William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 3] [Cutler's History]


To the utilitarian, to whom all scientific research is valued according to its beneficent results, as they may be adapted to the well-being or happiness of man, the knowledge of the geological structure of Kansas gives most bounteous returns, which will increase with increasing knowledge. All products having intrinsic worth - building material, fuel, fertilizers, etc. - are found in abundance, and diffused and plentiful in ration to the natural wants of man. The precious metals, having a mere extrinsic value, and hence not indispensable, are not found. In the order of their intrinsic value, which in Kansas corresponds with the profuseness of their distribution, they are found in the rocks as below stated.


Limestone is the most abundant and widely distributed building stone in the State. It is plentiful, and of an excellent quality, over an area embracing nearly one-half of the State. It is entirely wanting only in the small tertiary area in the northwestern corner, and in the still smaller section of the Coal Measures in the southeast. The limestone in that area of the Cretaceous designates as the Niobrara is of less value as a building stone than the formations lying farther east, being so soft and chalky as to require much care in selection, to avoid material too soft for heavy walls. The limestone east of the Benton group ;is almost universally fit for building purposes. The stratum of limestone is sixty feet thick at the western line of division, and extends, decreasing in thickness, from the Nebraska line, in Jewell County, southwesterly as far as the Pawnee Fork, in Hodgeman County. The stratum is in layers of from one to three feet in thickness, has a good cleavage, is sufficiently soft to be wrought and sufficiently hard to be durable. The quality is quite uniform throughout. It yields a good quicklime when burnt. It is the most persistent and extensive limestone deposit in the State. The schoolhouse and court house at Hays City are built of this stone, as are many of the bridge piers of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Farther east, the Permian limestone is found cropping out in nearly every ravine, bluff or hillside. It is drab and buff in color, and furnishes an excellent and beautiful building material. The strata vary in thickness, from a few inches to thirty feet. Where found of sufficient thickness to quarry, it is in layers from two to four feet in thickness. The quarries at Junction City furnish fine specimens of this stone, which are extensively used for building purposes in various parts of the State. It is of a soft, fine grain, easily worked, yet durable. The quarries at Manhattan, Atchison, Leavenworth, Lawrence, Fort Scott, Florence, Cottonwood Falls and many other places where it has been quarried all yield stone of uniform excellent quality. This stone also yields a pure quicklime when burnt.

Sandstone appears quite generally distributed through the State, but shows more frequent croppings in the eastern third than elsewhere. It is of all degrees of compactness, from that which crumbles at the touch to that requiring the blows of a hammer to fracture. It varies as to color from reddish brown to buff, and wherever found forms a beautiful and durable building material. The bull variety shows in fine regular strata in the bluffs of the South Fork of the Pottawatomie, near Garnett, in Anderson County; also a few miles southwest of Ottawa, in Franklin County. The college building at Ottawa is built from stone procured from the last named locality.


Lime, as has been stated, is yielded wherever the limestone formation exists.

Hydraulic cement is produced from the magnesian limestone when burned. This stone is found near Fort Scott, Lawrence and Leavenworth, and will doubtless be found in many other localities when experimental tests are made. It is manufactured extensively at Fort Scott, and proves of excellent quality.

Gypsum, when simply ground, is the well-known fertilizer known as plaster. When afterward boiled, thereby expelling the sulphuric acid, it becomes plaster of Paris. This valuable rock is found in various parts of the State, cropping out in the central portions and extending westward beneath the cretaceous and tertiary rocks. These deposits are generally pure white, granular sulphate of lime. It appears in the western part of the State, in the Upper Saline and Smoky Hill Valleys, in crystalline form, superior in arrangement and beauty to any found elsewhere in this country. In the southern part of the State, near the Cimarron River, are massive layers of the selenite varieties. In Marshall County, near the junction of Big and Little Blue Rivers, lies a heavy bed of gypsum of the purest quality. It is from three to ten feet in thickness and extends from four to ten miles and east. There is now a plaster mill at Blue Rapids. The supply from these beds alone is, for present known uses, inexhaustible. Another bed, still larger, has been traced from near Salina, on the south side of the Smoky Hill River, in an easterly direction twenty miles and eight or ten miles in breadth. It increases east in thickness. On Gypsum Creek, in Saline County, some nine miles east of Salina, it has, where denuded and undermined by the stream, broken off in large blocks, which show the thickness of the bed at that point to be sixteen feet. It is thus distributed in the most arid portions of the State in inexhaustible quantity.

