Abacus Engineering Surveying

(806) 745-7670

2737 81st Street, Lubbock, TX 79423

Grassland with Pink Flowers

The Southwest Corner of Section 1, Block A

The Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A, (Latitude 33° 35’ 32.39669”, Longitude 101°50’ 08.74187”) is located near the center of Lubbock County and is also the Northeast corner of Section 1, Block O, the Section which contains the Original Town of Lubbock. The corner is the Northeast corner of the Original Town of Lubbock. The corner is located at what would be the intersection of 4th Street and Avenue A although these streets do not intersect because the corner is in Yellowhouse Draw and the streets do not and apparently never have extended into the draw. 4th Street no longer exists in this area because it has been replaced by Marsha Sharp Freeway. Were it not for a few Quirks, this corner would be located in the center of a stacked freeway interchange because not only is it located in line with the extension of Marsha Sharp Freeway it is also located in the center of the projection of Interstate Highway 27 were it extended down from the North. In fact, that may be the ultimate fate of this corner. If Lubbock continues to grow at some time the Marsha Sharp/ I-27 intersection will require a massive expansion. This corner is important because it is the corner on which the majority of Surveys in Lubbock County are based.

The Southwest Corner of Section 1, Block A Map

Twichell's Sketch of the Southwest Corner of Section 1, Block A

The Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A is fittingly located in MacKenzie Park, named for Ranald MacKenzie, the most successful if not most famous Indian Fighter in the American West. The latter would be George Armstrong Custer who tracked the Cheyenne and Sioux into their stronghold at the Little Bighorn River. We all know the story of Custer’s Last stand. When Custer inquisitively states that There are no Indians down there? Jack Crabb responds, “ I didn't say that. There are thousands of indians down there and when they get done with you there won't be nothing left but a greasy spot." A greasy spot is pretty much exactly what General Terry found at the battle site a few days later.

MacKenzie, on the other hand, tracked the Comanches, who S.C. Gwynne in “The Empire of the Summer Moon” calls the most powerful Indian Tribe in American History to their Winter retreat in Palo Duro Canyon in 1874. Palo Duro Canyon, formed by the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River is the second largest canyon in the United States, second only to the Grand Canyon. It is located near the center of the Texas Panhandle, the center of the Llano Estacado and the center of an area at one time referred to as Comancheria, an area of several thousand square miles of plains from Southwestern Kansas to Southwest Central Texas dominated by the Comanches during most of the 18th and 19th centuries. At the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, on September 28, 1874, approximately 2 years before Custer rode to his demise, Mackenzie, greatly outnumbered surprised several thousand Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes and captured approximately 2000 horses. These he subsequently ordered shot assuring they would not fall back into the Indian’s hands. This act broke the back of the Indian’s resistance in the Southern Plains. Plains Indians without horses were like a carpenter without a hammer or nail. They had lost the most important tool for their livelihood.

After the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, most of the tribes surrendered or made their way to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where their descendants live today. Mackenzie although a successful officer in the Civil War as well in his Indian Campaigns never achieved the fame Custer had achieved in life. Custer’s greatest fame came from the manner of his death. Mackenzie faded and apparently drifted into mental instability. Civilization could not be stopped but it was MacKenzie who was the man most responsible for opening the South plains to the inevitable flow of Westward expansion.

Three years after Mackenzie had tracked the Comanches to Palo Duro Canyon, George Spiller, State Surveyor on September 19, 1877 (according to the notes) surveyed Section 1, Block A, near the center of what would one day become Lubbock County. The Section is described as "beginning at a stake five and a half miles South and thirty-nine miles West" of the Southeast corner of Section 37, Block 28, H. & G. N. Railroad Survey. The field notes then proceed East, North, West and South, 1900 varas each course but they also include passing calls on the North Fork of the Brazos and Yellow House Creek. It is these calls that make it possible to establish this corner from natural landmarks which of course are first in the rules of Dignity of Calls as spelled out in the landmark case for Texas Surveyors, Stafford v. King. Section 37, Block 28 is geographically important like Section 1, Block A because it contains Deweys Lake, a natural landmark and an important staging point for early Texas Surveyors.

