The above is just one of the many fraudulent survey plat maps produced by the notorious Benson Syndicate, cadastral land survey criminals extraordinaire in the western United States, especially California. It shows the map for the area defined by the Public Land Survey System as Township 2 South, Range 24 East, Mt. Diablo Meridian, California, 1883. [Survey townships are 6 x 6 miles in extent, 36 sections of one square mile each.] The area mapped here includes part of what is now (but was not then) the high country of Yosemite National Park, near the alpine rock climbing nirvana known as the Cathedral Range.
Cadastral (land parcel) survey maps very often included topographic information in them. The only tributary of the shown “Merced River” that runs through this area is now known as Tenaya Creek. It flows through the spectacular Tenaya Canyon between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. However, its course is almost perpendicular to the northwest course shown on the map! The labeled “Divide Between Merced River and Lyells Fork” in the upper right would represent the crest of the Cathedral Range and is reasonably accurate, but the prominent Tenaya Lake on its western edge is completely missing. These are strong clues that the surveyor simply sketched in some prominent topography of the area, as visible from some high point, but did no actual running of survey lines except perhaps around the perimeter. Lots of different tricks were used by this outfit.
The topography of the area was not well known at the time, but neither was it completely unknown; if the map had been seen by some earlier topographic survey parties, including those of the California Geological Survey (1863-1867), or the US Army’s “Wheeler Survey” (1879-80), it would quickly have been recognized as bogus and rejected. In fact, evidence leading to the Syndicate’s indictment in federal court was obtained in just this way. Interestingly, I have retraced a number of the survey lines by this same surveyor (S.A. Hanson), finding original evidence exactly as described in the survey field notes, west of this area, so those surveys are perfectly fine. That evidence consists of stone monuments, blazed trees along the survey line, and bearing trees at exact locations.
The top photo was taken at the master repository for most General Land Office survey notes and maps, archived by the Bureau of Land Management just outside Washington DC.