Marking a Turning Point
On Aug. 30, 1875, Deputy Surveyor Charles L. DuBois stood on an open plateau above the Uintah River Valley. His instructions were to “select the most available point within the reserve for an initial point” from which the survey of the Uintah Valley Reservation would commence. The point DuBois was about to select would mark more than a physical location. It would mark a turning point in American history.
The idea to rehabilitate the Initial Point of the Uintah Special Meridian in eastern Utah came up at the May 2009 board meeting of the Utah Council of Land Surveyors (UCLS). From a surveyor’s perspective, the initial point, recently marked by a 16-penny nail in the rural intersection of two roads, didn’t present much of a challenge. Research of the point’s history revealed that its position had been marked in 1953 by a brass cap, which lay 3 feet below the surface of the roadway. The rehabilitation project wouldn’t require much more than a few hours of excavation, a new pipe and cap extended to the surface, a bit of concrete, and an access cover to restore the point’s utility for future surveys.
I suggested that this project might be of some interest to the CFedS program administrators and could provide an opportunity to coordinate their work with the tribal land surveys. Uintah County Surveyor John Slaugh immediately began presenting the idea to the Ute tribal council, and Jerry Allred, county surveyor of the adjoining Duchesne (pronounced Doo-Shane) County, approached the county commissioners. I initiated contacts with Don Buhler, chief cadastral surveyor at the BLM Washington, D.C., office; Dan Webb, chief cadastral surveyor of the BLM Utah office; and Roger Green, CFedS program manager.
Everyone we contacted responded with an unexpected enthusiasm for the project. The consensus grew in favor of not only rehabilitating the point but also including a historical roadside marker to commemorate the establishment of the initial point. Focused on the surveying and historical aspects, we had no idea of what the project would really entail, how much it would cost, or how we would ever accomplish the task. What started as a simple rehabilitation project had mushroomed into a community project that would become the focal point of the UCLS annual fall forum.
A simple Google search for “Uintah Special Meridian” reveals a tale of westward expansion and pioneer settlement as well as a clash between cultures of the Indians and European immigrants. The initial point not only established a geodetic position for the start of the surveys, it also marked a pivotal change in federal Indian policy, which was previously dominated by removal, treaties and war. The period following the point’s establishment led to the allotment of the reservation lands and, ultimately, the pioneer settlement of nearly half of those lands.
The story of the initial point began with a letter penned by Samuel C. Stanbaugh, surveyor general of Utah, concerning the pending survey and settlement of the Uintah Valley by Mormon settlers. On Oct. 3, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln, in immediate response to Stanbaugh’s warning, issued a proclamation for “the entire valley of the Uintah River within Utah Territory, extending on both sides of said river to the crest of the first range of contiguous mountains on each side, to be reserved to the United States and set apart as an Indian reservation” encompassing 2,180,000 acres. Congress confirmed President Lincoln’s 1861 action on May 5, 1864, creating the Uintah Valley Reservation. The land was “set apart for permanent settlement and exclusive occupation of such of the different tribes of Indians of [Utah] territory as may be induced to inhabit the same.”
A treaty was concluded with the Ute Indians of eastern Utah on June 8, 1865, in which they ceded all their land claims in eastern Utah except for the Uintah Valley, which was reserved for their exclusive use and occupation. This treaty was never ratified by Congress. By 1870, most members of the Tumpanawach, San Pitch, Pahvant, Sheberetch, Cumumba, and the Uintah bands of Utes relocated to the reservation and became absorbed into the Uintah band.
In the 1860s, the Uintah Valley Reservation consisted of a vast area of land far removed from any pioneer settlement. The valley was accessed by a single wagon road extending 200 miles from Salt Lake City over rough and uneven terrain, rivers, streams and mountain passes. Brigham Young’s 1861 settlement scouting party described the isolated area as “one vast contiguity of waste … valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together.”
Throughout the coming decade, despite the remoteness of the reservation, pioneer settlement extended closer, threatening to encroach upon the reservation lands and providing the impetus for a survey of the reservation boundaries. In 1875, news came of measuring off the land, causing the Utes to speculate as to what was going to happen to them. Would they be moved again?
On Aug. 3, 1875, Nathan Kimball, surveyor general in Salt Lake City, was authorized to enter Contract No. 64 with DuBois to establish the southwest and northeast boundaries from the Green River to the base of the Uintah Mountains by surveying and marking the line with monuments placed at one-mile intervals. DuBois and his party arrived at the agency in the latter part of August and commenced operations. He selected the site for the Initial Point of the Uintah Special Meridian, marked it with a “mound of stone 6 feet in diameter at the base by 4 feet high, with a stone 20in x 12in x 10in on the top marked I.P. 1875” and commenced his survey north, south, east and west from this point. (This description provided the impetus for the design of the historical marker that now commemorates the survey.)