George Spiller was born in 1845 in Virginia. He attended Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the West Point of the South. In 1864 while fighting as a member of the VMI Corps of Cadets he was wounded in the Battle of New Market in Virginia. The Battle of New Market drove Union Troops out of the Shenandoah Valley, long enough for the Confederacy to reap the resources of the Shenandoah Valley for another year. Spiller was a significant figure in West Texas surveying. He was married to Belle Loving, daughter of J. C. Loving famous Texas Cattleman and grandaughter Oliver Loving. Oliver Loving is a legendary figure in Texas history. He along with Charles Goodnight is known as one of the founders of the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Loving was portrayed by Robert Duval as Augustus McRae in Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry's novel turned miniseries loosely based on the lives of Goodnight and Loving.

Spiller came to Texas during the post Civil War land rush. This land rush has been described as the greatest in history. The Old South was going through Reconstruction. Texas had been part the South bu warring armies had not crisscrossed, warred upon and ravaged Texas as they had the Eastern States. Large portions of Texas were still totally unpopulated or dominated by the Comanches or other indigenous tribes. Texas still had millions of acres of public land and was proceeding along a path intended to stimulate the economy and promote settlement and growth in the State. A large part of that stimulus was provided by encouraging the growth of railroads by granting the railroads 16 square miles (Sections) of land for every mile of track laid. This did stimulate growth in Texas. As the railroads laid their tracks they received certificates from the state for this land. They were allowed to pick their own land from the unappropriated portions of the public domain. They were required to have this land surveyed and at the same time as they surveyed their land they were required to survey one Section for the Railroad and one for the State.

The Old South took decades to recover from the post Civil War depression. Texas in the 1870’s as noted was booming. Engineering skills were high priority subjects at VMI as they were (and still are) in any Military School. The technical and military skills learned at VMI and their Civil War experience made George Spiller and his fellow VMI graduates the ideal candidates to survey and explore the unclaimed spaces of the Texas public domain.

Between 1871 and 1873 the Houston and Great Northern Railroad (H. & G.N.) laid over 250 miles of track in Texas. In 1873 William Nelson, like Spiller, a VMI graduate, and New Market Veteran obtained a contract to survey approximately 4000 Sections for the H. & G. N. Railroad. The H. & G. N. Blocks stretch from Hemphill County near the Northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle to Pecos County in far West Texas almost to Mexico. Chances are if you have done much surveying in West Texas you have surveyed somewhere in these H. & G. N. Blocks. Nelson hired fellow VMI graduates George Spiller, Edmund Berkley, R.H. Cousins, John J. Morgan and W.S. Mabry(later to become Surveyor of the XIT Ranch and Old Tascosa) to assist him in this undertaking.

George Spiller’s diary, a portion of which is published in the Texas Surveyors Association publication “Three Dollars a Mile” gives a running account of the H. & G. N. Surveys. Much of the diary deals with the surveying in the Duck Creek, White River area surveys in Dickens, Crosby, Kent and Garza Counties. The surveys are being made in 1873. The Battle of Blanco Canyon (White River) between Quannah Parker’s Comanches and MacKenzie’s 4th Cavalry took place 2 years earlier in 1871 within Block 2 of the H. & G. N. Surveys. In 1873 the Comanches were still undefeated. They were the dominant power of the plains. This did not change until the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in 1874. In 1873, Nelson's surveyors worked, ate, drank, slept, and lived for 9 months in this wild and potentially hostile environment.

Nelson's crew which Spiller is leading through West Texas in 1873 is no ordinary Survey Party. In his diary, Spiller lists the 43 man party along with each man’s job description and the weapon he carries. There are 16 camp guards which are the most common job description. Most of the guards are armed with Spencer or Winchester Carbines. The second most common occupation is chainman. Nine of twelve chain men are armed with Winchester Carbines. Everyone is armed. AND this is not the only party surveying H. & G. N. surveys for William Nelson in 1873.

