The Land Locator: Lessons Learned From "Tall Trees Surround Us"

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Tall Trees Surround Us
By George C. Bailey

Published & Permitted by Caxton Printers of Caldwell, Idaho. Abridged by Chad & Linda Erickson Black & white photos are from Tall Trees and colored photos are by the authors.

George C. Bailey, Chicago, August, 1909: "Listen, Lady, you are looking at the holder of homestead right No 500 on the Coeur d’ Alene Indian reservation, and we are moving out to Idaho right away."
Minilou Bailey: "Please don’t kid me dear."
George: "But I’m not kidding, sweet heart; it’s in last night’s (Chicago) News…"

It was a tired, hungry pair that stepped off the train at Tekoa (Washington) early in the evening of the third day out of Chicago (August 1909)… Minilou then voiced the suggestion that I get a job for the winter and hire a locator to select our claim when filing time came next spring.

The interview with the chief dispatcher (of the O.R. &N. Railroad) the next day was quite satisfactory… "The agency at Plummer (on the Coeur d’ Alene Reservation) is open/ guess we will send you out there."

(From Plummer) we soon learned to follow blazes on trees, indicating a section line…By following the blazes and reading the inscription on the 4×4 stake at a section corner, then consulting our map, location could be definitely fixed.

So the winter progressed. Timber cruisers and other "locator" employees were more and more in evidence. Mr. Sims was chosen as our locator and a certified check for one hundred dollars was placed in escrow at the bank…

A notice was received from the Land Office at Coeur d’ Alene reading, "Selection of claims by number holders on the CDA Reservation will be accepted by this office starting May 2, 1910.

The descriptions on file in Sims’ office covered nearly every forty-acre tract on the reservation and, as far as could be determined, were complete and quite accurate. So, very little time was spent in the field. Sims’ office was located…about three blocks from the Land Office…Sims himself was the only man in the office to whom one might appeal for reliable information. (Mr. Sims) appeared to have a very good general knowledge of reservation lands and he gave the impression of being a man of good judgment. He had a little side office where consultations could be held with a certain degree of privacy. Just before his (turn to select) arrived, each client would spend a quarter hour or more with Sims in that little office.

…Conditions were nothing like those prevailing at the time of the drawing the previous autumn, when great, tumultuous crowds walked the streets and gathered in groups around the stands of the many notaries who had set up shop to take registrations. It was different now. The notaries were gone; the gatherings were now in the offices of the locators. As it required quite a sizable investment to really qualify as a locator, these were not as numerous as had been the registering notaries. Sims’ office was becoming a busy place. At times there were so many clients that finding a map or description book not in use was quite difficult.

(By the time) May 7th arrived (there remained) but one claim that had been considered at all (by us). A homesteader was allowed to take the four forties of his claim in almost any shape he desired. By taking our claim in the shape of an L, (according to Sims’ maps) we would have a creek, but would, in so doing, sacrifice white pine timber.

Regular filing on the claim was made in the Land Office at Coeur d’ Alene… The deed was done-the selection made…

Near the first day of June (1910), a little after 1:00 P.M., Watson (a neighbor) urged his team up the slight rise at the second crossing of Happy Creek, drove out on the little flat, emitted a loud "Whoa," and we were home.

September 8, 1911. That afternoon, with Joe Staeger and Johnny Steinat as witnesses, I "proved up" on our claim.

On September 19, 1912, having received notice the day before that our patent was there, I called at the CDA Land Office, was handed patent No. 287997, dated August 15, 1912, and-our homestead venture was ended."

Lessons Learned From Tall Trees Surround Us
By Chad & Linda Erickson

Background For "Tall Trees"
Page 26 of the 1908 Homeseekers’ Guide for Idaho, Oregon & Washington states: "Allotments to the Indians were begun in the spring of 1908… The remaining lands…must then be appraised…The lottery system will likely be used.".

Federal locating agents were patterned after the age old Locator/ Surveyor profession. They identified, subdivided, and appraised the land and filled out applications for tribal members. We rarely know the names or have records of these locator/surveyors, be they Federal or private, yet we have remaining evidence of their work in the form of stones (rarely) and fence corners (common).

Field Visit
Just before visiting the detritus of the George C. Bailey cabin, we visited the southeast corner of that homestead, the North 1/16th corner common to Sections 26 & 27, T45N, R3W, Boise Meridian and there encountered a poster child for the "Engineering vs. Surveying" conflict; a 2005 aluminum capped monument six feet away from the ancient but recoverable fence corner.

Which leads to the big question: Did the Bailey’s Locator, Mr. Sims, survey the 1/16th corners on his boundaries? Well, George C. didn’t put this fence corner six feet away from a perfectly protracted position all by himself.

