PLSO The Oregon Surveor September/October 2021

24 The Oregon Surveyor | Vol. 44, No. 5 Surveyors News Surveyors in the News By Pat Gaylord, PLS Jumbled Land Claims in the M any a surveyor has scratched their heads over the configurations of the donation land claims and the locations of our roads. How in the world did those early settlers decide what to claimand, by the way, why don’t the roads fit the right-of-way map? Apparently, this has been a puzzle for Oregonians for a century or more and this writer held noth- ing back. And, yes, the article has an odd ending. The Oregonian Friday Morning February 17, 1922 Wild Ways Of Land Locators What the “Donation Claim” Filers Whose Compasses Had Epileptic Fits, Did to Later Federal Surveys and Land Maps of the Wil- lamette Valley—Don’t Believe a Valley Road is Straight on the Map, for It Isn’t Nobody should criticize the Pilgrim Fa- thers of Oregon, for almost anything that they did or didn’t do; they were too busy hunting bears and being hunted by the In- dians, too anxious about enough food for thewives and babies for the comingwinter, to waste much time in hunting hypothet- ical future evils to correct. And still, the land titles in the part of Or- egon that was first settled, the “donation claims” lines that gyrate so madly across the map of the Willamette Valley, make the present generation wonder exactly how and why they did it as they did—how people possibly could lay out such land lines in a country they expected to devel- op and improve. A “donation claim,” as laid out in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, was a plot of ground, up to 640 acres, that any settlermight claimand hold byoccupancy. Thecountrywasnot surveyed for many years; some of the Willamette valley donation claims antedated the sur- veys by 20 or more years. There was no base line from which to locate anything; if there was a compass in the country in the ‘40’s, it must have been on a strike, or bewitched, or else themagnetic polemust have been out on a jamboree so that the compass trailed around like a crazy jackrab- bit trying to follow the cardinal directions. “Caterwampus” Surveys A donation claimmight be laid out in any form that the donee desired. It could be square, or round, or “slaunch-wise” in any direction; it could be a pyramid, an ellipse, a polygon of as many sides as the owner wished to make it. Lands were laid off by starting from some natural monument, a tree or rock or a stake, and then were al- lowed to scatter like rays of light or a flock of quail two jumps ahead of an eager pup. It is doubtful if there are two of these dona- tion claims in the whole Willamette valley laid out in the form of a perfect square; certainly there is not one such claim that coincides with the sectional maps com- piled when the official survey was made, years later. When the survey did come, the surveyors found roads, towns, and claims subdivided fromone to 50 times, with utter disregard to the sectional maps which they were to prepare. They laid out their official surveys without regard to these old lines, for the purpose of legal description; a map with these two systems of boundaries looks like a composite photograph of a cow and an insect, or a Chinese joss and the winner in a beauty show. They simply don’t coincide; they don’t mix any better than kerosene and candy, or gunpowder and fire. Even on the paper maps one can hear them blackguarding each other and threaten- ing to spit in each other’s eye and cut each other’s accursed throats. “Cultivating Field of Litigation” The resulting discrepancies of surveys has made the Willamette valley the paradise of abstractors. But an abstractor has to be a wise wizard in interpreting titles; if he begins to guess even a hair’s breadth, the facts will come along and kick him into painstaking sanity. Some of these early claims were laid out with themeandering public road as a base. As the roads themselves were laid out merely for convenience, they took no ac- count of cardinal directions. The thought of a future when they’d have land subdi - visions and abstractors, seems to have interested the Oregon donation claimants about as much as Paris fashions agitate the pollywogs in Patagonia. So they plas- tered their claims on the face of the map, like the parlor game of “Pin the tail on the donkey,” and they certainly pinned it in strange fashion! Progressive Irregularity One can take the township plats as exhib- ited in theMarion county assessor’s office, and spot every “first settler” in his commu - nity. He will have a claim laid out in fairly regular lines; itmay even have one or up to four square corners, and it is quite certain to have close to 640 acres. But the later comer, limited in his choice, was certain to go off on a tangent of his own; natural boundaries, such as creeks, or patchwork claims that took all that was left between other larger and more desirable filings, begin to crowd in; until the veriest hodge- podge of boundary lines appears. Inmaking abstracts, the titles run back to a “base,” which is the date to which the origi- nal donation claims appear as a unit. After that date some are still described bymetes and bounds, but most titles were reduced