The Comanches and other Plains Indians did not know exactly what the surveyors did but they knew they were not a welcome sight. They understood that when the surveyors came more settlers would follow. They called the Compass “the thing that steals the land”. They would hunt surveyors down and kill them whenever they got the opportunity. They did not, however, with a few notable exceptions go after large groups of well-armed men and the Nelson Survey Parties were very well armed with the most advanced technologies of the day. There were contacts with hostile Indians during the H. & G. N. Surveys but nothing serious. The Surveyors just wanted to get their jobs done. The Indians must have never seen an opportunity where they felt it was sufficiently advantageous to strike.

In early 1874, every member of Nelson’s crews capable of writing field notes gathered in Austin and wrote the notes for Nelson and the appropriate district surveyors to sign. In approximately nine months, Nelson’s surveyors had under extremely adverse conditions surveyed roughly 4000 sections, over 2 1/2 million acres.

In the summer of 1877, Joseph B. Ammerman of the firm Daughetry Connallee and Ammerman led a party of surveyors out of Jacksboro heading West. Included in this party was O. W. "Oscar" Williams. Portions of this survey are detailed in Williams memoirs "Pioneer Surveyor and Frontier Lawyer" and also published in the Texas Surveyor's publication "One League to each Wind". Ammerman and Williams began running a line from Deweys Lake (named for Edmund Berkley's sweetheart, Miss Dewey)Northwest then West along MacKenzie's Trail and the Northern line of what would become Lubbock County. When they passed what they called the North Fork of Yellowhouse Creek (Now known as Blackwater Draw), they erected a mound about a quarter mile East of the draw then began meandering the draw going South. They mapped the draw going South and Southeasterly and passed just Northeast of the site of the original town of Lubbock and mapped the junction of Yellowhouse Creek with Blackwater Draw. They then continued South and Southeasterly until they came to the junction of Plum Creek with the North Fork of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos in Southwestern Crosby County.

This survey established the location of Section 1, Block A, Lubbock County, just West of the junction of the two creeks. Most of the surveys in Lubbock County would be located relative to this survey. There was apparently no monument set in 1877. Nelson, Spiller, and Ammerman were practicing what W. D. Twichell(considered by many the most influential of all Texas Surveyors) refers to as "Reconnaissance Surveying." Reconnaissance Surveying might be better described as mapping. As W.S. Mabry described "Nelson's Surveyors" (of which he would know because he was one, the most Junior, but he was one)...".meandered along with the watercourses and ran long traverse lines, but established very few permanent lasting monuments." Mabry goes on to say the only way to know if your surveys are correct is to run around and close them but "Few if any of the big blocks of land located in the early '70s or '80s were run around and closed". After running their survey lines the surveyors would map out their surveys and any significant physical features they observed. They would then draw lines on their maps representing the Sections they were surveying and prepare Field Notes on these Sections in order to have these lands conveyed to the Railroads or whoever was to gain title from the State. This was all legal and the common practice of the time. It provided a methodology for mapping and distributing these lands. It did not, however, establish anything resembling recognizable boundary lines for the eventual landowners.

In 1878, O. W. Williams was again surveying in Lubbock County, this time for the Dallas Real Estate Firm, Powell and Gage. The leader of this expedition was E.M. Powell. There are multiple Field Notes in the Lubbock County Survey Records signed as surveyed by E.M. Powell, Deputy Surveyor. Williams, in Crosby County Sketch 5 filed with the General Land Office states they erected a Large Rock Mound at the Southwest Corner of Section 1, Block A, "as closely as we could approximate from to the field notes of said Survey No. 1", meaning as closely as they could approximate from the creek crossing calls in Spiller's Original Field Notes. A small sketch showing the creeks was filed with the General Land Office by Powell in 1879. In the Field Notes of Survey 78, Block A, E.L. Gage, Deputy Surveyor of the Young District calls to begin at a "Large Stone Mound at the Southwest Corner of Section 1, in this block.....said Mound being 54 varas South & 197 varas West of the mouth of Yellowhouse Creek" which would be the intersection of Yellowhouse Creek and the North Fork of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos. Once Gage/Powell/Williams set this monument there was an actual monument representing an actual corner for Surveyors in Lubbock County to build future surveys from.

