History of the Kansas Geological Survey

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Table of Contents



1541 to 1864

First Survey

1864 and 1865


Finally Persuaded

Starting Over

From Haworth to Moore

R. C. Moore

Post-World War II

1960s and 1970s




When Rex Buchanan asked me if I would write a foreword to this delightful story of the now 100-year-old State Geological Survey of Kansas, I accepted the honor, albeit with a bit of trepidation. You see, the story is self-contained and really needs no foreword. Nonetheless, to have the opportunity to endorse it and add a little to it pleases me greatly. This Geological Survey was scarcely past middle age when I entered the organization's domain and remained therein and under its spell for nearly two decades. So I hope I shall be pardoned if my comments seem heavily tinged with personal reminiscences and feelings.

My first rub with geology--and I believe the work of the Survey--came, though unbeknown to me at the time, as far back as the 1920s. In that decade, I spent a goodly portion of my childhood and preteens in southeastern Cowley County, Kansas, near where the high ridge crowning that major east-facing, north-south-trending escarpment of the Flint Hills begins to bow into Oklahoma. A favorite pastime of mine was roaming over my maternal grandparents' farmstead, located on the western flank of that ridge. I remember collecting crinoid stems ("Indian beads" in child language) and vaguely wondering what they really were and how they came to be; stubbing my toes on sharp, angular pieces of flint rock and feeling sorry for the cattle that had to stumble over such terrain while grazing; and now and then pondering the origin of the layers of rock, some solid and some crumbly, in a cut in the country road along the eastern edge of the homestead.

From the school yard at Hooser (today a ghost town) on that ridge about two miles northeast of the homestead, on one or two occasions I watched with a passing interest as some strangers appeared on a nearby hillside and began hammering on rocks and digging with picks and putting samples of stuff in little bags. The local citizenry paid scant attention, having become accustomed to the occasional presence of people called "geologists" at that "good fossil-collecting locality." Seemingly, regular visitors included students from Southwestern College at Winfield, about 30 miles to the northwest. On the other hand, as I surmised later, those strangers I observed at that locality could well have been geologists from the State Geological Survey, from away up northeast in Lawrence, more than 200 miles distant. Anyway, about that time field work was in progress on the geology of Cowley County--field work that became the substance of a report issued by the Geological Survey in 1929.

As I was reading this exceedingly well-written, well-documented history of the Kansas Geological Survey by Rex Buchanan, I thus began reminiscing. I suppose I was really attempting to establish some contact with or awareness of the Geological Survey as early in my life as possible. Yet despite my mild curiosity about rocks and fossils and landscape in the 1920s, geology did not then become a part of my vocabulary, nor did I have any idea of what a geological survey is or does. If I had been wise enough or curious enough to have asked the right adult the right questions or if some reading material on the subject written at my level of understanding had been available to me, I might have gained enough knowledge of rocks and minerals and fossils to have appreciated to some extent what I was observing. Surely I would have had some concept of the science of the earth, realized that geologists study the earth and its resources, and, yes, comprehended to some degree that the work of the State Geological Survey of Kansas contributes importantly to the economy of the state and to the well-being of its citizens.

For example, I might have had some real respect for those oil derricks around Otto to the west of the old homestead or those to the northwest around Dexter and especially around Winfield and on into Butler County, which adjoins Cowley County on the north. I might have learned that Erasmus Haworth had been the first state geologist and director of the present Geological Survey and that he had mapped the structure on which lies the most productive oil field in Kansas, the El Dorado of Butler County. I might have been impressed with the fact that when that field was discovered in 1915, it was proclaimed one of the most important oil fields in the country and that reportedly it greatly influenced the outcome of World War I. Furthermore, I might have had some notion of why that discovery sparked a flurry of exploratory drilling by oil companies in the southern Flint Hills during and after the War and why geologists were involved in the search and why samples of rock penetrated during the drilling were collected for geologists and paleontologists to study.

Though most of them were written in language an astute layman could understand, the publications that had been issued by the Geological Survey before the 1920s undoubtedly in content were beyond my comprehension at that time. Had I by chance, however, examined some of them, I might have gleaned something from them. Copies surely could have been found on the shelves of town libraries. And conspicuous among them, even in the 1920s, would have been a set of those nine handsomely bound and rather hefty volumes published between 1895 and 1908 (when the Survey was known as the University Geological Survey).

Those volumes in the 1920s were still viable "encyclopedias" on Kansas geology, paleontology, physiography, and mineral resources of economic importance: coal, gypsum, mineral waters, lead and zinc, and oil and gas, especially, but with mention of some others, including building stone and clay. (A youngster of school age, I believe, could have read with understanding the relatively short reports on those mineral resources issued annually from 1897 through 1903.) It seems worthwhile to note here that those primarily responsible for getting the Survey off to a productive start and offering proof that such an agency can contribute much to a state's economic welfare were the three principal authors of those volumes: Erasmus Haworth, physical geologist who became state geologist; Samuel W. Williston, probably the country's leading paleontologist of that time and a man so well versed in other sciences including medicine that a granddaughter-in-law referred to him as "the compleat scientist"; and E.H.S. Bailey, a chemist of repute.

