How the Forest got its corners, and how to find them

Mark Twain had many sayings. One famous saying attributed to him is, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

Along with water, land ownership has historically been a point of contention. Missouri has a long history of land surveying to prevent such feuds; and in recent years, much of this information has been made available digitally to the public through the combined efforts of Mark Twain National Forest and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

For decades, the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) was the sole possessor of Form 874-9 – Revised May, 1918, also known as “yellow sheets.” These old documents hold information regarding government land corners (the points from which land boundaries were identified) in 29 counties across southern and central Missouri.  

The history of land boundaries follows closely with the history of the Mark Twain National Forest.

Here is a timeline of these changes:

• Early 1800s — Government Land Office (GLO) contractors set across the unsettled areas of the Missouri Territory, subdividing the frontier into 1-mile sections and marking corners as they went.

They kept field notes in journals to track their progress. This was rugged work; and it set the foundation for two centuries of land records.

• 1870s — Citizens of southern Missouri began an era of extensive logging of the state’s native oak, hickory, and pine forests. Lumber mills were commonplace. Land boundaries from GLO surveys were important for business and were only occasionally perpetuated by county surveyors of the era.

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