The Betrayal of "P" Dot
At the subject North 1/16th corner we can picture the surveyor at work in 2005, we’ll name him Peter Dott, a typical engineer doing the GPS zigzag. He couldn’t follow a compass line because he didn’t own one. He couldn’t see where he was going, or the evidence available, because his eyes were glued to the GPS screen. Never-the-less he wiggled-in to the perfectly protracted position, drove his 5/8" rebar, stamped the aluminum cap, and in leaving, tripped on the half buried, rusty barbed wire fence and fell flat on his face. (A metaphor if we’ve ever heard one.) Whimpering upon the ground he could hear a will-o’-the-wisp voice coming from his Trimble GPS, "Poor Pete Dott"; but she never said a word about Locators, Mr. Sims, or George C. Bailey.

Seriously, to be fair, Peter Dott is probably a typical surveyor with decades of experience, practicing the way he has been taught. And, to continue the fairness, he practices the way he is still being taught in his continuing education courses and even recent decisions by state survey boards. No prejudice is so pervasive as that against the dead.

Locators Subdivided Sections
The question that begs an answer is: Were the Federal and Private Locators performing section subdivision surveys? We know from pages 122-130, 149, 314 & 350 of Choup Nit Ki that the Federal Locators did subdivide sections for Indian Allotments: "I must tell you that the law requires land, not rocks, to be given to the Indians…lessons in elementary surveying are given (to the Indian survey crew) and sections are drawn and quartered… Now to get enough land for Kolkartzot the Surveyor must cut out the ledges…making the work exceedingly difficult. Then (the surveyor) runs out the land in the vicinity and finds the corners for three or four Indians who have made their selec
tions…To be sure, (other) Indians often destroy the Surveyor’s corners as soon as his back is turned…Over and over the Surveyor marks the bounds until even his patience is exhausted and he says to the (allotted) Indians, `I will come back no more! Now, if you want to find your corners, you must send to Lewiston and pay another surveyor fifteen dollars a day to look for them."

Obviously, from the above, Federal Locating Agents did subdivide sections. Obviously, from the ancient fence corner at the North 1/16th corner in this story, private locators did also.

The Parable Of The Good Surveyor
Once a property owner fell among surveyors.

The first surveyor ignored all the ancient fence corners, mathematically protracted the 1/16th corners and moved a 1/16th line 25 feet onto the victim’s property. The second surveyor did this and more also, he would rush under the tree canopies in hope of obtaining a mathematical position before losing satellite lock. A third failed to convert his datum from sea level. A forth fool rushed in with his mathematical coordinates where local control abounded.

These surveyors caused "confusion of lines and titles and great consternation in the community. Indeed the mischief that followed was simply incalculable, and the visitation of these surveyors was set down as a great public calamity" by both neighbor and judge.

An old fence line surveyor was passing by and saw the property owner and his rights lying in the dust. He picked them both up, dusted them off and bound up their wounds by accepting all reasonable ancient fence corners as the best remaining evidence of the original Locators’ surveys. And, to ensure that this did not happen again, on the morrow when he departed he recorded a detailed Survey Report along with his Record of Survey.

Which now of these, thinkest thou, best served the public and protected the property lines?

Agents Of The Courts
When we perform boundary re-surveys it appears that we are acting as agents of the courts, not the state survey board. Just so, we can only protect the welfare of the public, and stability of property lines, if our boundary re-surveys conform to court precedent; such as Dykes v. Arnold or Adams v. Hoover; these have little to do with proportioning or 1:5000 closures.

Recently our client’s attorney confided to us that the judge said to him, "Your surveyor was very well prepared." Turning to the other attorney, the judge had remarked, "I can’t say as much for yours." Apparently measurers are already in the backseat and precedent is at the wheel.

When you are bouncing up and down in the back seat, with your hands at the double proportion position, and making "RRRRR" "RRRRR" noises, you are not in control. It is now time to climb into the front seat, grab the wheel of precedent, keep "a foot in the past and an eye to the future".

Chad Erickson’s experience with homesteads and fences began from birth at his Grandfather’s homestead in Madison County Idaho. Chad has surveyed original Townships for BLM in Alaska, administered and inspected contract surveys for the State of Alaska’s Land Disposal Program and he and his wife, Linda, had a homestead in Alaska. Without knowing what it was called, Chad also functioned as a Land Locator for other homesteaders in Alaska. Linda is the daughter of a Canadian homestead kid. From childhood they have built and ridden miles of fences. Chad & Linda operate Erickson Land Surveys out of Idaho and Arizona and their spare time is spent in searching nationally for first-hand accounts of GLO Surveyors, settlers and locators.

A 6.577Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE