Mr. Sherman to Mr. Romero.

No. 288.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 9th ultimo, in which, by direction of the Government of Mexico, in view of the differences in the boundary line as marked by the commission, pursuant to the convention of July 29, 1882, and that agreed upon under the treaty of December 30, 1853, you propose the conclusion of a new “convention to rectify the demarcation of the dividing line in accordance with the treaty of 1853, between the River Bravo (monument No. 1) and the Colorado River (monument No. 205), or throughout its whole extent, if the United States Government should prefer to have the rectification made along the whole line, although the differences found in the dividing line between the Californias are insignificant.”

To arrive at a just and proper conclusion of this matter, I deem it necessary not only to present the facts regarding the differences existing between the two lines, viz, the one determined by the commission of 1853–1856, and the other determined in 1891–1895 by the commission organized pursuant to the convention of 1882, but to submit a few observations as to the propriety of reopening the question for the purpose of correcting certain errors made by the first commission.

As to the first point, Colonel Barlow, to whom the matter was referred, and who was the engineer in chief of the United States of the last commission, has this to say:

Without going into minute details, all of which are specifically given in the report of the commission, it may he stated that two quite important errors in the original survey were noticed:

First. A mistake in the measurement of the section along parallel 31° 47′, west [Page 400]from the Rio Grande. This distance was found to be 159,193.4 meters instead of 160,933.0 meters (100 miles) as prescribed by the treaty. As a result of this error the meridian section connecting the parallel of 31° 47′ with the parallel of 31° 20′ was located approximately 1 mile (1,739.6 meters) east of its proper position, thus giving to the United States a strip of land about 31 miles long from north to south by about 1 mile in width, which was not intended by the treaty. The present Commissioners are very confident in regard to the accuracy of their determination of this length, as four independent measurements of this section were made as follows:

By the United States Commission: (1) A measurement by chain; (2) a measurement by stadia; (3) a measurement by telegraphic exchange of local time.

By the Mexican Commission: (4) A measurement by stadia.

These four measurements agreed within small limits, and by mutual consent the astronomical determination was adopted.

Second. The longitude of the monument marking the western terminus of the section along parallel 31° 20′, which should have been at the one hundred and eleventh meridian, was found by our determination, both by stadia measurements carried forward independently by the United States and Mexican parties, and also from telegraphic determination of longitude, to be in longitude 111° 4′ 34.45″, about 4½ miles west of its proper position. This error was also favorable to the United States as a triangular area, of which one side is 4½ miles on the parallel, the other two sides being the lines connecting the extremities of this short line with a point on the Colorado River, about 234 miles distant. This area is not an exact triangle, as the original error in longitude gave rise to corresponding errors in azimuth, which caused the resulting boundary to deviate from its true character, and as this line was not carried all the way to the Colorado River, but was joined to one which had previously been ran eastward from the required point on the river, this deviation was not then noticed.

The number of square miles of land of which Mexico was deprived by these errors is approximately as follows:

By the first error about 30
By the second error about 290
Total 320

No other error of importance was noticed; the determinations for latitude along the two sections upon the parallels by the two commissions agreed within reasonable limits. Nor is it at all remarkable that the longitudes of the early commission should have differed from ours to the extent noticed, when it is considered that the state of the country at that time, owing to lack of supplies, and the presence of hostile Indians rendered a continuous measurement of the line impracticable, and, without the aid of the telegraph, the accurate determination of astronomical longitude was well nigh impossible.

The present commissioners can testify to the general excellence of the former work, and are of the opinion that, taking into consideration the difficulties then existing, no better results than were attained could have been expected. Indeed, the final difference in longitude between the Rio Grande and the Pacific coast as determined by that commission differs only from that determined by the latter and more precise method by about 1.6 miles.

As to the question of a new convention for the rectification of the boundary in accordance with the treaty of December, 1853, I may say in all candor, in which the interests of both Governments are to be considered in forming a conclusion, that it is one of propriety. I shall endeavor to be as explicit as possible and am indebted to Colonel Barlow for some data on which to found a reply to that particular part of your proposition.

Article I of the treaty of December, 1853, states:

That line shall be alone established upon which the commission may fix, their consent in this particular being considered decisive and an integral part of this treaty, without necessity of ulterior ratification or approval, and without room for interpretation of any kind, by either of the parties contracting.