As one might imagine as Surveyors started to try to fill in the gaps and set the missing corners that were not set by Surveyors practicing the "Reconassaince" method of surveying discrepancies began to surface. In 1887, the Texas Legislature passed legislation that provided for appointing State Land Surveyors to resurvey and establish corners and boundaries within the Railroad Blocks. Most if not all of the H. & G. N. Blocks were resurveyed as a result of this act. Two surveyors that resurveyed large portions of these Railroad Blocks were George M. Williams and W.D. Twichell. In 1904 Twichell performed several resurveys in Lubbock County. Although resurveying the Sections surrounding the Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A was not part of these resurveys he did tie this corner to Block C which spills into Eastern Lubbock County from Crosby County. In 1904 Twichell calls for a rock mound and a well casing at the Southwest corner of Section 1. Apparently, the mound built by Gage in 1878 had been enhanced. Its importance had been recognized and someone had gone out of their way to perpetuate it.

Twichell also notes that there were some discrepancies in the naming of the creeks in the Original Field Notes by Spiller. He meanders the creeks to determine if any other solution of the calls would merit a different location of the Southwest corner of Section 1 besides the one arrived at by Gage. A copy of Twichell's Sketch accompanies this ramble. Twichell concludes that no other solution results in harmony with the calls. The Gage corner is the only solution that is in relative harmony with all the calls.

Old Map of Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A

Today, the Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A lies in the Southwestern portion of Mackenzie Park. It is monumented by an iron pipe with a brass cap. The junction of Yellowhouse Creek and the North Fork of the Brazos now makes part of a Water Hazard on the 14th hole of the Golf Course know for years as Squirrel Hollow, now known as the Creek Course. Johnny Wilson, an important Lubbock Surveyor in the latter half of the 20th Century told me that Sylvan Sanders and A.L. Harris the two most important Lubbock surveyors of the first half of that century set that pipe. Another surveyor told me that if that is true, it is probably the only thing Harris and Sanders ever agreed on. I asked Johnny if the rock mound was still there. He said it probably was, buried beneath the pipe. I'd like to go see if the old rock mound and well casing are still there. They could be but I won't dig out the pipe to find out. The pipe is sort of near the base of a hill, near an embankment right off of I-27. It is impossible to tell what the natural ground looked like 140 years ago.

Bulldozers may have removed the mound years ago. But one of these days when the State extends Marsha Sharp Freeway to the East (which they will) and they finally construct the stacked intersection, there will be some major earthwork at this spot. If they excavate this area, I want to be there when they do. If the mound is still there we will find it. If not it certainly appears that Sander and Harris did their part in perpetuating its legacy.

George M. Williams' 1888 Map Showing Part of Block 28, H. & G. N. RR Survey, Deweys Lake, White River, and MacKenzie's Trail. The Red Lines represent the location of the Surveys when located from the Cottonwood at the NE Corner Section 22(Labelled A). The Blue Lines show the surveys when located from Rock Mounds at the Southern End of this Block. There is a discrepancy of approximately 1/2 mile East-West and 1/4 Mile North-South.It was these types of discrepancies as well as sometimes complete lack of monumentation caused by the Reconassaince Method of Land Surveying that caused the Texas Legislature to appoint State Surveyors like Williams and W.D. Twichell to resurvey many of the Railroad Blocks in Texas.

Southwest corner of Section 1, Block A Satellite ViewSouthwest Corner Section 1 as it is Situated Today

Contact us for accurate land surveys and comprehensive data collection.