The volume on oil and gas, authored by Haworth in 1908, not only was the last in the series but also was, quite likely, the most important toward convincing the Kansas public generally that to have a permanent Geological Survey is a mighty good thing. Certainly its release was timely. From then on, through World War I and especially on into the 1920s, the automobile was revolutionizing transportation, self-propelled machinery was beginning to supplant some of the horsepower on the farm, and newfangled inventions increasingly were focusing attention on oil and gas as energy resources.

Who (except for such a child as I) could have missed the excitement brought on by the increased search for and production of those fuel resources during that period? Or ignored the growing importance of the oil and gas industry in the state? Or faulted the Geological Survey for continuing to give special attention to those resources while studying the geology of the state? Was it any wonder that Raymond C. Moore, when he became state geologist and Survey director during World War I, about a year after Haworth had resigned (to work for the oil and gas industry), almost immediately wrote (with a staff geologist) a publication on the oil and gas resources of Kansas, updating what had been learned since the Haworth volume had been published? And that from then on an important phase of research by the Geological Survey would be oil and gas geology, along with service to the industry?

But back in the 1920s, when those developments were a-stirring, I as a child seemed not to notice, and it would be two decades before I would have any understanding of what had been going on or of the concept of geology or of anything relating to the Geological Survey. Then, in the 1940s after World War II, by some quirk of fate, I walked into the main office of the State Geological Survey, in relatively new Lindley Hall at the west end of the University of Kansas campus on Mount Oread, that scenic ridge over-looking the Kansas and Wakarusa valleys and the oldest part of Lawrence. There I obtained a part-time drafting job with the Survey, a job intended simply to put food on the table while I re-entered school to study journalism. It so happened that when I received my journalism degree, I stayed on. Having learned something about Survey publications and activities, I began releasing for public consumption items on some of the Survey's work and personnel, gradually slipping into a position having to do with "public information and education." One might say that I was "in the right place at the right time." The time had come, it seems, for some concentrated effort by the Survey on public relations.

In the years from the end of World War I to after the end of World War II--years during which I knew only faintly what a geological survey was--the Kansas Geological Survey had been expanding in staff, budget, and scope of research and other activities. Paralleling the growth was an increase in the number of publications annually released and made available to Kansas taxpayers and others. As a result, the Survey was reaching out for greater contact with that public. Indeed, more and more Kansans were requesting Survey publications and other information and inquiring about available services.

During that time, especially from the mid-1930s on, the Survey began strengthening ties with the public through several promotional efforts. Many Kansans who were adults in the 1930s and 1940s likely will remember two pamphlets, Resource-full Kansas and Scenic Kansas, prepared by Kenneth K. Landes, assistant director of the Geological Survey (and state geologist with R.C. Moore) until 1941. There were radio talks on Survey activities and a series on "Kansas Then and Now." A series of articles first known as "Kansas Surveys" and then as "Resource-full Kansas" had been started, released weekly to the Kansas press through the KU News Bureau. Articles--"observations on rocks, mineral deposits, and fossils of Kansas"--were written by the professional staff; especially regular contributors, as I recall, were John C. Frye and long-time members John M. Jewett, Walter H. Schoewe, Norman Plummer, and, yes, Raymond C. Moore.

John C. Frye, by the time I had joined the Geological Survey staff, had become executive director and essentially was in charge of all research and other activities. (R.C. Moore, though still state geologist and director in name, by that time commonly was out-of-state or out-of-country on some scientific mission, bringing renown to himself and to the Geological Survey, the University of Kansas Department of Geology, and the State of Kansas.) A capable administrator and research geologist (especially well known for his work on Pleistocene geology), Frye also had a down-to-earth approach toward keeping the public informed on Survey activities and Kansas geology. Anxious to keep alive and build on the public-relations efforts he and Landes and others had initiated, he encouraged me, with his help and backing, to develop within the Survey a program devoted to public information.

Such a program did not materialize fully until after Frye had left (in 1954) to head the Illinois Geological Survey and Frank C. Foley had arrived from Illinois to become state geologist and director of the Kansas Geological Survey. A geologist whose principal interest was ground-water resources and who could easily fraternize with State legislators, Foley supported a program oriented toward informing and educating the public on Survey activities and Kansas geology. So did William W. Hambleton, who, after receiving his Ph.D. degree in geology (with geophysics a specialty) from the KU Department of Geology in the late 1950s, joined the staff as assistant state geologist and assistant director (later advancing to associate state geologist and associate director and finally, a few years after my departure in 1966, state geologist and director). So during the greater part of my tenure with the Survey, Foley and Hambleton were the administrators. And Hambleton under Foley, like Frye under Moore, was the one especially attuned to Survey projects and director of research.