The dividing line thus established shall, in all time, be faithfully respected by the two governments without any variation therein, unless of the express and free consent of the two, given in conformity to the principles of the law of nations, and in accordance with the constitution of each country, respectively.

[Page 401]

Great stress seems to have been laid upon the importance of a final and permanent settlement of the boundary which shall in all time be faithfully respected by the two Governments. * * *

The delimitation by that commission was made an explicit part of the treaty, and it would seem that the line thus established should not be changed except for very weighty and serious reasons. It is questionable if the transfer of a comparatively few square miles of land, then practically valueless, and now of but small intrinsic worth, can be considered a sufficient reason to disturb the satisfactory condition that exists on the frontier and give occasion for all sorts of private claims for damages on the part of the owners of adjacent lands. As has been previously remarked, these lands are generally of little value, but it is natural to suppose that should any chance arise by which the owners could bring claims against either Government, it is difficult to foretell how much their value would increase by reason of such claims. The people on the border are, so far as is known, entirely satisfied with the line as now marked. To change it would, I feel convinced, give rise to much dissatisfaction. None of the land in question can be said to be agricultural. The area of 30 square miles along the meridian section is a cattle range. A portion at the northern end has been carefully prospected for minerals. At present I am advised these prospects are all abandoned, the ore found being of low grade, not worth the cost of mining.

The section along the azimuth line west of the one hundred and eleventh meridian is much less valuable, nearly the whole tract being a hopeless desert; a region of sand plains and rocky, barren ridges. At the eastern end, in the Pajaritos Mountains, there are some mining claims, a few of which were, it was ascertained, being worked at the time of the recent survey, but it was not learned that these enterprises were profitable. West of these mountains a few cattle ranches have been located, but the scarcity of both grass and water renders the business exceedingly precarious. Beyond these ranches the country is almost without inhabitants; one or two Mexican families and a few Indians constitute the total population in the vicinity of the boundary for a distance of about 200 miles between the Pozo Verde Mountains and the Colorado River.

It would seem, in the Department’s judgment, that all the purposes of the several treaties have been subserved; a boundary was established and marked, in compliance with the treaty of 1853, which has been known and accepted by both Governments as well as the people living along the border. It is true this line may perhaps have been inadequately marked at first, and several of the marks may have disappeared, but its approximate location was recognized, and private rights were acquired in accordance with its location. In compliance with the treaties of 1882 and 1889 this boundary was reestablished and carefully marked, and, as such, is apparently satisfactory to the people in its vicinity. The monuments as now located are permanent and intervisible; no dispute can arise in regard to the boundary, which is practically the same that has been known and recognized during the preceding forty years. It would seem, therefore, a useless refinement to change it now. The matter at issue, so far as the two Governments are concerned, it is respectfully submitted, is but a trifle, while to the individuals to be affected the results of a change might be very serious.

While the work proposed, should it ultimately be determined to make [Page 402]the rectification referred to, would not be specially difficult and would involve no very intricate scientific problems, yet the more serious and expensive part of it would doubtless be the removal and reerection of all monuments along the meridian section, 14 in number, three being of stone; also those on. the azimuth line from the one hundred and eleventh meridian to the Colorado River, 80 in number, 10 being of stone. Apparently the request of the Mexican Government contemplates the rectification of the whole line from the Rio Grande to the Colorado, involving the removal of 205 monuments, although in this connection I have observed your statement that “the differences found in the dividing line between the Californias are insignificant.” Still, as there are some deviations on the California azimuth line, it would seem proper to include that section also if the work is to be undertaken.

In this connection, it is well to bear in mind that all surveys, even when carried out with the greatest precision, are necessarily approximate. There is therefore no reason to believe that the survey of the commission of 1891–1895 was infallible, or that should the line be now changed to conform to its results a future generation would be equally justified in changing it again on the plea that a further advance in scientific methods had discovered errors in the present work.

I submit these views for the information of the Mexican Government. In the President’s judgment no sufficient reasons have been adduced why either Government should be put to the expense of endeavoring to rectify a line, that future generations may be able to say is not the true one, after it has been so thoroughly and competently surveyed, in the light of all modern and scientific methods, by the joint commission organized pursuant to the convention of July 29, 1882. The results of that commission should stand, since the differences indicated are of practically no intrinsic value so far as the few square miles of land are concerned, and the boundary line so marked is practically the same that had been known and recognized during the preceding forty years.

Accept, Mr. Minister, etc.,

John Sherman.