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How Do We Know?
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accounts, the lives of the surveyors and their crew members were
frequently rough. They often subsisted on salt pork and beans for
weeks at a time, and suffered the elements, blazing sun, driving
rain, and harsh winter winds, with inadequate clothing and shelter.
The land they traversed was often difficult, presenting them with
brambles, biting insects, poison ivy, swamps, rivers, muck, and
tall grass that was difficult to walk through, let alone survey. In
letters to his father, a young Benjamin Lacy (1983), who was on a
survey team in Minnesota in 1858 wrote:
Deputy Surveyor, Henry A. Wiltse (1847) writes from Iowa on August 20, 1847, that:
Despite the hardships, the surveyors were usually good woodsmen who faithfully recorded the presence of common trees and other vegetation in the territories they surveyed. Land survey data is still a valuable tool for reconstructing vegetation because they represent a systematic sample of the vegetation that, at least in later years, was standardized allowing comparison with present day vegetation for a specific location (Noss, 1985). Today, ecologists use land survey records in conjunction with historical accounts (journals of settlers and explorers), and other types of data, to identify and map plant communities that existed prior to European settlement.
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