T2S R24E MDM, 1883


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.

pa0500971.jpgTenaya Lake and western edge of the Cathedral Range (right), with Mt Conness on the Sierra crest in the distant background

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.


3 thoughts on “T2S R24E MDM, 1883

    • Yes, his photos are spectacular, thanks for providing that link! The other earlier photographers include Edward Muybridge and Charles Weed. All were among the earliest Yosemite photographers. Watkins had many of his glass plate negatives destroyed by the ’06 quake unfortunately.

  1. The Merced River as shown on the above plat is pretty drastically out of position (over two miles too far east on the south boundary), but according to the map I have (the 1948 edition of a 1:125,000 USGS map of Yosemite National Park based on plane table surveys made between 1893 and 1909 which shows section lines in the areas that were supposed to have been surveyed by the GLO), it does pass through the southwest part of the township. Also, while the plat does not accurately show any of the lakes in the township, Tenaya Lake is several miles to the northwest in T1S R23E.

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