Tuesday, August 09, 2011

TOP STORY >> Nation took shape near Brinkley

Special to the Leader

Melba Brackin of Beebe wants Leader readers to know some of the history behind the Louisiana Purchase, the site of which is now an attractive state park between Brinkley and Marvell. A heavily wooded area bordered by shade trees and marked with informational placards depicting the area’s history is set back off Hwy. 49 and is a perfect setting for a picturesque daytrip. Having once lived at Marvell, Brackin is drawn to the place because she once knew Miss Lily Peter, who donated the land and who was at one time the state poet laureate. Brackin, who is working on a history of Beebe, traveled recently to the Louisiana Purchase with her sister-in-law, Millie Petrie.
—Editor’s note

Two blazed “witness trees” mark the site of an event that symbolize the shaping of a nation…

The Louisiana Purchase State Park is located at the junction of Lee, Phillips and Monroe counties and is designated a national landmark, a designation reserved for historic properties with special importance in United States history.

The main feature of the historic state park is a 950-foot broadwalk through a rare headwater swamp. A marker is positioned at the spot where surveyors of a later generation found the original pair of witness trees and a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument in 1926.

The Louisiana Purchase Initial Survey Point site marks the origin of every township for all or parts of 15 states, including Arkansas.

Baseline Road in Little Rock is so named because it follows the original Baseline Road as surveyed by Joseph C. Brown, who made several important surveys in the Louisiana Territory. He died in 1849.

In August 1815, the U.S. Land Office commissioned Prospect K. Robbins and Brown, who set out in a covered wagon, to survey the vast wilderness obtained from France 12 years before in the transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Robbins was the surveyor of the fifth principal meridian in the Missouri-Arkansas territory. The wilderness was thick with sugarcane, sweetgum and cottonwood trees and men with axes cut their way through the dense forest populated by snakes and wild animals.

Marking the land when America’s eastern frontier was still vastly uncharted was a task few envied or could undertake. Surveyors endured a hostile environment in the swamplands that covered most of what would become the Delta counties of Arkansas.

A “witness tree” was a tree used by the early surveyors as a starting point in a survey and was usually the tree closest to the corner of the survey.

A small portion of the bark was cut or skinned from the tree and a scribe awl, a sharp-pointed tool, was used to cut small trenches into the tree. The wound would grow over in time but the surveyor could chip off the covering. The mark would still be ingrained, confirming it as the witness tree.

The site lay forgotten for 126 years, lost in a headwater swamp, until two surveyors Tom Jacks and Eldredge P. Douglas of Helena, in 1921, rediscovered the two witness trees slashed by Robbins and Brown in 1815, nearly 100 years earlier. Tom Jacks words on making the discovery reportedly were: “By all the odds of probability this has to be the original point for the Louisiana Purchase.”