From its rare property of retaining, if not attracting, moisture, in addition to its virtues as a fertilizer for grains and grasses, it is the most valuable natural product known for counteracting the blighting effects of the parching sun and hot winds upon the unshaded soil of the treeless plains.

Where found sufficiently massive, as in some parts of Saline, Dickinson and Marshall Counties, in addition to its peculiar value as a fertilizer, it also furnishes a most excellent building stone, being easily quarried and cut, and sufficiently hard to be durable.


The ordinary brick clay is found in beds, sufficient for practical wants, in all parts of the State.

Fire clay (argillaceous), or a kind 'presenting all the physical properties of good fire clay,' was reported by Prof. Swallow, as early as 1866, as existing in the Coal Measures; under the coal at Fort Scott; under the black slate, in the ridges, thence to Leavenworth and northward; under the coal west of Topeka; in the branch east of Lecompton; on Mill Creek; and also in other parts of the State. He declined to positively identify it till chemical analysis and actual experiment should fully determine whether these beds would yield fire brick of the best quality. The agricultural county reports for 1880 give it as existing in seventeen counties, ten of which are in or near the Coal Measures, and none in the western half of the State. In several counties, experiment has proved it to yield fire brick of good quality; in others, it has not been utilized, but is identified by its appearance. There remains no doubt as to the deposits near the coal beds being, for practical purposes, a good fire clay.

Pottery clay is reported in eighteen counties, it being found, like the fire clay, in largest quantity in the Coal Measures and the adjacent Upper Carbonaceous. None is reported farther west than Barton and Pawnee Counties.

Pipe clay of good quality is found in the township of Walnut, Bourbon county.


The distribution of coal has been already fully shown in the general geological sketch. In more or less thickness and persistency, beds of bituminous coal lie beneath the whole area defined as Upper Carboniferous and Coal Measures, which cover almost the entire eastern half of the State. The thickest beds of the best quality and most profitable to mine are most accessible in the southeastern counties, dipping deep, and running thin to the northwest; but thinner beds nearer the surface are found in the upper rocks of the carboniferous system, widely distributed, and of sufficient purity to furnish a cheap and inexhaustible supply of excellent fuel for local and domestic uses.

The rich beds, which have been profitably worked for shipment, have been found in the eastern line of counties, all in the area designated as the Coal Measures, except in Leavenworth County, where shafts sunk to the depth of 700 feet have reached the lower beds. The coal mining counties, where mining is already extensively and successfully prosecuted, are Labette, Cherokee, Crawford, Bourbon, Linn, Franklin, Osage and Leavenworth. In upward of thirty other counties in the eastern half of the State, it is mined more or less extensively for local use, and in several southeastern counties rich, thick beds are known to exist, showing equally as well as those already being successfully worked.

Brown coal (lignite) is found quite generally distributed over the western half of the State. West of Cedar Bluffs, the beds crop out along the Smoky Hill, at intervals, to the western border of the State. It is found irregularly disposed, but with sufficient continuity to be traced from the north State line in Washington and Republic Counties, southwesterly into the Arkansas Valley, and is seen in Clark and Mead Counties, on the southern border of the State. It furnishes a passable fuel for home use, as it is easily procured. The general character of the Kansas deposits are of rather inferior quality, being shaley and containing sulphurous deposits, which render it, where good bituminous can be obtained cheaply, of little value, except for domestic use.


Extensive deposits of salt are found at accessible points, mostly showing on the surface as salt marshes, which are numerous and of large extent, across the Republican and Saline Valleys. They are scattered over a tract some thirty-five miles wide and seventy miles long, in the counties of Lincoln, Mitchell, Cloud and Republic. In these counties, the State Commissioners have located, on the salt marshes in the above-named counties, twelve salt springs, donated to the State by the United States, at the time of her admission. These marshes vary in extent from 500 to 3,000 acres. They lay in sandy basins eroded through cretaceous deposits, and below the level of the surrounding country. They are of alluvial formation, mostly sand and loam washed down from the neighboring upland, are perfectly level, and for a large part destitute of vegetation. The surface where undisturbed is white with a crust of crystallized salt, formed from the strong brine with which the soil is thoroughly saturated. The brine is reached at a depth of four to eight feet below the surface, and when not diluted by fresh surface water shows a saline strength three times that of the ocean. The extent of the marshes and the saline strength of the brine give conclusive evidence of the existence of vast salt deposits at a moderate depth, which, when reached and utilized, will furnish an abundant supply for the whole West. By analyses made by Dr. C. T. Jackson, of Boston, and Prof. C. F. Chandler, Columbia College, New York, the Kansas salts give from 96.69 to 97.95 per cent chloride of sodium (pure salt).

