The Four Corners monument is apparently off by 2 1/2 miles.  The initial survey that established the borders of those states in 1868 was off.  It would seem that all the maps would be off too, in that case.  If that’s true, I would imagine the bigger story is probably that some folks who believed they lived in one state will now find out they live in another.

I imagine this is going to have implications for water rights, considering the San Juan river now is going through states it wasn’t originally thought to be going through.  There’s an old saying in the west that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fightin’.  If this survey is correct, I would say Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah are going to be fighting for some time.

UPDATE: Actual location of the border is centered on this map here.  There’s going to be a lot of people affected.  Several towns.

UPDATE: Looks like the controlling law here was the Arizona Organic Act of 1863.

That all that part of the present Territory of New Mexico situate west of a line running due south from the point where the southwest corner of the Territory of Colorado joins the territory of New Mexico.

There would then have to be an act declaring what the border between Colorado and New Mexico territories was supposed to be.  I’ll see if I can find that.

UPDATE: Yep.  Congress passed “An Act to provide a termporary Government for the Territory of Colorado” passed in 1861:

That all that part of the territory of the United States included within the following limits, viz: commencing on the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude, where the twenty-fifth meridian of longitude west from Washington crosses the same; thence north on said meridian to the forty-first parallel of north latitude; thence along and parallel west to the thirty-second meridian of longitude west from Washington; thence south on said meridian to the northern line of New Mexico; thence along the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude to the place of beginning, be and the same is hereby erected into a temporary government by the name of the Territory of Colorado.

Washington is located at 77 longitude west, so that would indeed put the southwest corner of the Colorado Territory at 109 longitude west.   Hell, even Google Earth says it’s off.  Looks like Arizona and Utah just got more territory, and New Mexico and Colorado will lose some.  Of course, I don’t doubt this matter will go to court, and be settled there, but from a cartological point of view, the border seems to be wrong.

UPDATE: Very interesting Wikipedia entry on public land surveys.

19 Responses to “Ooops!”

  1. Bram says:

    I imagine this would have significant taxes implications depending on your states.

  2. SayUncle says:

    Uhm, isn’t it in a park? If so, seems that wouldn’t affect many folks.

  3. Bitter says:

    The marker may be in a park, but if the survey was wrong, then the vertical borders on that side of the state would likely move, too. (It would definitely seem to be the case of the AZ/NM border. I’m not as confident about the southern half of the CO/UT border.)

    Based on a quick scroll around Google Maps, it looks like AZ would actually gain 4 towns totaling about 3,500 people, several small lakes, and a tiny stake in the San Juan. CO would lose its stake in the San Juan and possibly have to give one town up to UT.

  4. Mikee says:

    There is a law regarding residential property that if somebody uses some of your property without your objection for a certain period of time, usually many years, you effectively lose that property to them, in that their use may continue despite any future complaints by you. I wonder if this same idea applies in this case?

    There has been no dispute for quite some time, taxes have been paid to one state rather than another without complaint, water rights have been settled, and nobody complained for what, 150 years or so? I think this is going to result in a change of the border legislation, not the current borders.

  5. Dave Hardy says:

    19th century surveys were notorious for problems. Just figuring where you were, to an accuracy of under a mile, was a problem, and when you had to, oh, plot a line east from there and exactly 85 miles long, thru forests and over mountain ranges ….

    Then Congress created problems, too. There were two midwestern States, now I forget which, where Congress defined the southern border of one as a line going eastward from location X, and the northern border of the other as a line going westward from location Y. Maps of the time indicated that X and Y were perfectly east-west of each other.

    Turned out X and Y were not on an east-west axis, but quite a few miles apart in a north-south direction.

    The governments nearly went to war over it, and in the end an engineer named Robert E. Lee was called in to survey and solve the problem.

    Looking at the AZ map–north part is prob. mostly reservation land, south part mostly desert. But there still are taxpayers out there who’ve been paying the wrong government (and a government that’s been keeping up another State’s roads).

  6. Sebastian says:

    Can they sue to get their tax money back? :) Of course, I’m guessing the overdue and back taxes from the other state might be a problem.

  7. Bitter says:

    Since something like 1/3 of the population of NM is on welfare, AZ might not want those towns it would get if the correct border was acknowledged.

    Since when are border issues ever really wrapped up? I think they were still fighting about the OK-TX border when I moved out of OK. Just because things have been quiet for a while doesn’t mean the issue goes away. Not to mention, water rights are rarely fully settled either. Agreements may be drawn up, but there are still often fights about the issue. I could see officials not wanting to raise a stink about it, but it might be in the interest of the state to do so for reasons that, down the road, could be far more valuable than the tax dollars for 3,500 people.

  8. karrde says:

    Another case from the early 19th Century: there was a border dispute between Michigan Territory and the State of Ohio that held up Michigan’s admission to the Union as a State.

    The disputed land included the city of Toledo. One solution offered by Congress carved a large section of Wisconsin Territory off and handed it to Michigan. (See Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)

    The final settlement of the location of the State line wasn’t until 1915, and pieces of the problem (the boundary in Lake Erie, and on an island in Lake Erie) weren’t settled until 1973.

  9. Yosemite Sam says:

    They’ll just keep the borders as they are. There have been quite a few inaccurately surveyed state borders and the fix is usually to keep the border in the missurveyed location. The Tennessee/Kentucky border is a prime example. All of those shifts because of bad surveying.

    If anyone is interested in this issue then pick up a copy of How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein. The book explains how each state’s border was formed.

  10. TheGunGeek says:

    There have been a number of cases where state borders have been found to be off. By a lot. This has gotten significantly worse now that we have good GPS systems.

    For many people, the first they hear of it is in the form of a tax bill from their new state tax collectors.

  11. Douglas2 says:

    But wouldn’t “west of Washington” be west of the official “washington” meridian defined (at the time) by statute to run through the dome of the Naval Observatory? Doesn’t that 2-n-a-half minutes put the 4-corners monument right where it should be?

  12. Sebastian says:

    I assumed by meridian they meant a longitudinal meridian.

  13. Overload in CO says:

    The meter is off too. It was created to measure the length between the equator and the North Pole as 10,000km, but modern measurements show it’s too short.

  14. Jake says:

    There is a law regarding residential property that if somebody uses some of your property without your objection for a certain period of time, usually many years, you effectively lose that property to them, in that their use may continue despite any future complaints by you. I wonder if this same idea applies in this case?

    What Mikee is talking about is called “adverse possession”. The problem with applying it in this case is that the laws addressing it vary from state to state. In some states, a bad survey can bar any adverse possession claim, in others, it doesn’t. Some states don’t even allow adverse possession, because it’s really a form of theft (just because I haven’t said anything to you about you using my land for 15 years, doesn’t really make it yours). I don’t believe Federal law addresses it at all, except maybe in DC.

    Yosemite Sam is right. Probably the best way to address the issue is to move the “real” borders to where we always thought they were until the error was found.

  15. Sebastian says:


    It doesn’t work. This is the US Naval Observatory here. If you add 32 degrees of west to that you end up here.

  16. Douglas2 says:

    How about the old naval observatory, the one that actually existed when the border was set?
    37.0, -109.046667

  17. Sebastian says:

    The Naval Observatory that’s on that site as been there since 1842.

  18. Douglas2 says:

    Silly me. I get confused by statements like “In 1893, after nearly 50 years at the site on the Potomac River, the U.S. Naval Observatory moved to its present location”

  19. Sebastian says:

    Sorry, I must have missed that. But even if you go from Foggy Bottom, it’s still a mile off in the other direction.