to determine the main channel of the river, which, by the act of admission of Missouri, as a State, as well as the treaty of limits of 1783, with Great Britain, was made the boundary line between the States of Kentucky and Missouri.

A very particular examination and report were made by the Surveyor-General, and communicated to this Office on the 18th December, 1843, accompanied by a map showing cross sections of the two channels, east and west of the island, from actual measurements, and by affidavits of the oldest inhabitants and river men, all of which clearly show that the main channel of the river, both as to its breadth and depth, and the quantity of water passed per second (being nearly double) runs on the east side of the island, and has done so from the earliest time, and that consequently it belongs to the jurisdiction of Missouri, and not to Kentucky. It was, therefore, determined to restore the lands to market again, after three full months published advertisements, so as to afford ample notice to all parties concerned, whether on the Missouri or Kentucky side of the river, and at the expiration of that time, the unsold lands on the island will come under the general laws of the United States, for the sale and disposal of the public domain.-(Report of Chief Clerk of General Land Office for January, 1856.)

Lost corners in the surveys.

In a letter to Messrs. Levering Brothers, relative to lost corners in the surveys in Indiana, it was held, that the Government was not bound to keep up the marks in the field which have been obliterated or changed, by design, accident or time, more especially after the titles to the lands have passed from the United States; that it then becomes a matter of State jurisdiction, and of the courts to settle difficulties and disputes which may arise relative to boundaries, and the rules were laid down which govern this Office in making resurveys.--(Report of the Chief Clerk of the General Land Office for July, 1856.)

or northern ranges of sections or half sections in such township, according as the error may be in running the lines from east to west, or from south to north; the sections and half sections bounded on the northern and western lines of such townships shall be sold as containing only the quantity expressed in the returns and plats, respectively, and all others as containing the complete legal quantity."

The accompanying diagram, marked A, will serve to illustrate the method of running out the exterior lines of townships, as well on the north as on the south side of the base line; and the order and mode of subdividing townships will be found illustrated in the accompanying specimen field notes, conforming with the township diagram B. The method here presented is designed to insure as full a compliance with all the requirements, meaning, and intent of the surveying laws as, it is believed, is practicable.

The section lines are surveyed from south to north on true meridians, and from east to west, in order to throw the excesses or deficiencies in measurements on the north and west sides of the township, as required by law.

3. The townships are to bear numbers in respect to the base line either north or south of it; and the tiers of townships, called "Ranges," will bear numbers in respect to the meridian line according to their relative position to it, either on the east or west.

4. The thirty-six sections into which a township is subdivided, are numbered, commencing with number one at the northeast angle of the township, and proceeding west to number six, and thence proceeding east to number twelve, and so on, alternately, until the number thirty-six in the southeast angle.

5. Standard Parallels, (usually called correction lines,) are established at stated intervals to provide for or counteract the error that otherwise would result from the convergency of meridians, and also to arrest error arising from inaccuracies in measurements on meridian lines, which, however, must ever be studiously avoided. On the north of the principal base line, it is proposed to have these standards run at distances of every four townships, or twenty-four miles, and on the south of the principal base, at distances of every five townships, or thirty miles.


1. Where uniformity in the variation of the needle is not found, the public surveys must be made with an instrument operating independently of the magnetic needle. Burt's improved solar compass, or other instrument of equal utility, must be used of necessity in such cases; and it is deemed best that such instrument should be used under all circumstances. Where the needle can be relied on, however, the ordinary compass may be used in subdividing and meandering.

2. The township lines, and the subdivision lines, will usually be measured by a two-pole chain of thirty-three feet in length, consisting of fifty links, and each link being seven inches and ninety-two hundredths of an inch long. On uniform and level ground, however, the four-pole chain may be used. Your measurements will, however, always be represented according to the four-pole chain of one hundred links. The deputy-surveyor must also have with him a measure of the standard chain, wherewith to compare and adjust the chain in use, from day to day, with punctuality and carefulness; and must return such standard chain to the Surveyor General's office for examination when his work is completed.


3. You will use eleven tally pins made of steel, not exceeding fourteen inches in length, weighty enough towards the point to make them drop perpendicularly, and having a ring at the top, in which is to be fixed a piece of red cloth, or something else of conspicuous color, to make them readily seen when stuck in the ground.


4. In measuring lines with a two-pole chain, every five chains are called "a tally," because at that distance the last of the ten tally pins with which the forward chainman set out will have been stuck. He then cries ❝ tally;" which cry is repeated by the other chainman, and each registers the distance by slipping a thimble, button, or ring of leather, or something of the kind, on a belt worn for that purposes, or by some other convenient method. The hind chainman then comes up, and having counted in the presence of his fellow the tally pins which he has taken up, so that both may be assured that none of the pins have been lost, he then takes the forward end of the chain, and proceeds to set the pins. Thus the chainmen alternately change places, each setting the pins that he has taken up, so that one is forward in all the odd, and the other in all the even tallies. Such procedure, it is believed, tends to insure accuracy in measurement, facilitates the recollection of the distances to objects on the line, and renders a mistally almost impossible.


5. The length of every line you run is to be ascertained by precise horizontal measurement, as nearly approximating to an air line as is possible in practice on the earth's surface. This all important object can only be attained by a rigid adherence to the three following observances:

1. Ever keeping the chain stretched to its utmost degree of tension on even ground.

2. On uneven ground, keeping the chain not only stretched as aforesaid, but horizontally levelled. And when ascending and descending steep ground, hills, or mountains, the chain will have to be shortened to onehalf its length, (and sometimes more,) in order accurately to obtain the true horrizontal measure.

3. The careful plumbing of the tally pins, so as to attain precisely the spot where they should be stuck. The more uneven the surface, the greater the caution needed to set the pins.


6. All lines on which are to be established the legal corner boundaries are to be marked after this method, viz: Those trees which may intercept your line must have two chops or notches cut on each side of them without any other marks whatever. These are called "sight trees," "line trees," or "station trees."

A sufficient number of other trees standing nearest to your line, on either side of it, are to be blazed on two sides diagonally, or quartering towards the line, in order to render the line conspicuous, and readily to be traced, the blazes to be opposite each other, coinciding in direction with the line where the trees stand very near it, and to approach nearer each other the further the line passes from the blazed trees. Due care must ever be taken to have the lines so well marked as to be readily followed.

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