Albert Lillie uses modern technology to tie the information for the historical corner.
In Coos County, Ore., of the Great Pacific Northwest, the crew of the Coos County Surveyors Office must have a diversity of knowledge from today’s high technology of lasers, robotic instruments, GPS units and computer programs, to old-fashioned (and often hard labored) searching for evidence of original positions—the points of beginning.

Although our crew has the ability and knowledge to operate the high tech equipment, there is nothing like the feeling of finding the original scribes made in the 1800s, or finding the original wooden post with scribes on it in a swamp, or finding a square hole 12" deep in the ground where a 4"x 4" wooden post was set by the original surveyor. To find original positions, you must have the knowledge and dedication to get all the facts by researching the history of the corner. You must study the original government survey done over a century or two before, paying special attention to creek and ridge calls. The government surveyor will tell you which direction he’s going, which helps a great deal when you’re matching the ridge and creek calls to the quadrangle map. The surveyor will often tell you which direction the ridges and creeks are running. With a skillful eye you can retrace the survey onto the quad map. This can help you decide which side of the ridge the corner is on.

The surveyor normally sets a wooden post or marks a rock for the corner, and blazes several trees for reference. As you continue down the history sheet for this corner, you’ll sometimes see the original tree or stump that was found throughout the years. Our crew in Coos County finds original scribes made in the 1800s quite often, but the scribes are usually already exposed due to the decaying of the stumps or from previous surveyors who chopped into the old stumps. After doing homework on the corner, a Coos County surveyor must be able to do the physical work and have the persistence to keep looking—even in the cold rain and wind.

In the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of underbrush. With very little visibility you must have a gut feeling that the evidence you’re looking for could be just around the next tree. Pride keeps you going because you know you’ll find it. With our knowledge and experience we search the area thoroughly, and we get very excited when we find a corner in such thick brush. Inevitably though, sometimes pride is damaged by 150 years of decaying evidence.

Albert and his "rare find," a stump with blazes from 1915 made by a surveyor looking for the same stump (with original 1880 blazes), who never knew he actually found it.

Finding the Original Point of Beginning

We in Coos County came across a rare find on March 20, 2002, in T30S-R13W- Sections 4, 5, 8 and 9. Dave Bradshaw, field crew chief, completed a history sheet of information on a particular corner, and Karlas Seidel, RPLS, county surveyor, told us that it would be a great help if we could find the original bearing trees to put this corner back in the original position. After the research was done and all the facts were put together, we were ready to start our physical search for the corner. We studied the original calls, aerial photos and the quad map. The quad map showed us that the corner falls in the snow-topped mountains about 10 miles southwest of a small town called Myrtle Point. It also showed that the corner was just to the east of the top of a ridge that runs north. There is a small swale to the southeast. Being familiar with this area, Dave and I knew that the snow level had recently risen above the elevation of this corner.

It took hours of slashing through the partially snow-covered salmon berries, vine maple, tall wild fern and 8' tall rhododendron. We finally found a position similar to what showed on the map. We determined a search area and started checking every stump or remains of a stump, and sometimes actually dissected a stump completely if we felt it was necessary to locate a possible healed blaze. Finally, we found a large Douglas fir stump, approximately 66" in diameter and 7' tall. The bark showed a possible healed blaze about chest height. The stump was surprisingly sound. To see if this was the stump of the tree marked in 1880 when it was only 35" in diameter, I needed to go back over the mountain to get the power saw. We both knew that it would be worthwhile to take the time to saw into the stump to look for the original scribes.

While I was gone, Dave studied the history sheet again and found that the original government surveyor named Wright in 1880 blazed and scribed a 35" Douglas fir tree. In his notes he stated that the bearing was N35˚W and only 18 links (11.88') away. He also marked a 34" Douglas fir tree N18˚E 15 links (9.9') and set a wooden post for the corner. He was sure that this 66" stump was the one in the northwest quadrant because of the blaze on the southeast side of the stump. Dave searched through the thick brush and found a badly decomposed 50" Douglas fir stump in the northeast quadrant. Even though the two stumps were only about 20' apart, you couldn’t see both stumps until Dave brushed out between them. There was no evidence left on the 50" stump, however, its simply being there was evidence enough if the other stump had scribes in it. He was sure that it was the right one.

I finally made it back with the power saw, but the weather was starting to change for the worse. Dark clouds were forming over us and it was getting late, but Dave and I were excited to find out if there were scribes in that old stump. I sawed out a pie-shaped block of wood. We found a pitch seam that definitely looked like an old blaze covered with an inch of pitch that had preserved all of the original scribes. What a find! We were the first people to see them in 122 years. It was pretty awesome!

By now the snow started falling and it was getting windy and cold. Neither one of us wanted to leave yet because Dave was still cleaning off about 1⁄2" of pitch when he thought he could see another pitch seam at the bottom of my cut. Dave asked me for a flashlight so he could see for sure. We looked at each other with a surprised grin and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Dave remembered that in 1915 a government surveyor named Mensch had been here and that he couldn’t find the bearing tree N35˚W, but he did find the tree N18˚E and the wooden post that Wright had set. So Mensch marked another tree N53˚W 11.8˚. Dave figured it might be possible Wright flopped the bearing numbers from 53˚to 35˚. If this was true, then Mensch marked the same tree 35 years later and didn’t know it. This tree that Mensch marked in 1915 was 44" in diameter. That meant that his blaze should be about 9" out from the base of my cut. We measured out to the pitch seam and guess what—9"!

We were getting cold and wet by that point, but the adrenaline in our bodies wouldn’t let us leave until we found out for sure. Dave held the flashlight while I sawed out another pie-shaped block about waist height—and there it was… under about a 1⁄2" thickness of pitch was the blaze and all the original scribes! What a thrill! It was getting dark so we packed up our gear and headed out with huge grins still on our faces.

The next day all Dave and I could do was talk about our find and how good we felt. It was two days later before we could go back up there because of bad weather. When we got there we could tell that a large bear had taken advantage of our work and cleaned up the ants and termites that had covered the old stumps. We just hoped that he had a belly full because we weren’t leaving. Dave and I checked out the stump in the northeast quadrant, but found nothing. It was too far-gone. But by being there it still helped out with our evidence. We calculated a point from the center of the stump to where Wright’s blaze would have been and put a nail there. We did a distance-distance interest from both stumps and marked a spot on the partially snow-covered ground. According to the history sheet, Mensch found Wright’s wooden post and the northeast bearing tree. It said that the post was in poor condition and he replaced it with a chunk of sandstone measuring 10"x14"x20" with five notches to the south and four notches to the east for the corner. Dave and I started searching this area and found the sandstone with all the notches. Another great find! But the sandstone had been rolled over and was out of position. So we did a distance-distance interest from the original stumps and installed a 2" galvanized pipe, 36" long in the ground and a 3" Coos County brass cap cemented in the pipe. Then we marked four new bearing trees. It was a job well done.

All of the research we had done had paid off. The hard work of cutting brush, falling down and carrying all the equipment was well worth it. To us, good old hard physical work and having the ability to find the “original point of beginning” gives us more satisfaction than operating any high tech equipment.