Extensive salt marshes are also found at the great bend of the Arkansas River in Trego County, where the manufacture of salt from the brine is already carried on to a moderate extent. South of the Great Bend and near the State line is a large deposit of crystallized salt, lying in hard, compact beds from six to twenty-eight inches thick. Salt springs are found in Saline, Greenwood and Barbour Counties.


Theses metals are found in paying quantity only in very small area in the southeastern corner of the State. The sub-carboniferous system, which farther east in Missouri yields so abundantly in lead ore, shows signs in its very small area in Kansas, and persistent efforts have been made, by sinking shafts at various promising points, to find lead and zinc ores in paying quantity. Thus far, such efforts have not been crowned with success, except at what are termed the Short Creek diggings, in the townships of Shawnee and Lowell, in Cherokee County. The discovery of rich deposits of both lead and zinc ore was made in those towns in April, 1877, since which time mines have been opened and are being successfully worked, giving a profitable and apparently permanent yield of both lead and zinc ores. The yield of zinc is inconsiderable as compared with the amount of lead. The mining of zinc, and lead has become one of the leading industries of the Short Creek region, yielding to the proprietors and companies who own the mines a large revenue, and to the miners themselves smaller returns than the soil affords to the agricultural laborers in the same county.


Neither of these precious metals is believed to exist in paying quantities in Kansas, and in no form except in combination with lead; then scarcely perceptible, being less than one ounce to the ton. The metamorphic rocks in which they are deposited lie farther west. It is yet an open question whether there are metamorphic formations in the State, and if found in some small area the chances are not one in one thousand that they well be either gold or silver bearing rock. As the natural geological products of Kansas adapted to the wants and convenience of a civilized community are so diversified and profuse as to be almost anomalous in their supply; and as they are never to be found in conjunction with the metamorphic formations, Kansas may at least show content, if not gratitude, under the deprivation of this most questionable blessing.


Marble is but a species of limestone of fine texture, and capable of taking a polish. The extensive limestone formations of Kansas furnish many specimens which have all the qualities of excellence and beauty entitling it to that name. In Franklin and Osage Counties, a rock resembling the coraline marble of Derbyshire, England, is found in Pottawatomie township, Osage County. Marbles of varying shades from nearly white to nearly black exist at various places. Bourbon, Anderson, Osage, Douglas, Doniphan and other counties have marbles, some of them of rare beauty, and all fit for the ordinary uses to which this stone is put.

Ochres of various colors-red, gray, and brown-are found in Anderson, Chase, Douglas and Pawnee Counties.

Mineral paint, so called - red, brown and slate color - has been discovered and utilized in the counties of Bourbon, Douglas, Reno and Wabaunsee.

Chalk of an excellent quality, from which the finest whiting can be manufactured, is accessible in Trego County.

Bricks, in Ellis County, have been made from a soft, thin stratum of limestone, easily sawed into the required size and proportions.

Indications of petroleum are shown in various parts of the coal region, forming on the surface of the springs. No boring has ever thus far struck oil, though made as deep as 1,000 feet. Several gas or burning wells have been reached, some of which have been utilized for lighting purposes. At Fort Scott, Iola, and near Wyandotte, they have been struck, and give an apparently inexhaustible supply of gas, having about seven-eights the lighting capacity of that manufactured from coal. All these deposits were struck in a stratum of sandy shale, under a bed of compact limestone or clay shale.

Iron has not yet been found in paying form or quantity.

In Kansas, the geological products essential to the happiness or wants of man, are distributed in such profuse diversity as seldom appears. The useful materials thus garnered in the rocks of Kansas by provident Nature, supplemented by the fruits of the teeming soil, and the grazing flocks and herds, cover the whole domain of mans natural wants, and render the conditions of human life such as obtain only in the most favored portions of the habitable earth.


