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THE BOUNDARIES OF THE PUBLIC SURVEYS NOT TO BE CHANGED.
Congress, as early as the year 1805, laid down certain general principles in regard to the unchangeableness of the lines and corners established by government surveyors, which have continued operative down to the present time, and are still in full force. These principles are contained in the second section of an act entitled "An act concerning the mode of Surveying the Public Lands of the United States," approved February 11th, 1805, and are as follows, to wit:
1st. "All the CORNERS marked in the surveys returned by the Surveyor-General, shall be established as the proper corners of sections or subdivisions of sections which they were intended to designate; and the corners of half and quarter sections, not marked on said surveys, shall be placed as nearly as possible equidistant from those two corners which stand on the same line."
2d. "The BOUNDARY LINES actually run and marked in the surveys returned by the Surveyor-General, shall be established as the proper boundary lines of the sections or subdivisions for which they were intended; and the length of such lines as returned by the Surveyor-General aforesaid, shall be held and considered as the true length thereof."
Experience has demonstrated the wisdom of this enactment; no law ever passed by Congress has contributed so much to prevent disputes in regard to boundaries of the public lands. Considering the extent of territory over which the public surveys have been extended, embracing whole states now thickly settled with people, and affecting interests involving many thousands of dollars, cases of litigation growing out of disputed boundaries are surprisingly rare.
The law referred to enunciates the unvarying rule, that
all corners of the public surveys marked in the field and duly returned by the Surveyor-General, shall stand as the true corners which they were intended to designate. It will be understood that only such boundaries as are established by the Surveyor-General or the deputy surveyor, in the line of their official duties, and in pursuance of law, come under this rule. If, for instance, the Surveyor-General were to return a section divided into irregular tracts not recognized by the laws governing the survey of the public lands, such boundaries would not stand.
A case of this description in the State of Alabama was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1845. (3d Howard, pp. 650-73.) In this case the Surveyor-General returned the plat of a fractional section divided into two lots of unusual form and unrecognized areas, instead of returning one full quarter section and remaining fractions, as required by the law of 1820. The decision of the court was as follows:
"There is nothing in any of the acts of Congress to authorize the division made by the Surveyor-General, and it being a violation of the laws and contrary to the duties of his office, it must be regarded as void."
But where the corners are established by the proper officer in pursuance of the system of subdivision authorized by law, they must be regarded as the true corners which they represent. Even if it is subsequently found that the post is out of line, or that the intervals are unequal or incorrect; no party has a right to correct such errors except the general government, and it possesses the power only while the title to the lands affected by the change is yet in the United States. After the lands have passed into the hands of private parties, the government lines and corners, as marked in the field, must govern in determining the boundaries of all legal subdivisions, when they can be found and identified; when they are missing,
recourse must be had to the official plats and field notes of the government survey. The foregoing remarks apply as well to the lines as to the corners of the public surveys; neither must be changed except by the government agent, under the circumstances mentioned above.
Although this rule may in some instances work a hardship to individuals, giving to one party a larger part and to another a smaller, yet it is one of the conditions under which the parties acquire their land, and the evil in these exceptional cases is immeasurably overbalanced by the advantages of having fixed and unchangeable boundaries to the public lands.
RESTORING OBLITERATED BOUNDARIES.
When extinct lines or corners of the public lands are required to be re-established, a county surveyor or other competent person is usually employed by private parties. It is not the province of the General Land Office to direct the operations of any but government surveyors engaged in the public service; yet, obliterated boundaries must be restored in conformity with the laws and regulations under which they were originally established, and the General Land Office, which is the executive office of the land department, and from which all rules and regulations relative to surveying under the U. S. laws emanate, is the most competent source from which to derive such knowledge as will enable the surveyor to perform his work in a proper manner, and instructions from this source carry with them great weight in the settlement of disputed boundaries.
Information of this character has from time to time been imparted in response to the numerous calls of private surveyors; and the directions which follow are based upon the instructions and correspondence of the office upon the subject, running through many years, and are,
it is believed, sufficiently full and explicit to meet all ordinary cases.
If one uniform method had always been employed in establishing the original corners of the public surveys, it would be an easy matter to lay down rules for restoring such of them as from time to time become obliterated. But the system of surveying has undergone modifications at different periods and in various localities,, which make it impracticable to give fixed rules that will apply in all
For instance, the mode of surveying the exterior and subdivisional lines of a township at one period resulted in establishing two sets of section corners on the township boundary; at a still earlier day three sets were sometimes established on the range lines; and the system now in practice requires that the section lines shall close on the corners previously established on the township exteriors, thus making but one set of corners, except on base lines and standard parallels, where "double corners" are established.
To restore extinct boundaries of the public lands correctly, the surveyor must have some knowledge of the manner in which townships were subdivided by these several methods. Without this knowledge he may be greatly embarrassed in the field, and is liable to mistake the corner of one section for that of another, and thereby be led into error. The following brief explanation of the modes which have been practiced, will be of service to surveyors who may be called upon to restore obliterated. boundaries of the public surveys.
Where two sets of corners were established on township boundaries, one set was planted at the time the exteriors were run, those corners on the north boundary belonging to the sections and quarter sections north of said line, and those on the west boundary belonging to the sections and quarter sections west of the line. The other set of
corners was established when the township was subdivided. The mode of proceeding was as follows: The north-andsouth section lines were run from the corners pre-established on the south boundaries due north, and at the points of intersection with the north boundaries other section corners were erected. The east-and-west section lines were closed on the corners previously established on the east boundary, but were run on a due west course from the last interior section corner to the range line, and new section corners were planted thereon at the points of intersection. It will be seen that this method resulted in establishing two sets of corners on all four sides of the townships.
When three sets of corners were established on the range lines, the subdivisional surveys were made in the same manner as described above, except that the east-and-west lines, instead of being closed on the corners pre-established on the east boundary, were run due east from the last interior section corner, and new corners were erected at the points of intersection with the range line.
The method of subdividing now in practice requires that the section lines be run from the corners on the south boundary and close on the existing corners on the east, north, and west township boundaries, except where said boundary is a base line or standard parallel. This method is described in detail in the preceding pages of the surveying Manual proper.
With these brief preliminary explanations, we will proceed to consider the
MODE OF RESTORING LOST CORNERS.
From what has been said in regard to the unchangeableness of the government surveys, it will be plain that extinct lines or corners must be restored to the exact locality they originally occupied, if possible. It follows,