DuBois’ instructions provided for a unique survey process called the three-mile method. The method involved dividing the land not only into townships measuring 6 miles by 6 miles with 36 sections in each township and placing stone monuments at one-half mile intervals but also further dividing each section into 40-acre allotments by setting a stone monument at every corner of each 40-acre tract. By June 30, 1876, DuBois had run 1,300 miles of line, set more than 4,000 stone monuments, and subdivided more than 161,000 acres of Uintah Indian Reservation land.
The change in federal Indian policy from 1870 to 1900 focused on breaking up communal living on the reservations by granting land allotments to individual Indians, a concept completely foreign to their culture. The land had provided their needs like a mother would a child; it was more closely associated with ancestral heritage than a thing to be possessed. However, the U.S. government believed that the Indian population could be better assimilated into American society if they were given ownership and responsibility of their own tract of land, making it no longer necessary for the government to oversee Indian welfare. In his annual report to Congress on Aug. 15, 1878, J.J. Critchlow, Indian agent for the Uintah Reservation, expresssed the “uneasiness” caused by “constant apprehension that some radical change, either in their location or in the administration of their affairs, will take place, and thus interfere with all their industrial pursuits. They are afraid that this reservation will be thrown open to white settlers, they will be removed to some other place, and thus lose all their labor.”
In Critchlow’s twelfth and final annual report dated Sept. 1, 1882, he observed, “some of the clouds that darkened our prospects at the commencement of the year have passed away without any violent storms, and that the prospects for future comfort and prosperity are more encouraging.” Yet fewer than five years after Critchlow’s departure, the clouds would begin to amass once more and culminate with a torrent.
The General Allotment Act of February 8, 1887 (the Dawes Act) provided that all Indians on or off a reservation would be allotted a tract of land from 20 acres up to 160 acres depending upon the type of land being allotted.4 Fifteen years later, the Indian Appropriations Act of May 27, 19025 required all allotments within the Uintah Reservation be completed by Oct. 1, 1903 (later extended to Sept. 1, 1905)6 and the remainder of the reservation to be restored to public domain and sold to homesteaders for $1.25 per acre.
In a flurry of response to the 1902 act, a rush of surveys was simultaneously commenced in an effort to complete the exterior boundary marking and the interior subdivision of the reservation. Arthur H. and Fred M. Brown were commissioned to run and mark one-mile and half-mile monuments along all but 41 previously established miles of the 314 mile reservation perimeter. During the years from 1903 to 1905, no fewer than 20 individual General Land Office survey crews were contracted to survey the interior sections and subdivisions of the reservation land.
On April 3, 1905, a commission composed of Army Capt. C.G. Hall, acting Indian agent of the Uintah Agency; W.H. Code, chief engineer of the Indian Irrigation Service; and Charles S. Carter, a citizen of Utah who was long familiar with local conditions and the needs of the Indians, was appointed to allot land to the Indians and to select the lands to be reserved for use in connection with Indian service. By June of 1905, all allotments had been completed. Heads of a family were given 80 acres with an additional 40 acres to each other person.
By presidential proclamation on July 14, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt declared all unallotted lands in the Uintah Indian Reservation open for settlement under the provisions of the homestead and town-site laws. Hundreds of non-Indian “heads of households” lined up around the land office to pay their $1.25 per acre. Of the original 2,180,000-acre Uintah Reservation, roughly 104,000 acres were allotted to individual Indian families and 1,072,000 acres held in trust for their benefit as grazing, timber and reservoir lands. The remaining 1,004,000 acres were returned to the public domain.
What had begun as an idea to simply rehabilitate the initial point monument turned into a commemoration project with the goal of recognizing not only the survey but also the greater impact of the related historic events.
The Uintah County commissioners stepped forward with a donation from their tourism fund to construct a highway turnout for the placement of a historical marker as well as all construction costs for the marker itself. The Utah Council of Land Surveyors determined to cover the cost of recovering the monument position, raising it to grade, and installing a custom cast brass marker and access cover. The Tapoof family agreed to donate the land, investing part of their ancestral heritage.
A CAD drawing of the site plan generated by John Slaugh accompanied by a marker design I had compiled from DuBois’ field-note description provided enough information for the county road crew and Brad Murray of Murray Masonry Construction in Vernal, Utah, to construct the historical marker. A 240-pound custom-cut sandstone manufactured by Devin Taylor of American Monument in Harrisville, Utah, and donated by UCLS was mounted atop the historical marker. Working closely with the tribal historical committee, I generated the language and the graphics layout for the three Novalloy plaques, which recount the historical events prior to, during and after the DuBois survey. The plaques were produced by John Peters of Interpretive Graphics Signs & Systems. One hundred fifty high-polish commemorative brass cap paperweight replicas of the initial point, manufactured by Berntsen International Inc., were donated to each registered participant by the Uintah County Commission with the condition that the registration fees for the fall forum participants would be reduced by $40.