The climate of any country is largely determined by its geological structure and formation. Its altitude above the ocean level; the evenness or unevenness of the surface; its mountains and hills; the direction of the general slope; the material of the surface deposits, each and all exert important climatic influences. These, in connection with the relative abundance of tree foliage, largely control and mark the course of the isothermal line inland, and are the most important natural causes determining the character of the climate, wet or dry, cold or hot, sterile or fruitful, genial or otherwise, as the case may be.

As the reader already knows, the general slope of the State is from west to east, with a slight declination to the south. It thus receives the heat rays of the sun with more directness than it otherwise would. This, in connection with the fact that it is, except along the river bottoms, a treeless prairie, gives it an average range of temperature somewhat above that of the other Western and Middle States lying in the same latitude, with the exception of Missouri. The mean temperature as reported by the Smithsonian Institution, is 52.8 (degrees); and winter, 29.1 (degrees). The observations on which these averages were based were taken in the eastern part of the State from Leavenworth to Baxters (sic) Springs, and as far west as Manhattan. The temperature is favorable for the growth of all grains and fruits that flourish in temperate climes.

The rainfall in Kansas diminishes from the east toward the west, as the elevation increases, and the Rocky Mountains are approached. The State, when divided into three rain-areas, shows by observation the decrease.

In the eastern, embracing all lying east of the twentieth meridian, the average rainfall per annum for thirteen years, form 1868 to 1880, inclusive, as observed by Prof. Frank H. Snow, at Lawrence, was 34.83 inches. The average fall, distributed through the seasons, as follows: Spring, 9.66; summer, 13.44; autumn, 7.68; winter, 4.05. Beginning with February, in which the rainfall is least, the precipitation increases each month till the end of June or the middle of July, when the maximum is reached, from which period there is a gradual decrease from month to month, till February is again reached.

Over this area the average precipitation is now sufficient to insure full success in all branches of agriculture. The increase of annual rainfall attending the occupation and settlement of a country by civilized men has been demonstrated here. The mean annual rainfall at Fort Leavenworth, for the nineteen years immediately preceding the settlement of this region, was 30.96 inches. The mean annual precipitation at the same point for the eighteen years following was 36.21 inches, an increase since the settlement of the country of 5.25 inches per annum. That the increase may be deemed constant and permanent is proven by observations at other points which corroborate the above. The mean rainfall of the first ten years at Manhattan (Agricultural College) was 27.04: the second ten years it was 32.65 inches. At Fort Riley, similar observations for two succeeding decades gave 23.41 for the first, and 26.46 for the second. The observations of Prof. Snow at Lawrence are fully corroborative of the increase as above shown. The eastern area above described has a mean elevation above the level of the sea of 1,000 feet.

The middle rain area, embracing the central part of the State, lying between 20 (degrees) and 22(degrees) 30' west longitude shows a diminished precipitation. At Fort Riley, on its extreme eastern border, observations for twenty years show an annual rainfall of 24.93 inches. As the decrease is gradual going west, being but 16 inches on the western borders of the State, it is estimated that the average rainfall over the whole area cannot exceed 21 inches for a series of years; although in some small areas, observations not embracing long periods, show the same uniformity in quantity as appears in the eastern belt. Sufficient falls, however, to support a luxuriant growth of grass, and nature seems to have specially designed it for the uses of the shepherd and herdsman. This region has an average altitude of two thousand feet above the level of the sea.

The western rain area, lying west of 22 (degrees)30 west longitude, has a still lighter rainfall, not averaging over 18 inches per annum. It nevertheless has long reaches of good pasture land. Much of the section is, however, sandy and arid. It is the western limit of pasturage, and is the border of land of western husbandry. It averages three thousand feet above the level of the sea.

The strongest winds blow from the southwest, and the prevailing winds for the whole year and more southerly than northerly. The mean hourly velocity, as shown by observations at Lawrence, Kan., for seven years, 1873 to 1880, was 15.75 miles per hour. For the seasons, the velocity compared as follows: Spring, 18.69; summer, 12.69; autumn, 16.13; winter 15.46.

The air is dry, showing less humidity than in the Eastern States, and there are more sunny days.

[TOC] [part 3] [Cutler's History]