W. D. Twichell

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Willis Day Twichell
Born (1864-03-24)March 24, 1864
Hastings, Minnesota, US
Died September 23, 1959(1959-09-23) (aged 95)
San Angelo, Texas
Resting place Lawnhaven Cemetery in San Angelo

(1) Amarillo, Texas
(2) Austin, Texas

(3) San Angelo, Texas
Alma mater National Normal University
Occupation Surveyor; Civil engineer
Years active 1883—ca. 1934
Known for Cadastral surveying, Texas/New Mexico border, XIT Ranch
Spouse(s) Eula Trigg Twichell

Four daughters

Two sons, including Trigg Twichell

Daniel Wilson Twichell

Sarah Catherine Coons Twichell

Willis Day Twichell (March 24, 1864 – September 23, 1959) was a Texas surveyor and civil engineer, based primarily in Amarillo and later Austin, who surveyed 165 of the state's 254 counties.


Twichell was born in Hastings in southeastern Minnesota, to Daniel Wilson Twichell and the former Sarah Catharine Coons. After the death of his mother, which occurred when he was four, Willis lived on farms owned by uncles. His father remarried and moved to Madison County in west central Ohio. Willis attended public schools in Minnesota and then Ohio. Presumably, he followed his father and stepmother to Ohio. In 1883, he graduated from the since defunct National Normal University, a teaching institution in Lebanon in southwestern Ohio. With a degree in civil engineering, he established a surveying practice in Springfield in western Ohio.[1]

Migration to Texas[edit]

In November 1885, Twichell migrated to West Texas, where his first assignment was to stake out Garden City, located some twenty-seven miles south of Big Spring. Garden City became the seat of the newly created Glasscock County. In 1886, Twichell met William S. Mabry, a surveyor employed by the Capitol Syndicate, which owned the huge XIT Ranch, which was then constructing the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Mabry also had built the former T&P Hotel in Big Spring, the seat of Howard County.[1] Twichell surveyed the Yellow Houses Division of the XIT, which the syndicate had established on lands that it procured in exchange for the building of the state capitol. After finishing this work, Twichell surveyed the Spring Lake Division of the XIT. He also surveyed Littlefield, the seat of Lamb County, named for the cattleman George W. Littlefield, a Confederate officer and large donor to the University of Texas.[2]

According to the Handbook of Texas, Twichell's skill in cadastral surveying, astronomy, physics, and mathematics enabled him to use more precise methods of surveying than those that depended upon following directions via a magnetic compass. With cadastral surveying, Twichell's east-west survey lines corrected for the natural curvature of the earth's spherical surface.[1]

Throughout the late 1880s Twichell and Mabry conducted right-of-way surveys for the Fort Worth and Denver City and the Southern Pacific railroads in West Texas. The two maintained an office in Tascosa, now a ghost town in Oldham County west of Amarillo and not to be confused with Atascosa County near San Antonio.[1] Surveyors were frequently prime targets of earlier Indian raiding parties, but Twichell avoided even carrying a gun.[2][3]

In 1890, Twichell moved his office to Amarillo, where he continued to conduct railway surveys. In 1893, he platted the city of Enid in Garfield County in northern Oklahoma.[1]

From 1900 to 1916, Twichell was the Texas state surveyor, a position in the General Land Office, though he kept his own office in Amarillo until he relocated to Austin in 1918. He retired from active business on January 1, 1934, to become a consultant and moved to San Angelo, the seat of Tom Green County, where he resided until his death at the age of ninety-five. He is interred there at Lawnhaven Cemetery.[1]


On September 4, 1895, Twichell married Eula Trigg. They had four daughters and a son, Trigg Twichell; another son died in infancy.[1]

Twichell became involved in Amarillo civic affairs. He was a Methodist and backed prohibition, having once hosted an appearance in Amarillo by Carrie Nation, known for her physical attacks on saloons.[2] Perhaps using some of the normal school training, he taught from 1895 to 1897 at the forerunner to the community college now known as Amarillo College, where he not only launched the school band but in 1901 organized the Amarillo Concert Band.[1]

Subsequent cadastral surveyors retracing his lines found them highly accurate. His survey records, composed of many field books, working sketches, some 200 finished maps, field notes, and about 50,000 pages of correspondence, were purchased by six major oil companies a short time before Twichell's death and were long maintained in a private depository in Midland.[1]

On September 29, 2010, Chevron, Atlantic Richfield, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil, which held the remaining Twichell papers, donated the surveys to the office of General Land Commissioner Jerry E. Patterson.[4] Altogether Twichell laid out more than forty towns and surveyed in 165 of the 254 Texas counties.[4] Patterson reflected on Twichell's long-term significance to Texas history and development. Twichell surveyed the developing areas along the Texas and New Mexico boundary, marked lands giving rise to the XIT Ranch, helped to build railroads, developed the funding mechanism for part of the costs of public education, and provided for the abundant exploration of petroleum and natural gas.[4]

His survey also extended into Arizona. In 1901, Twichell was called upon to survey the Spindletop oil field near Beaumont in southeastern Texas. His surveying brought him into contact with such figures as the legenday justice of the peace, Roy Bean of Langtry, Texas, as well as author O. Henry, cattleman Charles Goodnight, and the Comanche chief Quanah Parker. He trained the Lubbock surveyor Sylvan Sanders.[2] Twichell surveyed 15 million total acres, having averaged twenty miles in a typical day. He derived much satisfaction from his work because it created a constant demand for mental activity and allowed him the benefits of new experience and travel. Only one mistake was found in Twichell's work, and that was made by an associate.[3]

A limestone rock used as a surveying reference point when Twichell drew the north and west lines of Lamb County is on display at the Texas Last Frontier Museum in Morton in Cochran County. The rock bears the vestige of an inscription that could refer to the Capitol Syndicate, which built the Texas State Capitol in return for vast acreage in ten Panhandle counties.[5]


The Handbook of Texas uses these sources for its biographical sketch of Twichell:

  • Alice Duggan Gracy, "Willis Twichell, Civil Engineer"
  • Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 18 (1945)
  • Fred M. Truett, Texas Was His Land (Austin: Eakin Press, 1982)
  • Sue Watkins, ed., One League to Each Wind: Accounts of Early Surveying in Texas (Austin: Surveyors Association Historical Committee, ca. 1964).[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Willis Day Twichell". The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d "Oral History Collection". swco.ttu.edu. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Mark Lambert of the Texas General Land Office in Austin, "How to Survey 20 Miles a Day and Other Tips for a Long Life by W. D. Twichell," West Texas Historical Association, annual meeting, Lubbock, Texas, April 2, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Legendary land surveying papers donated to Texas General Land Office". glo.texas.gov, September 29, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  5. ^ Tai D. Kriedler, executive director of West Texas Historical Association, memorandum to members, June 20, 2013