4th March 2024

Mapping Idaho

For the ninth year running Boundary County fourth grade students from Naples, Mount Hall and Valley View Elementary Schools were invited to the Boundary County Museum for a fun time.

In 2015, the Idaho Legislature established an official Idaho Day, to be observed each year on March 4, to commemorate the creation of the Territory of Idaho by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Each year a theme is chosen, and the theme for 2024 is Mapping Idaho.

Idaho State Historical Society

The Idaho State Historical Society provided the following map and wonderful information about “Mapping Idaho.”

Idaho’s First Surveyor General Lafayette Cartee

On August 13,1866, Congress approved the appointment of Lafayette Cartee as Idaho’s first Surveyor General. Cartee was born in New York in 1823. He received little public education as a child. Yet, in 1846, he enrolled at St. Johns College in Cincinnati, excelling at his course of study, becoming a professor of mathematics and civil engineering. However, poor health forced him west, and in 1847 he arrived in San Francisco. Soon, his health improved, and he ventured to Oregon, where he made a name for himself as a surveyor. In 1853, he added politician to his resume, serving as a member of the Oregon territorial legislature. In 1855, he returned east to marry Mary Bell of Pennsylvania. She bore four children before she died in Oregon in 1862. Cartee continued building his reputation as a surveyor and engineer across Oregon. Following his wife’s death, Idaho beaconed.

On November 7,1866, Cartee opened the General Land Office in Boise and planned to establish Idaho’s initial point—the point from which all Idaho surveys would emanate. In April 1867, surveyors set Idaho’s initial point nineteen miles southwest of Boise atop a rocky butte. Today’s Meridian Road aligns to this initial point and serves as a reminder of Cartee’s first task as Surveyor General. Meridian, Idaho, is also named for this point.

By 1873, Cartee’s office made considerable work to survey Idaho Territory. Cartee’s Map of Public Surveys to Accompany Report to Commissioner of the General Land Office, 1873, documented this work in a visually inspiring way. Cartee’s surveyors explored a small portion of Owyhee County, fertile land in southwest Idaho, the settled portion of Oneida County, select portions of Nez Perce County, and the area around Lewiston and north of the Palouse River. Cartee’s 1873 report which accompanied his map noted that aside from the territory’s isolation and the lack of railroad transportation through the territory, Idaho found itself with an abundance of settlers eager and willing to plant orchards, vineyards, and other crops. He noted the volume of mining claims had increased since 1866, with placer claims producing across Boise, Owyhee, Alturas, Idaho, and Lemhi Counties. Additionally, Cartee’s office carried out border surveys for the Shoshone Bannock Indian Reservation and was awaiting news of modifications to the Coeur d’Alene Reservation before commencing boundary and allotment surveys for that tribe’s reservation. Lastly, Cartee advocated for modifications of existing land laws to prevent forest fires and a more efficient surveying schedule to better use appropriated funds.

Cartee served dutifully until 1878 and afterward remained in Boise, assisting in the founding of the Historical Society of Idaho Pioneers in 1881, the predecessor of the Idaho State Historical Society, building an impressive home, importing fruit trees, becoming a horticulturist, and honing a reputation for philanthropy. Congress abolished the office of Surveyor General on June 3,1925, and replaced it with the position of district cadastral engineer. However, the legacy of Lafayette Cartee and that of the nine Surveyors General of Idaho that followed him between 1878 and 1925 ensured that the records of Idaho’s boundaries, land ownership, and resource allocation exist in perpetuity. Today, ISHS stewards maps from this office for present and future generations. – ISHS

Free Land!

Click on the 1873 Map

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the US government aimed to distribute land to private citizens and corporations under various laws, including the Homestead Act and other mineral and timber laws. To achieve this goal —and the underlying objectives of generating revenue and promoting settlement-surveyors working under the General Land Office observed, described, and cataloged the public domain through cadastral surveys. Cadastral surveys mark and define the boundaries and subdivisions of land. By the mid-1930s, the federal government shifted its priority from distribution to conservation of the public domain for present and future generations. Despite the shift in land management policy, the efforts of the country’s earliest surveyors, including Idaho’s first Surveyor General, Lafayette Cartee, to complete cadastral surveys for millions of acres of land in the American West helped map progress and development across the nation, including within Idaho Territory.

The earliest use of the standardized cadastral survey in the United States dates to 1785 and the passage of The Northwest Ordinance, which created the Public Land Survey System and divided the public domain into six-square-mile townships comprising thirty-six one-mile sections. Surveyors oriented townships according to an initial point within a defined territory, where a principal meridian, the north-south line of longitude, intersected with the baseline, or east-west line of latitude. Townships received a number for the corresponding range and township relative to the initial point, and the survey party captured all relevant information about the land and resources within the surveyor’s field notes and plat map. In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office to manage the increasing volume of surveys, land claims, patents, and sales. The General Land Office merged with the US Grazing Service, created in 1934 by the Taylor Grazing Act, in 1946 to form the Bureau of Land Management. – ISHS

Mapping Boundary County
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