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Wabaunsee Group Coal Resources

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Coal is the nation's leading mineral resource. In 1944 the value of all coal produced in the United States was $2,174,335,884 as compared with $2,030,500,000, the value of petroleum, the nation's second leading mineral product (Clark and Meyer, 1945, p. 4). In Kansas coal production ranks fourth among minerals produced. In 1944 Kansas produced 3,610,000 tons of coal, valued at approximately $9,350,000 (Clark and Meyer, 1945, p. 28). From 1869 to the end of 1944 a total of 251,596,368 tons of coal, valued at approximately $488,171,198 has been mined in Kansas. This cumulative production is, however, only 21.7 percent of the State's known original minable coal of 1,157,909,543 tons. If all this coal, not considering the rock waste, had been mined from a single square mile, a hole 262 feet deep would have resulted. The state's proved coal reserves are calculated to be 906,300,000 tons. At the average rate of production for the 5-year period 1940-44, these reserves are sufficient to last approximately 250 years. Of the state"s total proved coal reserves more than 20 percent or 186,680,000 tons are Wabaunsee coals which are sufficient to last about 50 years at the present rate of output. The Wabaunsee potential coal reserves exceed the Wabaunsee proved reserves by more than 19 times.

Coal was undoubtedly the first mineral resource looked for by the early pioneers who settled Kansas. Blessed with good soil, a healthful climate, and an abundance of luscious prairie grass, eastern Kansas offered every advantage for settlement that a new region could offer. Her greatest lack was obviously one of fuel. Except along the major drainage courses, where fuel wood was in fair abundance, the open prairie offered very little in fuel supplies; therefore, the early explorers passing through Kansas were continually on the lookout for coal. In 1828 Isaac McCoy, a missionary sent by the Federal Government into the territory of Kansas to study the Indians, recorded in his diary the finding of coal on the Neosho River at the Osage agency (McDermott, 1945, pp. 421, 449). This coal, he said, burned well and was comparable to that mined at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hale (1854, p. 127) in his book "Kanzas and Nebraska," one of the first two books written about Kansas, frequently mentions coal in his descriptions of the land and on his map, drawn from Original surveys, the word coal appears between the Kansas and Marais des Cygnes Rivers east of the 95th meridian. On page 87 Hale says, "The great coalfield of Missouri, south of the Missouri, extends thirty or forty miles in to Kanzas," and on page 127 he refers to one of the coal beds cropping out at the surface near the state line south of the mouth of the Kansas River. The importance of coal in the selection of town sites is indicated in his description of the selection of the Lawrence town site by the pioneer body of the Emigrant Aid Company. In writing.of this, Hale says (pp. 238-239): "They have here a good landing, wood and stone in abundance for building, the neighborhood of coal, and a good commercial position."

Although the earliest records of coal mining in Kansas go back to the year 1869, coal was mined much earlier. According to Brown (1896, p. 12) probably the first coal mined in Kansas by white men was dug out of a hillside about 3 miles northwest of Fort Leavenworth shortly after its establishment in 1827. This coal was hauled to Weston and other points on the Missouri side of the Missouri River in 1855-56 where it was sold at 35 to 40 cents a bushel. From talking to old settlers and from early reports it is known that coal mining in Kansas was contemporaneous with the establishment of the first towns in the late 1850's. The Indians, however, mined coal before the coming of the white man. Before 1854, according to Hale (1854, p. 127), the Shawnee Indians mined coal 40 miles west of the Missouri state line at the Wah-ka-rusi (Wakarusa; undoubtedly at Blue Mound, 6 miles southeast of Lawrence) and carried it as far east as Westport, Missouri. Commercial coal mining in Kansas may be said to have started in the late 1860's.

