That Dumb Surveyor

Remember, son, many a good story has been ruined by oververification.
     —James Gordon Bennett, Editor; New York Herald (1835-67)

When I first read that foolish article in the March 16 “Las Cruces Sun-News” I loaded for bear, ready to write a blistering response. On second thought I saw a finger pointing to us surveyors, and by inference to NMPS, asking an embarrassing question: “What are you doing to educate the public about your profession?”

Instead of considering the “Sun-News” article the product of a “dumb” columnist I chose to interpret it as a disgusted writer’s response to the latest attempt by publicity-hungry politicians in Santa Fe to get their hands into the cookie jar they see brimming with taxpayer’s money. The columnist is a lot gentler with those folks than I would have been. Texas is seen by some of them with envy as the rich uncle next door, whose fortune was acquired in part at the expense of “poor” New Mexico. Had the Texans only come in 1841 with wagonloads of goodies instead of empty stomachs; maybe we would not feel so bad about them.

I must admit to my own prejudices when I re-read The Capitol Reservation and The River Boundary, articles I published in 1988 in ANTEPASADOS. Every time some frustrated expansionist in Santa Fe proposes to sue the Texans over our common boundary (it happened before) I get a neurotic suspicion that he (or she) read the stories and, like the proverbial lawyer, starts chasing after the ambulance. Two-thirds of a million acres, some of them bubbling with oil, are too much of a temptation for even the most sober politician to ignore; and never mind that Congress on February 16, 1911 (36 Stat. L. 1455), ten months and three weeks before we became a state, declared that “these boundary lines as run and marked by John H. Clark in 1859-60 shall remain [emphasis added] the true boundary lines of Texas and New Mexico.” But what is an Act of Congress to a politician?

Perhaps New Mexico lawmakers could team up with their brethren across the border in Mexico and sue for the acres the “stupid” surveyors of the International Boundary Commission in 1853-56 left on the wrong side of that line [see the article Two Johns in this issue], or find another state in the Union where legislators are bellyaching about their state boundaries. Another solution would be to start a war and have the victor redraw the lines.

It would be too much to expect for a politician (or a newspaper columnist) to invite a professional surveyor and get something approaching an education of how boundaries were (and still are) located and why surveyors sometimes cannot get it “right” the first time. But then, maybe we should not wait for an invitation. It might be worth discussing if and how surveyors could satisfy our continuing education requirements in part by speaking about our profession in local schools and to civic organizations, at law seminars, or by writing a column in a local paper. It is high time to bury the self-depreciating myth of the raggedy outdoorsman hunting for stakes in the boondocks and replace him with the knowledgeable and articulate professional that he or she really is or should be. Newspaper reporters will notice.