“Lost” & Found in the Wy’East Country

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The cover picture was taken along the east boundary of Township 4 North, Range 11 East, Willamette Meridian (Oregon) on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range with Mt. Hood in the background. Indian legend has it that the Great Spirit Sahale had two sons, one named Klickitat and the other, Wy’East. Each son had fallen in love with the beautiful maiden Loowit, who could not decide which to marry. The two sons went on a rampage, burning forests and villages in their frustration. Great Chief Sahale became enraged over this and smote the three lovers. Realizing what he had done and feeling somewhat remorseful, he created three great mountains to mark where each had fallen. Thus he made beautiful Mt. St. Helens for Loowit, proud and erect Mt. Hood for Wy’East, and the somber and brooding Mt. Adams for the mourning Klickitat. These three glacier-clad peaks, Adams at over 12,000 feet, Hood, more than 11,000 feet, and St. Helens, just under 10,000 feet (8,300 since 1980) are now known as the Guardian Peaks of the Columbia.

We had a contract in 1991 with the Mt. Hood National Forest to survey and mark several miles of the forest boundary in an area known as Smock Prairie, which is about 7 miles north of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. This reserve of over 1000 square miles was created by treaty in 1855, five years prior to the GLO survey. Every retracement usually involves some level of history and research, but this one had several aspects that appealed to me. Much of our previous retracement work had been in the mountainous land on the western, heavily timbered, steep and wet slopes of the Cascades which was surveyed in the 1880’s and 1890’s. It was a nice change of pace to traverse on the "east side" over the gentler open pine and oak country, somewhat reminiscent of the "Little House on the Prairie" landscape. This range line was originally established by U.S. Deputy Surveyor LaFayette Cartee in mid-October of 1860 and I was eager to search for some of the earliest corners established in Oregon. These wood posts were set just three weeks before Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States some 155 years ago..! Also, the historic Barlow Road (circa 1845) crossed the range line within the three mile segment we were retracing and finally seeing its location and condition would be a bonus.

In 1860, the General Land Office was preparing this area of the Oregon country for future settlement. The first Surveyor General for Oregon, John Bower Preston, was born in Granville, Vermont in 1817 and with his family moved to Warsaw, New York and then later to Rochester. In 1836, his parents relocated to Will County, Illinois where young Preston joined them shortly after the Panic of 1837 which devastated farmers and merchants throughout the East. He may have been apprenticed to a civil engineer and possibly also to a lawyer, as he was trained in these pursuits. 1845 found him as a resident engineer, supervising the construction of the south segment of the Illinois-Michigan Canal, linking the Illinois River with Lake Michigan. In November of 1850, President Millard Fillmore appointed Preston as the first Surveyor General of Oregon and in early 1851, he and his family, which now included wife Lucy and their 8-year old daughter plus Lucy’s sister and brother, left New York and traveled by steamer to the Isthmus of Panama, where they then traveled on barges, towed by steamboats, 60 miles to near the Pacific shore. Then it was north by steamers to San Francisco and eventually to Oregon City where he established his office. Starting on June 4, 1851, from a point near present day Portland OR, the Willamette Meridian was run north 110 miles to Puget Sound (near present day Olympia, WA) and also 244 miles south (with several offsets along the way) to the California border. The base lines were run east and west from the "Initial Point" (near Portland) to complete the initial framework for the township and sectional surveys to follow. By 1860, most of the lands suited for agriculture on the west side of the Cascade Range had been surveyed. The east side of the range was now being readied for an influx of homesteaders.