Purpose of study

This report is the third of a series on Kansas coal started by the State Geological Survey of Kansas in 1942. The chief purpose of the coal investigations is to make a detailed study of the occurrence, distribution, and commercial reserves of Kansas coal deposits. Although the studies were initiated during World War II and were designed to help forestall a threatening fuel shortage in the state, such inventories are also of post-war value in that they furnish a basis for special studies on the utilization of Kansas coal. Furthermore, they serve as a guide to new mining operations because they cover not only coal already mined extensively but also coal beds containing sizable reserves that are not now being utilized.

This report describes the coal resources of the Wabaunsee group of rocks. The two earlier reports of this series on Kansas coal resources have been published by the State Geological Survey. The coal resources of the Douglas group in east-central Kansas were studied by Bowsher and Jewett (1943) and the coal resources of the Kansas City group, Thayer bed, in eastern Kansas were studied by Schoewe (1944). A report on mined areas of the Weir-Pittsburg coal bed was prepared by Abernathy (1944). Earlier publications dealing solely with coal include reports on the coal resources of Kansas, post-Cherokee deposits (Whitla, 1940); the geology and coal resources of the southeastern Kansas coal field in Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties (Pierce and Courtier, 1937); and a special report on coals by Haworth and Crane (1898). Mention should also be made of reports by Young and Allen on Kansas coal published in 1925. Other references on Kansas coals are listed in Schoewe's report (1944, pp. 133-136).

Previous work

The need for suitable fuel prompted the pioneer settler of Kansas to search early for coal. References to the Wabaunsee coals, primarily the Nodaway or "Osage" coal as it was formerly called, may be found in early reports dealing with the geology and mineral resources of the state. By 1866, only 5 years after Kansas had joined the Union, the Wabaunsee coals had been recognized. Mudge (1866, pp. 18-19), the first State Geologist of Kansas, was one of the first to note the occurrence of the Wabaunsee coals in Atchison, Jefferson, Nemaha, Osage, Shawnee, and Wabaunsee counties. Although his report does not contain detailed descriptions of the coals, he cites locations and thicknesses of the coal and says that the coal was mined. Swallow (1866, p. 56), the second State Geologist of Kansas, likewise reports the occurrences of the Wabaunsee coals and adds Brown, Coffey, Doniphan, Greenwood, and Jackson to Mudge's list of counties. Hawn, (in Swallow, 1866, pp. 102, 113, 120) presents a more detailed account of the Wabaunsee coals. He recognized three distinct beds of coal in Brown County and correlated the uppermost one with the Burlingame coal bed of Osage County. Hawn believed that his middle coal, which cropped out on Wolf River near Robinson, was 50 to 100 feet lower stratigraphically than his uppermost coal bed. His lowermost coal, which he calculated to be 200 feet below his Wolf River coal, was correlated with the Topeka coal bed. From my field investigations in Brown County, it is now known that the coal along Wolf River near Robinson is the Elmo coal and is the same bed that Hawn identified as his uppermost coal in the northeastern part of the county. However, Hawn, as well as other investigators as late as 1895 (Haworth, 1896a, fn., p. 161; Brown, 1896, p. 209), was in error in believing that the coal mined in the Osage City-Burlingame district was the Elmo coal and that the coal mined at Topeka, which they called the Topeka coal, was stratigraphically lower. The Topeka coal and the coal mined in the Osage City-Burlingame district are the Nodaway coal. St. John in 1881 (Beede, 1898, p. 28) was probably the first one to correctly correlate the Topeka and Burlingame coals. Another early account of the Wabaunsee coal is given by Hutchinson (1871, pp. 74-76) in a private publication "designed to anticipate and answer many of the questions which would be asked by persons contemplating a removal from some other region to Kansas." Hutchinson refers briefly to the coals and coal-mining activities of Osage County and the entire eastern part of the state.

One of the first analyses of the Wabaunsee coal is given by Saunders (1873, p. 390; 1896, p. 33), who was of the opinion that there was no true bituminous coal west of the Missouri River. Saunders refers briefly to the coal district in Osage County and presents a table of coal analyses. In this table, which includes analyses of Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri coals, is an analysis of the Nodaway coal sampled at one of the mines at Carbondale in Osage County. He reports (p. 31) that the Fort Scott coal of Bourbon County was also called the "Osage" vein. In 1887, Kelly (p. 45) published a paper on the coal measures of Lyon County in which he discusses the search for coal particularly in the vicinity of Emporia, where in 1874 several thin layers of coal had been found in borings. According to Kelly's report, workable coal had not been located in Lyon County until about 1883 or 1884. Reference to the first coal mines in the county near Neosho Rapids is made in the report of the State Board of Agriculture for 1885. In 1886 coal had been found at a number of places in the northern part of the county and near the new town of Admire, where a shaft 28 feet deep had been sunk to a 17-inch vein of coal. In the same year, at least four tunnels to coal were driven about 3 miles northwest of Emporia. Nowhere was the coal less than 11 inches thick, and in some places it was as much as 17 inches thick. In 1889 two short but important papers dealing with Kansas coals appeared, one by Bailey (1889, pp. 46-49) and the other by Blake (1889, pp. 42-46). Bailey's paper discussed the composition of Kansas coals and Blake's paper was concerned with the evaporative power of these coals. Both papers contain analyses of 11 Wabaunsee coals from Osage County.

Detailed stratigraphic studies of Kansas rocks were begun in 1895 by the University Geological Survey of Kansas under the direction of Erasmus Haworth. In 1895, Haworth (p. 278), presented a description of rocks now classified as the Wabaunsee group in which he recognized two coal horizons. He called the lower coal the Topeka coal, and the upper one, a little more than 100 feet higher stratigraphically, he designed the Osage coal. It is evident from his description that his Topeka coal, which he said was mined just west of Topeka, is the Nodaway coal. His Osage coal, which he believed to be the same coal as that mined at Osage City, Burlingame, Scranton, and Carbondale, is the Elmo coal, not the coal mined in Osage County. As previously indicated, St. John (1883) correctly correlated in 1881 the coal mined at Topeka with that mined in the Osage City-Burlingame district. In Haworth's second paper (1895a, pp. 303-304) on the coal fields of Kansas this error in correlation is repeated, as well as the miscorrelation of the Silver Lake coal with the Osage City coal; the coal mined in Coffey and Lyon counties is correctly correlated with the coal mined at Osage City but incorrectly correlated stratigraphically. The data presented by Haworth in these two papers are repeated in his preliminary report on the coal fields of Kansas (Haworth, 1896, pp. 226-227). Data taken from Haworth's 1895 papers are also incorporated in Brown's (1896, p. 209) report of the state inspector of coal mines for 1895. A short paper by Hay (1896, p. 258) refers to a thin coal seam at Arrington in Atchison County but adds nothing of importance to the knowledge of the Wabaunsee coals.

In 1898 Beede (pp. 28-29) described the stratigraphy of Shawnee County and, like St. John, correctly correlates the coal mined' at Topeka with that mined in the Osage City-Burlingame district, with the vein of coal occurring north of Kansas, River in Shawnee County, and with that occurring near Meriden and Valley Falls in Jefferson County. His report also refers to the Silver Lake coal (Elmo), which he says is the highest stratum of coal found in paying quantity in the state. A report by Haworth and Crane published in 1898 is the most comprehensive contribution to the knowledge of Kansas coals. The stratigraphy of the coal-bearing rocks and the economic, statistical, and historical aspects of the coal are discussed. Much of the material in this report is from Haworth's earlier papers and those by Bailey (1889) and Blake (1889). Although much progress in the correlation of the mined coal beds had been made, confusion still prevailed and all the coals were included in the Osage shales.

Between 1898 and 1925 no new data in regard to the Wabaunsee coals were published. Two short papers published in 1901 (Grimsley, 1901, p. 201; Mead, 1901, p. 208) refer to the coals in Osage County and in the Flint Hills. Adams, Girty, and White (1903, pp. 49-51) in their important stratigraphic report give a brief description of the Severy shale, Howard limestone, and Burlingame shales and the included coals. In 1925 Young and Allen published reports which brought up to date much of the material presented by Haworth and Crane in 1898 and which include proximate and ultimate analyses of some Wabaunsee coals. A general description of the Wabaunsee coal district was given by Moore in 1929.

An important, though generalized, contribution to reports on Wabaunsee coals is a report by Whitla (1940) in which he discusses briefly the history of mining in Atchison County and in the Osage City coal district; presents generalized descriptions of the Nodaway, Elmo, and Nyman coals; and discusses the coals in Atchison, Brown, Chautauqua, Coffey, Elk, Jackson, Jefferson, Lyon, Osage, Shawnee, and Wabaunsee counties. The most recent paper referring to the Wabaunsee coals is one by Jewett and Schoewe (1942, pp. 83-84), which briefly discusses the history of the east-central Kansas coal field, its products, and coal resources. The Wabaunsee coals are also included in several general reports, (Moore and Landes, 1927; Moore, 1936; Landes, 1937; and Moore, Frye, and Jewett, 1944).

Statistical information on the Wabaunsee coals is given in the various reports of the Kansas coal and metal mine inspectors; U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Resources of.the United States, 1882 to 1923; U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook, 1924 to 1943; Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Annual Reports 1 to 5 (1872-1876) and Biennial Reports 1 to 9 (1878-1895); and the University Geological Survey of Kansas annual bulletins on mineral resources of Kansas for 1897 to 1903.

Field and laboratory investigations

Field work that forms the basis for this report was carried on from August 15 to October 28, 1944, and from August 17 to October 30, 1945. The Wabaunsee coals were traced throughout their geographical extent from the Kansas-Nebraska to the kansas-Oklahoma state lines. The stratigraphic position, occurrence, physical nature, and thicknesses of the coals, the character of contact rocks, and the nature and thickness of overburden were studied in the field. All active and abandoned mines were located on maps. Data concerning production, mines, mining methods, and history of mining were obtained from old settlers and miners living in the mining districts and from various state and federal publications. Coal samples from six shaft, one drift, and two strip mines were collected. These samples were analyzed by August Fleming in the laboratory of the State Geological Survey.


John M. Jewett of the Survey staff made several trips with me in the field and aided in the stratigraphic aspects of the investigation, and Norman Plummer, also of the Survey staff, spent one day in the field with me. Many residents of the coal-mining districts supplied names and locations of present mines and former mining opera,ions. Appreciation is especially expressed to the following mine owners, operators, and superintendents who gave their time and supplied valuable data and samples of coal for analyses: William Isaacs, Bell mine No. 4, Burlingame; Clarence Elliott, Elliott coal mine, Burlingame; James Curley, J. C. mine, Burlingame; Neal Hotchkiss, Central mines Nos. 2 and 3, Burlingame; James Parre, Didier and Parre Coal Company, No. 1, Osage City; Ira Rogers, strip mine northeast of Osage City; Perry Jones and R. A. Linville, Carbonhill strip pit; and H. A. Rogers, strip mine south of Arvonia. The following persons assisted materially: LeRoy Johnson, Osage City; L. D. Pierce, Lyndon; Ben Lowes, Scranton; C. Evans, Lebo; W. J. Hestland, D. H. Acker, and C. T. Whartenby, Cowley County; Will Neigh, Elk County; J. C. Bell, Eskridge; Joseph M. Piazzek, Valley Falls; Bryan Bowles, Muscotah; Bud Wilson, Huron; Wilbur Peck and Milton Hitchcock, Brown County; Merle L. Sowell, formerly of Admire; and Carl Jauken, Bern.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Jan. 27, 2013; originally published December 1946.
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