Land Boundary Monuments, Past and Present (3 of 6)

The notes for the homestead entry survey will call for a memorial stone set beneath the surface monument. I was asked to recover a corner at Hebgen Lake, which fell on the north shore, and was submerged part of the year. The stone had fallen due to the wave action of the water. A private survey performed before the stone had fallen existed which tied this location to an existing monument. By retracing this line, we were able to carefully scrape away the silt and locate the marked memorial stone in place several inches below the surface. This memorial stone was about 4 inches by 7 inches by 3 inches, and was marked with a cross on the upper face. In this instance we tied the monument to references (just in case) and then set a tribrach over the cross. With some effort we were able to dig the hole deep enough to reset the memorial and then place the surface monument (which was about 30 inches long) over it. In this case I set two brass capped iron witness monuments above high water line.

In another instance I was asked to find the corner of a homestead entry survey that had been remonumented by the Bureau of Land Management with the standard large brass cap. A fence builder had cleaned out the old fence line with a bulldozer, and had destroyed the new surface monument at the same time. A little search turned up both the brass cap and the original surface stone a little distance away in a pile of debris. The brass caps on other stones in the area were at least 12 inches out of the ground, and I considered it more than possible that the memorial had been set several inches deeper than that, when the size of the surface stone was taken into account. Again, by using existing monuments, I was able to locate a search area. After careful excavation, we located the undisturbed memorial. Replacement of the brass cap, with the original stone set alongside, was done as I have described above.

Bearing Trees
As a further safeguard for the location of a corner, whether on a survey on public or private lands, bearing trees can be established, with recorded bearings and distances from the stone or metal monument marking the exact corner. This practice has been followed for many years on both public and private surveys.

In wooded areas in western Montana the trees are primarily conifers. To establish a fir, spruce, or pine bearing tree, the surveyor would choose preferably two or three trees less than thirty feet, if possible, from the corner, and in different quadrants, if possible. A blaze, about four inches wide and 24 to 30 inches long, would be cut into the cambium on the side of the tree facing the corner. (Occasionally the bark would be peeled and the cambium would not be cut.) Additionally, a diagonal hack would sometimes be cut at the bottom of the blaze. This hack will probably be visible on the stump, should the tree fall victim to a logger. Identifying letters and numbers would then be scribed into the blaze with a timber scribe, a clever but simple device for cutting straight lines and arcs of circle to form letters and numerals. If you inspect a scribed bearing tree, look for a letter or number with an arc. If you look closely, you will see a small indent in the center of the letter or numeral that marks the spot where the compass point of the scribe was placed. You will find few if any bearing trees done by experienced surveyors that do not have the letters "BT" scribed at the bottom of the blaze.

Bearing trees are read commencing at the top. If the only trees available are smooth barked trees such as aspen or cottonwood, the cut into the cambium may be omitted, and the scribing done directly into the bark. If the conifer dies and rots, the scribed portion, which has become hardened, may survive many years intact. It seems to me that when bearing trees fall, they almost always fall scribed side down! Occasionally, if the area has been logged by an observant logger, the cut will be made above the scribed area, and the information will be intact. You will be particularly lucky if logging equipment has not crushed the stone.

Here is a one-of-a-kind story. In searching for a mineral survey monument northwest of Butte in a thickly wooded area of new growth, I saw a stump about six feet tall and nine inches in diameter. The tree had been marked for a bearing tree. Upon examination, I found that the tree had been cut at the ground with a cross-cut saw; the top was removed, leaving the six foot portion with the blaze, and then placed back on the stump and nailed down with a half dozen bridge spikes! The stone was still in place.

I have not found any blazed and scribed bearing trees in central Texas. The common method of marking a bearing tree was (and is) to cut a large "X" on the side facing the monument to be witnessed. As a distinguishing mark, the surveyor may choose to cut one or more horizontal hacks above and/or below the "X." In the area with which I am familiar, the live oak is the tree of choice, although any tree of some permanence, such as a mesquite, will do.

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The Best Kept Secrets in Montana Surveying Law
Curtis M. Brown, Land Surveyor and Author
How to Live in the Woods
Land Boundary Monuments, Past and Present