One of those intrepid adventurers was a Kentuckian by the name of Samuel Kimbrough Barlow, descended from the hardy Scotch, who was captain of a company of immigrants, leaving Independence, Missouri in May of 1845, westward bound for western Oregon and the promise of free land. The "Donation Act" was later passed by Congress only months prior to John Preston’s appointment and departure for Oregon City. Barlow and his followers finally arrived at The Dalles, Oregon in late September, with winter fast approaching. The area was named by French-Canadian employees of the Northwest Company who first arrived in this area in about 1825. Thus "The Dalles" comes from a French word "dalle" meaning "sluice" or in "voyager French", referring to rapids or turbulent water, none of which the Barlow company had seen as they paralleled the comparatively docile Columbia River westward over relatively gentle ground from its junction with the Snake River. At The Dalles, both riverbanks steepened drastically and soon rose to more than 2000 feet above the river with an impressive array of lava cliffs and waterfalls, making further travel by wagons impossible through what today is known as the Columbia River Gorge. Most previous pioneers had to dismantle their wagons and put them on hastily built rafts to carry their families and possessions downstream past the nearby "dalles" in the river and on to the dreaded "cascades" where they would then have to then portage several miles to regain the relatively placid waters below. Many preceding pioneer families had lost either their possessions or their lives during this forty-some mile long ordeal. Captain Sam Barlow had heard about these perils over the past five months on the trail and was determined to find a route over the untried mountain passes instead. He declared "God never made a mountain that he had not made a place for some man could not go over it or under it. I am going to hunt for that place…" After much trial and error, he and a companion, after numerous dead ends and false starts, returned in late November to retrieve his waiting company, now smaller, and begin the traverse over the south side of Mt. Hood towards Oregon City. After leaving their wagons enroute, most of the party finally made it out of the snowy mountain canyons on foot, two days before Christmas. They later retrieved the wagons and completed their journey to the fertile Willamette Valley. In 1846 Barlow made application to the Provisional Government for a charter to open a wagon road over the route he pioneered the fall before. It was readily granted and the Barlow Toll Road was slowly improved and started receiving travelers willing to pay a toll versus the other alternatives. Today, its old track can still be seen as it crosses the range line several chains south of the northeast corner of section 25. Its grade snakes along, climbing out of Rock Creek to the east and reaches the rolling oak and pine savannah near a wooden gate as it enters Section 25. It was not hard for me to imagine Mr. Edwards and Charles Ingalls ambling along a very similar 1850’s road on their way to Mankato.

Our 1991 survey itself was a traditional traverse using a "high-tech" Wild theodolite (for the time) that contained a 3" square hard disc that recorded point numbers, angles and distances (Code 10, Code 20, Code 30, etc) and could then be ejected from the instrument and put into an office "reader" that would generate a hard-copy print. (An early predecessor of the modern data collector.) I had also been using an innovative sun-shot program developed and marketed by Dr. Richard Elgin’s firm, Elgin, Knowles and Senne, Inc. of Rolle, Missouri. I started using it in about 1986 and found it to be a tremendous improvement over the traditional method commonly in use prior to that time (for most private surveyors without a solar compass or solar transit). The "old method" required measuring the vertical angle to the sun and then going through a rather tedious algebraic computation process involving ephemeris data and local time and lat-long to derive an azimuth, usually days later in the office. Another disadvantage of the "vertical angle method" was that it couldn’t be used reliably between about 10am and 2pm. Richard Elgin’s program introduced the "hour-angle method" to me and countless other surveyors. I still use my HP-41CV with a "time module chip" and Elgin’s "ASTRO*ROM2 chip" plugged in. I came to prefer the "trailing edge" option and even now can still come up with a true azimuth after about 10 to 15 minutes in the field. This was especially handy on the 1991 survey. I was always curious to know the "real bearings" to BTs, etc. from the corner point (once it was determined) to compare with the record bearings of long ago. One only needed to occupy said point and orient your instrument’s "circle" to the true azimuth and then turn to the various accessories and observe the actual true bearing and measure the distance. On the 1991 survey, the BLM had remonumented several corners along the range line in 1965. When we set up on the east quarter corner of Section 36, imagine my surprise when we sighted the lone remaining 1860 BT and found the bearing to be 7 ½ degrees different from both the 1860 record and the 1965 remon record. This resulted in the 1965 BLM brass cap being misplaced by about 3.5 feet. The 1965 accessories were likewise off in distance and bearing. However, similar inspections at most other 1965 monuments checked very well.

