by Delbert Trew
ever-shifting until 1930
study of a Texas Panhandle survey map of private property reminds
the examiner of a jigsaw puzzle.
Originally, all survey lines were square sections laid out by the
State Land Office in 1876.
What happened since to these originally neat, square metes and bounds
is recorded in the "Shattuck, Oklahoma, History Book." The town is
on Wolf Creek very near the Texas-Oklahoma state line and experienced
many boundary problems.
History states the entire area was home to the Indians until the 1500s
when the Spanish Conquistadors began passing through in the years
1541, 1601 and 1634. England, Spain and France all claimed the area
at various times until the Louisiana Purchase in 1819, making the
United States the new and final owner.
During all changes in previous ownership, the boundaries had been
loosely defined, but in 1819 the first defined wording was introduced.
A part of the eastern boundary of the purchase was described as "starting
at a point on the Red River where the 100th meridian crosses the stream,
thence north to the Arkansas River."
The description was universally accepted but with no natural landmarks
like mountains or rivers prominent from end to end, and as the line
crossed open, rough grasslands the actual location of the boundary
became a problem. Since this was the line between two countries and
would eventually become the line between the states of Texas and Oklahoma,
the actual location of the meridian became significant.
Webster's Dictionary says "a meridian is a great circle on the surface
of the earth passing through the poles and numbered for longitude."
Actually, it is an imaginary line, involving higher mathematics and
fixed stars, like fixing a ship's position at sea.
Five different surveys were made by state and federal entities in
1853,1859,1892, 1902 and 1930. As may be expected, all placed the
meridian at different locations. Between 1859 and 1930, the line was
"officially" moved four times. During this period Texas had become
a state and most land sold to settlers all started at the 100th meridian.
Imagine the confusion in trying to find the correct property line
with the starting point being constantly moved.
The controversial site of the "moving meridian" was settled by a survey
finished in 1930. An astronomical and geodetic engineer named Samuel
Gannett started in 1927, worked mostly at night to avoid daytime shimmering
heat waves and finished the survey in 1929. He took fixations on the
stars, then placed concrete markers every .66 of a mile along the
134 miles of boundary. It is touted today as the most scientifically
accurate boundary line in the United States.
In 1930, 111 years after the 100th meridian was designated as the
boundary by treaty, the Supreme Court ruled the "Gannett Line" was
the true meridian location. Oddly enough, the new line was placed
almost exactly at the original survey line made in 1853, giving some
85,750 Oklahoma acres back to Texas.
A humorous footnote states that for 45 years, one early settler in
the "strip" lived in the same house that never moved, yet the man
"officially" lived in one territory, two states and three counties
during that time.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" >
August 8, 2006 Column