A Long Journey

by   Jerry F. Adamson

Located in Southern Noble County on a farm just south of a road leading to Lake McMurtry are two objects that are not easily recognized by the average person.  These two objects are surveyors monuments, specifically known as Brass Caps to Engineers, Surveyors, and many Ranchers in the Western States.  To be found on this grassy hillside in the Oklahoma country side is a rarity indeed and the explanation is in order.

These two Brass Caps themselves are somewhat rare as their use only occurred on special situations, Then having two in the same proximity is even less likely and then not being used as planned, put these two caps into the category of indeed rare.

It is a long ways from Oklahoma to where they were intended to be used.  A quick lesson in history tells us that when the West was settled, our  forefathers had learned some lessons of life. Animals have been "marking" their territories as a nature act.  Man also has territorial instincts that cause him to want to erect walls, fences and monuments.  In the settlement of the west, it became important to monument the land so as ownership could be established and identified.  The original surveys of the 1800's were performed with instructions to monument with 1. Stone, with Pits and Mound of Earth, or 2. Stone, with mound of Stone, or 3. Stone with Bearing Trees, or even to a Pit with charred stake or quart of charcoal.  The intent was to mark the survey with "greatest permanency".  In many situations, it was difficult to find a suitable marker, thence it was likewise difficult to identify the monument from the rest of the terrain.  It became obvious that re-monumentation must occur before settlement could be effective.

By the early 1900's the settlers and government officials had learned that permanent monuments to be used for marking or identifying land boundaries was a necessity, and the more lasting the better. These two Brass Caps are mounted on a two and one-half inches of inside diameter (three inches of outside diameter), thirty six inches long, wrought-iron, pipe.  Definitely a lasting object.   They were also filled with concrete so as when the pipe  rusted away, a concrete core would still survive to assist in identification. A far improvement over a marked stone with mound of earth.

Now to the Journey. These Brass Caps were manufactured somewhere  east of the Mississippi River about 1910 and probably were shipped via railroad to Carrizozo, New Mexico.  There the Government Surveyor on July 19, 1914 received the brass caps and with a survey party, commenced the survey and re-monumented thousand of acres as per his instructions.

Overlooking the Tularosa basin of New Mexico, at an Elevation of near 8500 feet, located miles from a town, a road, the railroad; in the White Mountain Wilderness, one can see the grandeur of the Southwest.  From this location, White Sands National Monument, Trinity Site (the first atomic bomb), the Capitan Mountain Range, the Malpais Lava Flow, the Sacramento Mountains, one can view 10 million acres of natural wonders.  Here is where the surveyors established the intersection of line between Townships 9 and 10 South  with the line between Townships 10 and 11 East.  Because of surveying errors two monuments were required. Located on a very steep, rocky slope, where hawks and eagles fly with ease, here was the planned destination for these two brass caps.

Somewhere in this Journey of crossing the Midwest, being routed through railroad yards, loaded and off-loaded numerous times, they found they way to the back of a pack animal at Carrizozo, New Mexico. This could have been a mule or a horse, but as the story goes they had gotten within 1/4 mile of their destination when somehow there trip was interrupted.  Different rumors exist as to whether the mule fell off the trail or the crew got drunk, but on a spring day in 1979, the location was found and six Brass Caps were recovered at a location on slightly sloping terrain on the Spring Canyon Trail about 100 yards below the junction with a trail going northerly, all of which is about one-half mile north of Spring Cabin.  They were lightly covered with Forest debris of leaves and needles.  Four of these monuments are commonly called one-quarter corners (dividing a Section into four parts) and the other two, known as township  corners, for monumenting Township Corners (every six miles).

The rumors can be dismissed by the US Surveyors Official Field Notes dated July 31, 1914.  He states "I discontinue this resurvey " ..... "for the reason that extensive retracements of the lines " ...."failed to develop any evidence of the location of the original corner" .... "and expensive resurveys would have been necessary to have re-established said corner, and further, there was no immediate necessity for its re-establishment". He now had two large monuments that he did not need.  He could have anticipated the need to return to complete the survey and left the monuments at a convenient location.

In June and July , 1922, these two corners were established and a different U.S. Surveyor placed similar appearing brass caps at these corners to monument the locations. These monuments are at elevation 8368 and 8604.

Upon discovery in 1979, the Four smaller Monuments found a permanent home in Tularosa, New Mexico.  The two larger ones have continued the journey.  After being temporarily in the Tularosa Basin Soil, they found their way to the Rio Grande Valley near Los Lunas, thence a journey easterly to the Ozarks of Oklahoma, finally finding a permanent home on this grassy slope in North Central Oklahoma.  Here they enjoy a view that they did not see for 65 years.

These two Monuments have a Brass Cap, 3 1/4 inches in diameter, and marked "U. S. GENERAL LAND OFFICE SURVEY  "-191 " and "Penalty $250 for removal".  There are void of the Field Stamping that would have occurred at the site upon placement and then would have been recorded in the Official Notes of the GLO and listed on the property records of the General Land Office.

One could argue that these caps are still government property. Government attorneys always maintained that "the government never looses anything nor gives anything away".  Most persons of compassion and I would argue 1. that on July 31, 1914 the U. S. Surveyor as an employee of the U.S. General Land Office did with knowledge and intent, abandon the Brass Caps Monuments.  2. That for sixty five years the Brass Caps lay at this known location without any attempt of any government official from Bureau of Land Management or its predecessor, the General Land Office, to recover;  and 3., that no property records have been kept on these caps as like all other government property including like survey monuments, specifically thousands of brass caps , that have extensive documentation as to locations and condition.

Since 1979, I can personally attest that I have seen road runners use one of these Brass Caps for a perch to visually enhance his ability to find food.  I have seen quail also use them to look for their enemy , the road runner.  I have seen desert lizards lie in the shade of them, I have seen a snakes inspect them for the scent of another animal,  various grasshoppers, butterflies and other insects have used them.  I have seen dogs use the monuments to mark "their " territory.  I have seen similar monuments used by animals for various purposes including cows and calves, they just love to rub against them.  In southeast New Mexico in the desert climate I have seen where cattle have literally rubbed and licked the stamping off of the cap. The cap is so "shiney" that the sun reflection will illuminate the cap for several thousand yards.

These Brass Caps since being rescued from the shadows of the Forest have been surrounded by both native and domestic vegetation growing "belly deep to a tall horse".  They also have been companion to thousands of animals and insects. Therefore, I would argue that these Brass Cap Monuments have become part of the natural domain and thus are no longer property of the government and no longer needed to marked man's property but are for natures usage. They now rest after a long Journey.

Published in Perry (Oklahoma)  Daily Journal,  Three parts, October 3, 7 and 10, 1997. (without photographs)