The 1864 Baker City Township Map fascinates me. It’s the closest we can get to a “photograph” of what Baker City looked like before the town was platted in 1865. The oldest actual photograph we know of dates from about 1868.
The 1864 Baker City Township Map has several remarkable features considering the fact that in the spring of 1862 the only roads in Baker County were the Oregon Trail and a spur of that trail through Eagle Valley. What caught my attention upon first seeing the 1864 map is the number of wagon roads traversing the mostly sagebrush terrain of the township. Coming from all directions the roads converged on the area where settlement of Baker City would begin just one year later. Also surprising are two farm fields in the heart of the area that would become city. Once settlement began in 1865, the fields disappeared like an inch of snow on a warm spring day, leaving no trace that the fields ever existed.
Another remarkable feature of the 1864 Baker City Township Map is the course Powder River took through town in May of 1864, when the township was being surveyed. At Bridge Street the map shows the river taking a 90-degree turn to the east for almost a mile, then northwest to Main and D streets, where it again flowed north. In a later installment in this series I’ll explore possible explanations for this surprising swing east.
The final features of the map are by far the tiniest but just as intriguing as any other features: four 1/32nd of an inch squares, each labeled “house” (see map at right, with red numerals). Plus there is an equally tiny mark labeled “bridge.” All five features are located in the area that became present Baker City. Surveyor field notes tell us who owned three of the four houses.
The Surveying of Baker City Township
In the spring of 1863, aware of settlement taking place in Eastern Oregon, the General Land Office in Eugene contracted with surveyor Timothy Davenport to survey the exterior borders of township T9S R40E, which I refer to as “Baker City Township.”
Then in 1864 surveyors David P. Thompson and Daniel Chaplin were awarded the contract to survey the interior 36 sections of T9S R40E. In a six-day period from May 13-18, 1864, surveyors Thompson and Chaplin and their assistants, Z.S. Dotson, James K. Stricklin, and A.J. Stricklin, surveyed all 36 square-mile sections in the 6-square-mile Baker City Township. In accomplishing that task the crew logged almost 100 miles in less than a week.
To give you a sample of what the survey crew was doing, I’ve transcribed the survey field notes as the crew surveyed north through the area that became Baker City. I find it the most historically interesting.
But first some technical information. The numbers that begin each field note — for example, 80.00 — refer to the number of “chains” the crew has surveyed from the beginning of a section line. Two chainmen stretch out a metal chain that is 66 feet long and composed of 100 links. Each link is 7.92 inches long. Here’s the math: 100 links x 7.92 inches = 792 inches / 12 inches = 66 feet. When the chainmen have stretched out the chain 80 times, they have surveyed one mile: 80 chains x 66 feet = 5,280 feet = 1 mile. The abbreviation of “links” in the field notes is “lks” and “chains” is “chs.”
In writing about the field notes, I make mention of what we see on the ground today as reference points for the reader. But we should keep in mind that the survey crew is on almost completely undeveloped land, where the only significant signs of civilization are some dusty roads, a couple of farm fields, and a scattering of squatters cabins.
After field notes for all 36 sections were written, the surveyors, who have made contact with some of the occupants of the township, learned that the number of settlers in the township was about 20.
In the following sections all text is quoted from the field notes without the use of quotation marks. I use three periods … (ellipsis) when text is omitted or is unreadable. All text in ( ) parentheses are my comments. Occasionally I add punctuation for clarity. The first field note begins at the south boundary of the township.
North between Secs 32 & 33 Ascend hill (On May 16, 1864, the crew is at the south boundary of the Baker City Township starting to survey north from the bottom of the township. This section line runs right through the middle of future Baker City. Front Street, now known as Main Street, is on this section line.)
40.00 Set Stone…for ¼ Sec corner.
80.00 Set Stone … for corner to secs 28 29 32 & 33 on top of hill. (The crew is on top of the hill east of Highway 7 at the north end of Bowen Valley. +600 in margin of the field note indicates the height of the hill.)
Land Steep and Stony. Good Bunch Grass.
North between Secs 28 & 29
35.00 Foot of hill. Powder River 70 lks wide runs North 10° E. -500. (2,310 feet from beginning of the section line. Powder River is 46.2 feet wide running a little east of due north.)
40.00 (2,640 feet) Set Stone for ¼ Sec corner. (This is at the half-mile mark.)
40.40 (2,666.4 feet) Auburn Road bears NE & SW. (The crew crosses Auburn Road, which is headed southwest toward Auburn, the county seat.)
50.75 (3,349.5 feet) Auburn Road bears NW & SE. (The crew again crosses Auburn Road.)
80.00 (5,280 feet = 1 mile) Set post for corner to secs 20, 21, 28 & 29….
Land hilly on 1st half mile and North ½ Mile Level.
Soil 1st rate (The soil is rated 1st, 2nd, or 3rd rate for agricultural purposes. The crew is now slightly north of what would be the intersection of Colorado Street and David Eccles Road in South Baker.)
East on a random line between Sec. 21 & 28 (The crew is surveying from the intersection of Colorado and Eccles streets one mile east, which is a little east of I-84.)
40.00 Set temporary ¼ Sec corner.
80.20 Intersect N & S Line at corner to secs. 21, 22, 27 & 28 from which corner I run West on a true Line between Secs 21 & 28. Descend hill. (A notation indicated that the elevation drop is 200 feet. The crew is now headed back along the same section line.)
39.90 (2633 feet) Road bears NW & SE. (This is the road from Baker City to Durkee. It is not labeled on the map.)
41.50 (2739 feet) Brook 6 lks wide runs NW. (Sutton Creek is 3.96 feet wide. From here Sutton Creek is headed to its confluence with Powder River about three-quarters of a mile to the northwest.)
70.50 (4653 feet) Powder River 70 lks wide runs N. (Powder River is 46.53 feet wide and running north.)
80.20 The corner to secs 20, 21, 28 & 29. Land hilly. Soil 2nd rate.
In Part 2 of this series (in the Thursday, April 23, issue), we’ll join the Thompson and Chaplin crew as they survey right up the middle of an area of some sagebrush and dusty roads that became Baker City.