Within that time, the Kansas Geological Survey remained housed in Lindley Hall, sharing space with the cooperative United States Geological Survey division of ground-water resources and mineral fuels and several University departments: geology, geography, petroleum engineering, and metallurgy. Yet between the end of World War II and the mid 1960s, the staff had more than doubled to nearly 80 persons, counting those in the cooperative divisions. Increases were especially notable in the divisions of ground-water resources and oil and gas. In addition, changes in direction had begun to take place, reflecting advances in technology and changing industrial and societal needs.

In the 1940s and 1950s, it was routine for many staff geologists, come late spring or early summer, to don their field clothes, pick up their picks and shovels and measuring devices and notebooks, and head for some county or other geographic unit to map its geology and collect samples and information to analyze in the laboratory or "write up" in the office when snow covered the ground. And some geologists spent much time on service work, any time of year. Maybe the task was to inspect a leak in a lake dam (finding it resulted because the dam was built in a fault zone); to examine cracks in a building (which had been erected on a hillslope, on limestone above slippery shale); or to determine why members of a farm family became sick after drinking water from a well (which was found to be contaminated, perhaps, with runoff from a feedlot).

In the 1960s, field geology and service work were still important, but some geologists were beginning to spend more time in the office or laboratory, learning to make use of computer techniques, for example, in solving problems. Basic research, with some emphasis on geophysics, was receiving increased attention. Product development and research on industrial minerals were becoming an aspect of geologists work in the mineral-resources section. Environmental geology had been added to the Survey's areas of concern.

Looking back on that period from 20 years hence, after having read Buchanan's history of the Kansas Geological Survey, I am astounded at the growth and progress of the Survey since then. Can it be that the Survey, then just a "big family" in Lindley Hall, now has a staff large enough, has broadened its areas of research and services enough, and has acquired research equipment and other facilities enough to occupy six-story R.C. Moore Hall on KU's West Campus? And, in addition, to occupy space in two adjacent or nearby buildings? Obviously, the Survey, the directorship of which William W. Hambleton recently handed over to Lee C. Gerhard, now is reaching far beyond the state in research interests and contacts and visibility. Yet all the while the Survey is fulfilling commitments to Kansas and maintaining rapport with and providing some down-to-earth geological literature for the enjoyment of the Kansas public.

As I reflect on my own experience, that aspect perhaps gives me the most pleasure. I remember how thrilled I was when I first accompanied some Survey geologists on a field trip to observe some landscape features and examine and learn about some outcrops and their mineral and fossil content. I found it especially rewarding when I had learned to observe the landscape and what is under it with some understanding. Then I began to appreciate, really appreciate, the Kansas scene. I wonder if that appreciation would have started during my growing-up years back in the 1920s, if some geologist had happened along to stimulate my curiosity?

It seems to me that today as never before the people of Kansas are eager for knowledge to help them understand and appreciate the state's geology and surface features and landmarks. An indication of that eagerness is the popularity of Roadside Kansas by Rex C. Buchanan and James R. McCauley, recently published by the University Press of Kansas for the Kansas Geological Survey. Buchanan, in his position as the Survey's assistant director for publications and public affairs, of course deserves much credit for bringing such awareness to its present high status.

Now Buchanan has given us this history, which is if you please a ringside seat to the reenactment of the whole 100-year panorama of the present Kansas Geological Survey. And it is more than that. For prologue, Buchanan has brought on stage that time before 1889 during which two short-lived geological surveys flashed on the scene, followed by attempt after thwarted attempt by some Academy of Science members and others to persuade the state legislature to establish a permanent geological survey. Alongside that presentation, he brings into view some independent geologists and paleontologists having a heyday in the chalk beds of western Kansas collecting fossils of sharks, flying reptiles, toothed birds, giant turtles, and other strange creatures.

Unquestionably, anyone who reads this history will experience excitement--and perhaps amazement--that early lawgivers could not understand how an on-going geological survey could benefit the state. The reading should be especially exhilarating to those who have read or used as reference publications of the Geological Survey, have benefited from Survey research or services, are avidly interested in any phase of Kansas history, or have known or had dealings with any Survey personnel, past or present, including any or all of the state geologists or directors: Erasmus Haworth, William H. Twenhofel, Raymond C. Moore, Kenneth K. Landes, John C. Frye, Frank C. Foley, William W. Hambleton, and now Lee C. Gerhard.

And there I leave it, recommending that you read and enjoy this centennial publication of the State Geological Survey of Kansas.

--Grace Muilenburg

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Web version February 2003. Original publication date 1989.