While construction of the turnout and marker was under way, a group of surveyors representing the BLM, Uintah County, Duchesne County and the Utah Council of Land Surveyors joined forces at the intersection of Highway 121 and 3500 East Street, approximately five miles east of Enola, Utah, to recover the position of the initial point. The group excavated to a depth of 3 feet below the highway surface recovering the last-known relic witnessing its official position--a 4-inch-diameter brass cap set by cadastral surveyor Andrew Nelson in June 1953. (The 1953 survey was undertaken as an administrative policy of the BLM to restore all initial points of the public land surveys because of their great historical value.) A new brass cap, positioned directly above the 1953 monument, was installed under a specially constructed cover cast with the words “Initial Point,” making the position more accessible for future land boundary surveys. The final construction costs--completely paid for through public, private and UCLS donations--are estimated to have exceeded $30,000, the greater part of the funds being donated by the Uintah County commissioners from their tourism fund.
The impact of the event wasn’t fully understood by most of the 135-plus people who gathered for the dedication ceremony on the morning of Sept. 18, 2009. The setting of the brass cap marker and observation of its new position using the Trimble R8 GPS equipment held the fascination of some of the surveyors present.
But the real spirit overshadowing the event was unmistakable as Larry Cesspooch (translated Whitebelly), Ute spiritual storyteller, began speaking. “I have struggled with what to say today because this is not a good thing for us,” he said, referring to his tribal members. “It’s like showing you something that’s always going to remind you what happened. But we can’t change the past. We can only move forward.” He then proceeded around the marker in prayer beginning at the north, following the compass points to the east, south and west, and finishing by again facing north. Cesspooch blessed the historical marker with a nearly inaudible traditional Ute prayer while waving an eagle wing across a smoldering rope of sweet grass. “What comes through the eagle feathers comes from the Maker. The sweet grass smoke can change negative to positive. … You all have souls,” he said. “Pray for the same thing.”
Jerry Tapoof expressed his mixed sentiments, as well. While considering it an honor to dedicate a portion of his family’s land--a portion of their heritage--for the construction of the highway turnout and marker, there was, as he said, the other side to the story. However, despite his mixed feelings, he said, “We have to come together as human beings.”
At a gathering following the dedication, a presentation was made by Dan Webb on the history of the surveys following in the footsteps of C.L. DuBois. Danial Perry, assistant professor, Engineering and Graphics Design Technology department, Utah Valley University, gave a presentation on a key corner recovery project of the corners of the Uintah Reservation boundary funded by a Communities of Engaged Learning grant. I made a presentation on the history of the reservation, much of which has been recounted here, with the hope that I would be able to instill, if only briefly, some of the passions stirred by my involvement with this project. Following my presentation, three half-size (20 x 45-inch) framed reproductions of the “Wagon Road from Salt Lake City to Uintah Agency, Utah, October 1878” were presented to the Uintah and Duchesne county commissions and to the Ute tribe to thank them for their support of the commemoration project and to convey UCLS’s desire to improve the highway of communication between the county governments, the Ute tribe and the surveying profession through the Certified Federal Surveyor program. Commemorative brass cap replicas of the initial point were also given to members of the Tapoof family for their generous gift of their family’s heritage, without which none of the project would have been possible.
Many books have been written about surveying and the particular marks left upon the surface of the Earth. This project, which opened my eyes to the heritage of the Ute people and the strength of their character, left its mark upon me.
1. Initial Points of the Rectangular Survey System, C. Albert White; 430 (1996)
2. Deseret News, Sep 25, 1861
3. Indian Agent J.J. Critchlow, of the Uintah Agency, served from 1870 to 1882 during a time when appointed agents typically served between a few months to two years. He is still considered a “white hero” by the Ute tribe.
4. 24 Stat. L. 388
5. 32 Stat. L. 263
6. 33 Stat. L. 1069
7. On April 2, 1902, The New York Times ran the headline, “Uintah Fight Compromise – Bill Throwing Open Indian Lands Reported to Senate – Outcome of Dispute Over Certain Mining Lease Grants – Partial Victory for People of Utah.” Along with a report of “queer things” showing government officials engaged in lease grants of reservation land, the article announced that “the representation made to the Indians was that, if they did not agree to the lease, their ‘Great Father’ at Washington would take their lands away from them.”