LaFayette Cartee, who first surveyed this range line, was born in Tioga County, New York in 1823. He graduated from St. Johns College and later became the Chairman of the Mathematics Department there. He spent some time thereafter in California before moving to Oregon City in 1849 and opening a surveying and engineering office. In 1853, he became a member of the Oregon Territorial Legislature and in 1854 was elected Speaker of the House. He started working as a Deputy Surveyor not long after arriving in the Territory. His early work was on Donation Claim surveys and later, he started Township surveys, such as the one we were retracing here. In examining his original 1860 marks in several of those prior corner visits, I noticed that Cartee had a distinctive way of scribing the "BT" letters on the lower blaze. He scribed the "B" upside down with the convex curved segments facing up. He made the straight line segment of the "B" horizontal and used it as the "top" of his "T" by then making a single short, straight line running downward at an angle. At the east quarter of Section 24, established by LaFayette Cartee on Thursday October 18th, 1860, the BLM had set a brass cap after they determined Cartee’s corner to be "lost" and its position calculated by singleproportion during their 1969 survey along the range line. Previously, in 1951, a local surveyor had set a basalt stone with "1/4" chiseled into it about 40 feet to the west. Regarding that 1951 stone, the BLM declared "this point was established using improper procedure and is not utilized in this survey". Being curious types, we naturally wanted to look for the original 1860 BTs which consisted of "an Oak 8" dia bears N 70 E, 0.20 ch" and "an Oak 5" dia bears S 18 W, 0.58 ch". After much searching, we found an Oak stub that had what looked to be a very small area of "curly wood" at the base. This "overgrowth" is the tree’s attempt to cover up a scar, such as the axeflattened blaze of a surveyor and any marks he may have scribed on it. The "overgrowth’ slowly spreads over the blaze from each edge, filling any scribe marks with new wood and eventually after many years, can completely cover the site where bare wood was exposed. I carefully removed this one remaining curly fragment and turning it over revealed a clear imprint of a portion of Cartee’s unique 1860 scribing of the letters "BT" with his trademark "T" utilizing the straight line of the "B" as its top. It is amazing to me that this little fragment of white oak, that hadn’t seen the light of day for 131 years, was the only evidence remaining of the 1860 scribed blaze that had long since rotted away. Much of the credit for this corner recovery should go to Dave Simes, my instrument man, who located several "stump patterns" matching the 1860 geometry and drew my attention to them on the steep, rocky hillside. After establishing the true corner position at record bearing and distance from the recovered 1860 BT, we then found the rotted stub of the other Oak BT at its proper location. The 1969 BLM brass cap was about 4½ feet, N 60 W from the actual corner position. After I notified their Portland office, the BLM surveyors examined the evidence and remonumented both this corner and the east quarter corner of Section 36, and then resurveyed the east line of section 24. On July 31, 1991, Wayne Gardner, Chief Cadastral Surveyor of Oregon, filed a "corrective dependent resurvey of a portion of the east boundary, T. 4 S., R. 11 E., Willamette Meridian, Oregon, designed to restore the corners in their true original locations according to the best available evidence". Thus we ended a very pleasant springtime outing in the wilds of the Wy’East country.

"Chuck" Whitten graduated in 1967 from Oregon State University with a BS in Forest Engineering and is currently a licensed Land Surveyor in Oregon and Washington. He worked for the Washington Department of Natural Resources from 1967 to 1972 and then for Hagedorn, Inc., a private survey firm in Vancouver, WA as a Project Manager from 1972 until his retirement in 2009 and lives near Battle Ground, WA in a house he and his wife Sharon built themselves in 1976-77. One of his hobbies since retirement has been recovering and monumenting original GLO section corners under a volunteer agreement with the Willamette National Forest.

A 6.040Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE