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Kansas State Board of Agriculture
First Biennial Report


Economial Geology — Salt




While Kansas is relying for its supply of salt on New York, Michigan and Saginaw, there is an abundance of that article within the State, sufficient, if well developed, to meet the demands of the whole Valley of the Mississippi, even if its population were tenfold greater than at present. Small deposits occur in various places, and veins have been struck in wells dug for fresh water, and also in boring for coal. Several of these have been made useful in manufacturing salt for the local demand.

A very large deposit of crystallized salt is located south of the great bend of the Arkansas river, near the State line, lying in beds from six to twenty-eight inches in depth. In one instance, two Government wagons were filled in a few minutes without being moved. So compact is the salt that a hatchet is required for cutting it.

These deposits are undoubtedly caused by the drying up of salt ponds or salt branches of the Cimarron river; but these are situated so far from the settled portions of the State, or any regular route of transportation, that at present they are of no practical value.

The great supply of salt, which is to furnish Kansas and the neighboring States, lies at various points in a tract of country about thirty-five miles wide and eighty long, crossing the Republican and Saline valleys.

The indications of the deposit are seen in numerous springs, but more frequently in extensive salt marshes.

These salt marshes are very similar in formation and appearance, and a description of one will suffice for all. For example, that in Township four, Range two, west of the sixth principal meridian, in Republic county. It is sometimes called the Tuthill marsh. The valley here is wide, sometimes rising to the high prairies, so common in that part of the State. The marsh covers one thousand acres, more or less impregnated with saline matter. About one-third is entirely void of vegetation, owing to the briny nature of the soil. It is perfectly level, and at the time of our first visit was as white as a wintry snowfield with a crust of crystallized salt. The marsh is of recent alluvial formation, composed of sand and loam from twenty to thirty feet in thickness, brought down by the wash from the high prairies, which rise gradually on three sides. In this alluvium, at various depths, are found the bones of buffalo, deer and antelope, which have probably made this a resort for salt for long ages past, as they are seen to do at other places at the present time. The incrustation of salt is frequently three-eighths (3/8) of an inch in thickness. This is scraped up and used in its natural state for salting cattle, etc.; but for domestic purposes, it is melted by being mixed with about twenty gallons of water to a bushel of salt, when the mechanical impurities, sand, etc., readily settle. The salt is again returned to a solid state by evaporation. The marsh, after scraping, produces a second crop of salt in from five to seven days of dry weather, and, after repeated scrapings during several years, yields as full a supply as at first. The brine exists in nearly equal quantities and strength in all parts of the marsh, and can be obtained by boring a few feet, or digging pits. No definite salt spring shows itself at the surface, but the supply must come from numerous points below. Though originating from one great central reservoir, or salt bed, borings in more than one hundred different places to the depth of twenty or thirty feet show there is a very uniform supply and strength of brine. The water preserved for analysis was obtained several years ago by me from a boring made at random. It was found at four feet from the surface. The density by a salometer was 24 degrees, (6.16 Baume, or a specific gravity of 1.0421), with the thermometer at 60 degrees. This should give a bushel of salt for one hundred and thirty gallons of water, (not counting impurities), which is three times the strength of the ocean.

It was taken at our second visit, immediately after a heavy rain, which must have diluted the brine. The marsh receives the drainage of the valley slope of about five miles from the north and two miles in width; consequently the brine, as it comes from the source below, must be weakened by so large a body of surface water.

That from the north comes in, ten or fifteen feet wide and about a foot in depth, in a sluggish current, and when near a clump of trees at the north end of the marsh, suddenly disappears and is not again seen till it suddenly reappears at the opposite part of the valley, toward the Republican river. A part of this stream, in its subterranean course, may pass unmingled with the salt water, but a large portion must percolate into the loose soil occupied by the brine and help to dilute what would otherwise be a strong solution. Every indication tends to the conclusion that, by an artesian boring, brine could be obtained equal to the strongest now used in any part of the United States. The extent of the marsh also shows that the main source of the salt can not lie far below.

The soil of this and adjoining valleys affords excellent farming land, and good fresh water is obtained as soon as the borders of the marsh are passed.

On the organization of the State by Congress, twelve salt springs were donated to Kansas, to be selected by its own commissioners. They were located on the marshes, and ten of them are very valuable. They have since, by the State, been added to the endowment of the State Normal School. Four of them are on the salt creek of the Solomon, in Mitchell and Lincoln counties. Six others are in Republic and Cloud counties, in adjoining townships (T. 4, R. 5; T. 5, R. 5; T. 5, R. 4). They are all on marshes, and have no marked flowing spring. Four of them cover one marsh of about three thousand acres, and so similar is it to the one above described, that the same remarks apply to both. The main supply of the salt is yet to be ascertained, as no borings of importance have been made. But the excessive amount exhibited at the surface, covering so extensive an area, shows that an abundant deposit exists below. It is not improbable that a bed of rock salt may be found on boring.

There are still other salt marshes fully equal to those situated on Government land. At the great bend of the Arkansas river, in Reno county, is one embracing over two thousand acres. The brine is strong (8.8 Baume) and rises within three to six feet of the surface in apparently inexhaustible quantities. It increases in strength as we approach the southern or higher portion of the valley, and consequently the origin of the brine may be expected to exist in that direction.

Several parties are already commencing the manufacture of salt. As in other counties, the fertility of the adjoining soil is not affected by its proximity to the marsh.

All these Kansas marshes occupy sandy beds, filling basins eroded through Cretaceous deposits.

The value of Kansas salt is enhanced by its purity. The analysis of salt from Osawatomie, made by Dr. C. T. Jackson, of Boston, is as follows:

Chloride of Sodium (pure salt) 97.947
Chloride of Magnesium (muriate of magnesia) .482
Chloride of Calcium (muriate of lime) .706
Oxide of Iron .500
Sulphate of Soda .365

The analysis of the salt and brine from the Tuthill marsh, made by Prof. C. F. Chandler, of the School of Mines, Columbia College, N. Y., is as follows:

Chloride of Sodium 96.689
Sulphate of Soda 1.959
Sulphate of Lime .216
Chloride of Magnesium .300
Oxide of Iron  
Sand and clay .050
Water .786