Return to Index

Kansas State Board of Agriculture
First Biennial Report

Geology of Kansas



The State of Kansas lies between the parallels of 37° and 40° of lat. and 94 1/2° and 102° of long., embracing about 78,000 square miles, or with an extent of 400 miles from east to west by 200 in breadth. Its average altitude above the level of the ocean, based on the "List of Elevations," by Henry Gannett, one of Hayden's Reporters connected with the U.S. Geological Survey, is not far from 2,375 feet. The highest is in Cheyenne county, about 4,000 feet. The altitude of Monotony Station, of the Kansas Pacific Railway, on the west line of the State, is 3,792 feet. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Station at Syracuse, Arkansas Valley, near the line of Colorado, is 3,247 feet.

By an inspection of the State map it will be noticed that the rivers drain the country in a southerly and easterly direction. The valleys of the Arkansas, Smoky Hill and Solomon rivers, in the western half of the State, flow at quite different altitudes and rates of descent. The upper part of the valley of the Smoky Hill is from three to five hundred feet above the corresponding portions of the Arkansas Valley, and the upper valley of the Solomon is from one to two hundred feet higher than the Smoky. These rivers drain the country in a southeasterly and southerly direction, and their descent is gradual, without a waterfall in the State seven feet in height. The average descent of the Arkansas is little over six feet to the mile, while the Smoky is seven and the Solomon nearly ten feet to the mile. On the upper portions of the latter two rivers the descent is much greater than on the last hundred miles. This is seen in the Smoky, which enters Kansas five hundred feet above the Arkansas, but when it unites with the Saline river, it has come down to the level of the Arkansas in the same longitude.

The surface, for the most part, is a gentle rolling prairie, with few steep hills or bluffs, and the ravines are not often precipitous or deep. In the untilled portion of the State, where there are no roads, the traveler has no difficulty in crossing the country in any direction. Even where the rivers have rapids, a mill dam can rarely give a fall of more than ten feet.

The soil of both valley and high prairie is the same fine, black, rich loam, so common in the Western States. The predominating limestones, by disintegration, aid in its fertility; but the extreme fineness of all the ingredients acts most effectively in producing its richness. On the high prairie it is from one to three feet deep; in the bottom it is sometimes twenty feet. A few exceptions to this general rule of fertility exist in the most western and southwestern counties, but they constitute only a small proportion of the whole. The State is so well drained that there are very few valleys with stagnant ponds, and there is not a peat swamp of fifty acres within its boundaries. A very common opinion prevails that the land lying near the Colorado line contains numerous alkali springs, and that the surface is sometimes covered by white alkaline deposits. This is not so. During fifteen years' acquaintance with that portion of the State, I have seen but two springs appearing to contain that substance, and never found ten acres of land in one place where the vegetation had been injured by it.

From all the facts collected in various parts of the State, relating to the geological formations found here, we conclude, without hesitation, that there is nowhere to be seen any violent disturbandce or the strata, marks of internal fire, or even any slight metamorphic action in any of our deposits. The uplifting of this State and the adjoining country from the level of the ocean must have been slow, uniform, and in a perpendicular direction, which has left all the strata nearly in a horizontal position. This may have been as slow as that now going on in Florida, or a rise of five feet in a century. From our knowledge of the geology of the West, this undoubtedly took place after the rise of the Rocky Mountains, and proably did not come to a close until the Drift Period. The origin of our rivers, therefore, may date back as far, at least, as the beginning of this uprising. As the channels (valleys) cut by them are large, and often through heavy beds of limestone, the earlier processes may date still farther back in geological history.


A general vertical section of all the formations seen in Kansas would be, in descending series, as follows:



(Compiles from data furnished by Prof. B. F. Mudge.)

I. Quaternary System -
Bluff or loess.
II. Tertiary System -
III. Cretaceous System -
Fort Benton.
IV. Carboniferous System -
Upper Carboniferous.
Coal Measures.
Lower Carboniferous.

From this list of our deposits, a striking fact is apparent, viz: that the oldest rocks are not seen, and that important ages and parts of ages or the more recent deposits are also missing. Thus, the Triassic and Jurassic ages were either never deposited within the bounds of Kansas and the adjoining territory, or, in the grand operations of nature, all those deposits have been eroded and swept away, leaving no trace of their existence. This allows the Dakota, or lower beds, to rest directly on the top of the Carboniferous, and nearly, if not quite, in conformity, the geolgical level of the two being apparently identical. The same observations apply to the Pierre and Fox Hill groups, the highest of the Cretaceous and the Eocene and Miocene, or the loweast and middle division of the Teritiaries. Four groups in succession are absent. This shows the Pliocene of the latter age resting directly on the Niobrara or Middle of the Cretaceous. The line of demarkation in these cases is very clear.