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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Surveying, mother of invention

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
After writing a recent column on salt, I found an amazing story of a natural salt-producing lake near El Paso.

This historic old salt lake named Sal del Rey, has been providing 99 2/5 percent pure salt since before America was discovered. It covers about 640 acres, is perfectly level, oval in shape and lies only inches above sea level.

Water bearing salt brine rises a few inches deep in the lake bottom each day. The prevailing winds from the southwest push the water northeast during the daytime. At night, when the winds die down, the water reverses its path back southwest by nature of gravity leaving behind a layer of pure salt to be harvested. This process, developed by nature, is perfect and has been repeated daily as long as anyone can remember.

In 1928, after the discovery of oil on the North Fork of the Red River at Lefors, the Texas attorney general made an attempt to seize seven privately owned producing oil wells for the state's benefit. His reasoning was, Texas law says the State owns the land under any navigable river. He claimed the Lefors property, along with the producing wells were located on an island in the navigable North Fork river.

The scheme failed in court when it was proved although Lefors was built on river silt, it is not an island and the river could only be navigable during flood stage.

When the new state of Texas opened up the Bexar Public Domain for settlement in 1846, it created counties, townships and sections drawn on a map. But, since the new state had no money to hire surveyors, the homesteaders and land purchasers were expected to locate and survey their own land and submit the surveys to the state for title.

At that time, there were few professional surveyors anywhere nor any surveying equipment available for use. Almost anyone who could do arithmetic and write was hired to run the surveys. Methods used were limited only by the imagination of the surveyor.

Some tied rags on their wagon wheel, measured the circumference of the wheel and counted the revolutions turned then multiplied to find the distance traveled. A few measured the distance their horse stepped, counted the steps and multiplied.

If that was not confusing enough, all started their surveys at the 100th meridian, which changed many times before being set by the courts in 1929. These changes and odd measuring techniques resulted in many survey corrections later when property lines were resurveyed by professionals.

One exception is noted. In the 1850s, a surveyor named James E. Patton was hired to measure Ellis County land around Waxahachie. Having no proper surveying equipment he made a leather hobble to slip over his ankles limiting the length of his step which was measured.

Using a compass, he patiently laid out the metes and bounds of the lands, staking the corners and recording his numbers. In later years, when his original stakes were checked by professional surveyors, they were so close to accurate they were left intact and made legal.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"

September 18, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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This page last modified: September 18, 2007