Now, it is often of much consequence to a traveler to remember such facts as these. For example, there is nothing more common in the annals of misadventure than for a novice to stray off on a deer trail, or, in southern forests, on a cattle trail, which, although seductively plain at first, leads nowhere in particular and soon dwindles to nothing. When undecided, look for blazes along the path. In heavily timbered regions, such as we are now considering, any trail that is, or ever has been, used as a highway by white men is likely to have been blazed.
Again, it is often of moment to determine, when one strikes a strange trail, what its nature is—for what purpose it was made—and thus be able to figure out whether it is likely to lead directly to a settlement or camp. This ought not to be very difficult when one knows what classes of men have preceded him in this particular forest. Generally speaking, a line spotted in a wide forest that as yet has no farmers' clearings is likely to have been made by either (1) a trapper, (2) a lumberman or timber-looker, or (3) a surveyor.
A Trapper's Line usually leads from one stream or lake to another. The blazes are likely to be inconspicuous. The line probably meanders a good deal, but not to escape ordinary obstacles, not disdaining a steep climb for a short-cut. Along its course, at intervals of eight or ten miles, there are probably rude shanties containing supplies or the ruins of such shacks, if the line is no longer used. Such a line does not lead to any settlement, and can seldom be of any use to a wayfarer.
Timber-lookers may or may not leave evidence of their wanderings—more likely not, for, like other seekers after bonanzas, they may have excellent reasons for not doing so. At most, they would merely mark the easiest route for a prospective road from the river to some "bunch" of timber. Where logging operations have already begun, then, wherever a stump stands it will not be hard to determine the direction in which the logs were twitched to the nearby "lizard road," where they were loaded on lizards (forks of timber used as sleds), or on wagons, and dragged to the river or saw-mill. (I am assuming primitive operations in a remote wilderness.) The lizard road was blazed when first laid out. Logs are never dragged uphill if that can be avoided; consequently the trend of the road will be downhill, or on a level. The lizard road will show ruts, trees barked along the way by whiffle-trees, and other characteristic marks. Wherever there is a bridge or a corduroyed road the timbers will be worn most on the side opposite the camp, because heavy loads were drawn toward camp, not away from it. Once the old lumber-camp site is reached, even though it be long deserted, the signs of an old "tote road" can be discerned, leading toward a settlement from which supplies were transported.
A Surveyor's Line is absolutely straight (with exception noted below). When it reaches an impassable obstacle, such as a swamp or a cliff, an offset is made to right or left; but this offset is also a straight line, at right angles, of course, to the main one, the latter being continued in the original direction as soon as the obstacle has been passed. For this, and other reasons that presently will appear, a surveyor's line can never be mistaken for any other.
Surveyors are careful to space their marks more uniformly than hunters and trappers and loggers. They cut rather square into the tree, at right angles, so that the weather may not wear away the marks nor the tree become diseased and so obliterate them.
The old states of the East and South were surveyed before there were any Government regulations for such work, and had methods of their own for marking lines and corners, varying from place co place. In the rougher regions such work was likely to be slipshod. Old-time surveyors in the mountains often ran lines that were winding, because they had no flagmen to keep the line straight. It was difficult to keep sight marks. Measurements often were inaccurate. The chain was likely to go too low up a ridge and too high in crossing hollows. Mere surface surveying was practised over logs, rocks, etc. Chains were intentionally made over-length to allow for this.
The practice of measuring by half-chains in rough country led to many errors of counting, by dropping a link, and so on. Few of the old surveyors were careful about variations of the compass. In fact, I have knowm backwoods surveyors who were ignorant of the change in magnetic meridian.
Throughout most parts of the West, the method of numbering, subdividing, and marking township sections is that adopted by the public land surveys, a brief description of which is given below. If one understands the merest rudiments of public surveying, and has a township map of the locality, then, whenever he runs across a section line, he can soon tell exactly where he is, and what is the most direct route to any other point in the neighborhood.
It is common practice, wherever a regular trail crosses one of these lines, to square or face on four sides a tree or two standing close by, drawing the traveler's attention to the line. These survey lines may be of practical use to him in various ways. By them he can determine exactly the position of his camp with reference to the surrounding country. He can locate any point that he desires to visit or revisit, such as a cache, a mineral deposit, a piece of land that he may wish to purchase, and so on.
If he gets lost, it is somewhere within half a mile, or less, of a survey line, which will take him to a marked corner from which he can learn his position.