American Surveys in Northeastern Texas

By: Jim Tiller

Type: General Entry

Published: March 21, 2012

Updated: October 3, 2014

Many years of political tension and military posturing between Spain and the United States followed the 1803 Louisiana Purchase as both sides attempted to gain advantage over the other regarding their common boundary. Finally, in 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty was signed which in part specified a boundary line beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River, continuing north along the west bank of that river to the thirty-second parallel, thence by meridian due north to the Red River. Although unsurveyed, this “line,” which probably actually consisted of a series of natural features, served as the border between first Spain and later Mexico (although the Mexican government refused to recognize the treaty boundary until 1832) and finally Texas and its eastern neighbor prior to the United States surveys of northwest Louisiana’s Range 16 West.

Between January 1837 and June 1838, the United States surveyed a twelve-mile (two township) wide strip of land between the Sabine River and Caddo Lake. It would later be determined that all of the westernmost tier of townships (R17W) and the western half of the westernmost tier of sections in R16W (a total of some 6.5 miles) were within the limits of Texas. In June 1839, Mirabeau B. Lamar effectively transferred administrative control of the area to the United States until the official survey of the border was completed in 1841. Settlers living within R17W, although nominally citizens of the United States, were not counted in the 1840 Census and they may well not have paid taxes to either Louisiana or Texas. While the area is often included as a part of the Neutral Ground (a region, generally between the Sabine River on the west and Arroyo Hondo on the east, established as a buffer zone in 1806), and it did possess an unusually high degree of lawlessness, in fact none of the surveyed land was located within the bounds of that area. Among the most obvious reminders of this period in the region’s history, in addition to the more than occasional rectangular rural road pattern, are the square to rectangular 320 and 640-acre third and fourth-class Republic of Texas headright surveys along the eastern boundary of Harrison and Panola counties. See also BOUNDARIES.

Bill Creech, Archivist for the Census Records, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Telephone Conversation, July 9, 2004. Republic Proclamations, 1839–1841, Mirabeau B. Lamar (June 3, 1839), Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives, Austin. Texas General Land Office, Harrison County, Austin, Texas, G. C. Morriss, Draftsman, July 1920. Jim Tiller, Before the Line, Volume I: An Annotated Atlas of International Boundaries and Republic of Texas Administrative Units Along the Sabine River-Caddo Lake Borderland, 1803–1841 (2010), Electronic version available at Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville. United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Louisiana, Northwestern District, Plat Maps (T13N through T23N, R16W and R17W), Springfield, Virginia.

  • Exploration
  • Boundaries and Cartography
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jim Tiller, “American Surveys in Northeastern Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 21, 2012
October 3, 2014

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: