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Geohydrology of Ellsworth County

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Mineral Resources

The known mineral resources of Ellsworth County include petroleum, salt, ceramic material (clay and shale), sand and gravel, natural gas, lignite, limestone, sandstone, volcanic ash, and raw materials for production of cement; however, only petroleum, salt, ceramic material, and sand and gravel are produced commercially at the present time. Mineral production is an important contribution to the economy of Ellsworth County. The value of minerals produced annually amounts to about $8 million as compared with the $16 million value of livestock and crops produced annually.

Oil and Gas

Petroleum is the principal mineral resource of Ellsworth County. The first oil production was in October 1930. The 1964 production was 1,470,103 barrels, and the cumulative production at the end of 1964 was 101,724,299 barrels (Beene and Oros, 1965). Production was from 564 wells in 17 fields. Oil is produced from rocks of the Shawnee Group, Lansing-Kansas City Group, Pennsylvanian basal conglomerate, Simpson Group, Arbuckle Group, and the Reagan Sandstone.

Natural gas is not produced commercially in the county. [For current information on oil and gas production, see the Survey's oil and gas page for Ellsworth County.]


Ellsworth County is one of five Kansas counties that produces salt. Salt is extracted from the Hutchinson Salt Member of the Wellington Formation of Early Permian age. The Hutchinson salt underlies nearly all central Kansas (Bass, 1926c).

Salt was first discovered in Ellsworth County in 1887 (Hay, 1889, p. 199). A shaft was started to mine the salt at Ellsworth but was abandoned before reaching the salt. At Kanopolis the Royal Salt Mining Co. started producing salt in 1891. The Ellsworth Salt Co. started producing salt from a plant which evaporated brine from wells in 1903. Operation of this plant stopped in 1913. The Independent Salt Co. sank a shaft at the cen. SE NW NW sec. 29, T. 15 S., R. 7 W., in 1914 (Vincent, 1918). This mine is in operation at present and is the oldest continuously operated salt mine in Kansas. Salt is mined from a 10-foot face at a depth of 850 feet. Production figures for recent years are not available.

Ceramic Materials

A mineral resource of Ellsworth County, which currently is being exploited and which has a great potential for additional development, is ceramic materials. Two types, clay and shale, are known, but only the clays are being utilized. The Kanopolis plant of the Acme Brick Co. uses clay from the lower part of the Terra Cotta Member of the Dakota Formation to manufacture face brick. The Terra Cotta Member contains the largest reserves of light-burning or buff-firing clay in Kansas.

Clay suitable for manufacture of structural clay products is found in the Dakota Formation. It occurs in irregular elongate lenses and generally proves difficult to prospect. As a part of their field exploration program, the Ceramics Division of the State Geological Survey of Kansas has dug test pits at 105 locations in Ellsworth County (Norman Plummer, oral commun., 1961). Samples taken from these test pits have been fired to determine suitability of the clay for manufacture of structural clay products. Table 5 lists properties of selected clay samples from Ellsworth County.

Table 5--Ceramic data for selected Dakota clay samples from Ellsworth County (data from Ceramics Division of the State Geological Survey of Kansas).

Location Thickness,
adsorption in
boiling water
after 5 hours
EL-3-10 Cen. SE sec. 9,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
27.8 9 Buff 3.46
EL-4-3 SW NW SW sec. 30,
T. 15 S., R. 8 W.
19.7 5 Dark cream 8.14
EL-11-A Cen. S2 SW NW sec. 36,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
17.5 9 Cream 3.51
EL-12-A Cen. N2 NW NW sec. 29,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
17.8 8 Cream 5.56
EL-13-B Cen. NW sec. 5,
T. 16 S., R. 6 W.
16.3 8 Cream buff 2.29
EL-14-D Cen. NE sec. 25,
T. 15 S., R. 7 W.
16.6 8 Cream 5.95
EL-17-A Cen. sec. 25,
T. 16 S., R. 9 W.
32.9 4 Brownish red 4.90
EL-18-3 NW SW SW sec. 13,
T. 17 S., R. 8 W.
22.3 8 Pinkish red 4.39
EL-19-A NE SW SE sec. 24,
T. 16 S., R. 9 W.
22.8 4 Reddish brown 5.39
EL-23-A SW NE NW sec. 8,
T. 17 S., R. 8 W.
32.0 4 Dark brownish red 3.19
EL-27-2 Cen. W2 W2 sec. 17,
T. 14 S., R. 6 W.
15.9 7 Cream 5.47
EL-28-2 NE SW NW sec. 21,
T. 14 S., R. 6 W.
28.3 7 Light orange buff 3.99
EL-30-3 Cen. SE NW sec. 13,
T. 15 S., R. 7 W.
15.8 9 Tan 4.60
EL-32-B Cen. W2 NW NE sec. 21,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
47.4 6 Light buff 7.85
EL-37-A Cen. W. line NW NW sec. 1,
T. 16 S., R. 10 W.
35.8 4 Yellowish red 4.21
EL-38-B Cen. S. line SW sec. 10,
T. 16 S., R. 9 W.
23.3 7 Orange 4.29
EL-39-A SW SW NE sec. 36,
T. 15 S., R. 10 W.
28.5 8 Light brown 1.39
EL-40-A NW NW SE sec. 26,
T. 15 S., R. 10 W.
22.2 8 Cream 3.49
EL-43-D Cen. N2 NE sec. 25,
T. 15 S., R. 10 W.
20.8 6 Cream 7.96
EL-47-5 NE SW NW sec. 25,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
13.1 9 Cream 8.14
EL-49-6 Cen. N2 SE NW sec. 7,
T. 16 S., R. 8 W.
18.9 7 Red 3.00
EL-51-5 Cen. W2 NE SE sec. 14,
T. 16 S., R. 8 W.
12.8 9 Cream 8.56
EL-52-1 Cen. W. line SW NE sec. 19,
T. 16 S., R. 7 W.
21.5 4 Light grayish red 1.97
EL-54-B Cen. NW sec. 4,
T. 16 S., R. 9 W.
22.1 7 Buff 3.68
EL-57-A Cen. E. line NW SE sec. 19,
T. 15 S., R. 9 W.
22.3 9 Cream 6.69
EL-65-A SE SW NE sec. 22,
T. 16 S., R. 8 W.
14.5 7 Tan 5.67
EL-72-12 Cen. S2 SE sec. 19,
T. 15 S., R. 6 W.
16.3 8 Red 5.86
EL-75-7 Cen. S. line SW SE sec. 30,
T. 15 S., R. 8 W.
27.4 8 Cream 6.64
EL-81-1 Cen. NW NW sec. 19,
T. 14 S., R. 6 W.
32.9 7 Red 5.07
EL-82-A Cen. E2 NW sec. 6,
T. 14 S., R. 6 W.
17.9 8 Tan 2.40
EL-85-A Cen. E2 NE sec. 2,
T. 15 S., R. 7 W.
22.6 8 Cream 8.14
EL-96-A Cen. NW NW sec. 19,
T. 17 S., R. 7 W.
14.8 8 Cream 6.04

Dakota clay was used for several years by Dryden Potteries, Ellsworth. In addition to pottery bodies and brick, the clays of the Dakota Formation are suitable for manufacture of drain tile, sewer pipe, and high- to intermediate-duty refractories.


Two shale formations, the Kiowa and the Graneros, contain much material suitable for bloating to produce lightweight aggregate.

Sand and Gravel

In Ellsworth County commercial deposits of sand and gravel are available generally throughout the area of river terraces or may be procured directly from the Smoky Hill River channel and locally from deposits in Wilson valley. Many small sand pits have been opened in the terrace deposits, but no production directly from the river channel is known.

In general, the sand and gravel as dug from the pit is suitable for fill or cover for graded sand roads. Usually rough screening is necessary to remove large fragments of rock. The sand and gravel is generally suitable for use in base-course construction, bituminous mixtures, or concrete for state highways.


Lignite seams occur near the top and near the base of the Dakota Formation and near the top of the Kiowa Formation. They are local deposits, lenticular and variable in number and thickness, and more common and persistent in the upper Dakota. In the mid-1800's the lignites were mined and used extensively throughout central Kansas although the burning qualities of the lignite were poor. The development of better transportation and cheaper, more convenient fuels gradually forced abandonment of the lignite mines. The last lignite mine in Kansas closed in 1940 (Schoewe, 1952, p. 96). Schoewe (1952) presented an excellent summary of lignite mining in Ellsworth County in which he listed and discussed the mining districts and areas of lignite outcrop. The lignite of Ellsworth County is not now profitably exploitable, but future economic conditions may be such that lignite mining will be revived. Schoewe (1952) estimated 8,800,000 tons of marginal reserves of lignite in Ellsworth County.


The only limestones in Ellsworth County are the thin layers occurring within the Greenhorn. They are unique in that most layers on fresh exposure are soft enough to be sawed or chiseled readily into long rectangular blocks, which have served admirably as fence posts and building stone. Upon prolonged exposure to air, this stone "case-hardens" and resists weathering. The early farmers and ranchers quarried thousands of these stone fence posts, a fact obvious to anyone driving through the county.

The stratigraphic classification of the State Geological Survey (Jewett, 1959) recognizes the Fence-post limestone as the uppermost bed of the Greenhorn, and some persons presume that it is the source of all the stone posts. Actually at least three different limestone beds of the upper Greenhorn have been quarried for posts in Ellsworth County. Limestone fence posts have not been quarried in Ellsworth County for many years as increasing costs of production and handling have made them non-competitive with other types of posts. Some old buildings remain which are built of Fence-post limestone. As the limestones are single beds separated by chalk intervals, the cost of producing them as building stone is prohibitive. Parts of the Greenhorn Limestone are suitable for agricultural limestone and for cement raw material. There is no production of limestone for commercial purposes in Ellsworth County at the present time.


The sandstone bodies within the Dakota Formation differ greatly in degree of cementation, even within the individual body. The color is generally some dull shade of brown. At the present time, the sandstone has little appeal as a building stone. Weathering and erosion of the sandstone removes the poorly cemented parts and leaves behind a jumbled mass of loose slabs, each one well cemented within itself. The early settlers used Dakota sandstone slabs to construct houses, barns, corrals, fences, and other structures, probably as a means of getting these slabs out of their cultivated fields and also for want of better material. Today the only feasible use apparently is quarrying of some of the sandstone bodies to produce a combination of sand and aggregate suitable for subbase for highway and other construction.

Volcanic Ash

Volcanic ash has many uses. It is used as an abrasive in cleansers and rubber erasers. Some very fine ash is used in toothpastes and powders, and extremely fine ash has been used for polishing plate glass. It is used in ceramic bodies and glazes. It has been "popped" to produce lightweight aggregate. Ash when mixed with portland cement will produce a concrete resistant to disintegration by sea water. The State Highway Commission of Kansas has used volcanic ash extensively as a top dressing on newly constructed bituminous mat (black top) roads.

Six deposits of volcanic ash, which are assigned to the Pearlette ash bed of the Sappa Formation of the Kansan Stage of the Pleistocene Series, are known to be present in Ellsworth County. Three of these deposits have been previously reported by Carey and others (1952). These include an impure deposit near the cen. S2 sec. 29, T. 15 S., R. 9 W., a deposit 9 feet thick exposed in a cut on the Union Pacific Railroad at the cen. NW SW sec. 22, T. 15 S., R. 7 W., and a third deposit exposed near the top of a vertical bank on the south side of Thompson Creek in the cen. SE NW sec. 28, T. 16 S., R. 7 W.

Three deposits of ash not previously reported were found during this investigation. A thin ash deposit in the spillway of a farm pond is located in the SW SE SE sec. 7, T. 17 S., R. 7 W. A deposit observed in a road ditch on the east side of Elkhorn Creek in the SE SW SE sec. 28, T. 14 S., R. 7 W., is about 5 feet thick, and across the creek valley in the south road ditch in the NW NW NE sec. 33, T. 14 S., R. 7 W., 1 foot of ash is exposed.

Volcanic ash has not been produced commercially in Ellsworth County, but in Lincoln County in Wilson valley about 1 mile north of Ellsworth County several pits have been opened in the ash, and it is possible that deposits found in Ellsworth County may be developed.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Sept. 18, 2008; originally published March 1971.
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