History of the Kansas Geological Survey

Prev Page--First Survey || Next Page--Hiatus


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



3. The first incarnation: the geological surveys of 1864 and 1865

In the spring of 1864, Benjamin Franklin Mudge faced an enormous task. With a staff of five scientists--only one of them educated as a geologist--Mudge was to lead a geological survey of Kansas: over 82,000 square miles of hills and prairie, most of it entirely new to geologists. In 1864, Kansas had few towns of any size west of Topeka; Army outposts were established in places such as Hays to protect settlers and travelers, and towns such as Council Grove had sprung up to handle pioneer traffic along the Santa Fe Trail. Otherwise, towns were few and small; railroad lines had not reached much of the state. Transportation was by horseback over a few established trails. In addition, much of the state was occupied by, or at least occasionally visited by, Indian tribes with various degrees of antipathy toward white encroachment. These tribes suffered through the 1850s in relative silence as they were shoved into shrinking pockets of remaining land. But in the 1860s, native retaliation became more pronounced. While attacks in western Kansas were not common, they occurred with enough regularity to frighten travelers in the area, and they must have been especially frightening to geologists, fresh from the east, who faced the prospect of traveling in small groups to linger off the beaten path looking at rocks and fossils.

In the face of such circumstances, Mudge was given $3,500 and less than a year to complete the survey. Allowing a month to write a report, which was to be delivered to the legislature by 30 November 1864, Mudge had about eight months to visit all the counties in the state, take soil samples, investigate the geology, and take extensive notes on any minerals that might have economic importance, all while fending off natives who saw him as more evidence of white movement onto the plains.

Mudge and the first Survey

Only an optimist could have cheerfully faced such a task, and it is difficult to discern, in retrospect, how much of the job Mudge actually thought he could accomplish. In early pictures, Mudge appears to be a warm and somehow gentle man; later photographs give the impression of someone tired and worn, yet retaining the gentleness in spite of the years. Mudge grew up in Maine, graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1840, and practiced law in Massachusetts until 1859. After a brief stint as a chemist in a Kentucky oil refinery, he moved to Kansas City in 1861, and taught public school until he left to direct the Kansas Geological Survey (Page, 1984; see also Parker, 1881). When he left Kentucky, Mudge made it clear that he was opposed to slavery, a fact that certainly didn't hurt his career in abolitionist Kansas (Williston, 1899).

When Mudge took command of the survey, he quickly created an organization that reflected his attitudes toward the gargantuan task ahead. To start, Mudge hired a staff that gave the organization a flavor bordering on that of a natural history survey rather than a simple geological survey. Mudge's assistant director was Frederick Hawn, the surveyor with an amateur's interest in rock collecting. During the 1850s, Hawn had drawn the first complete east-west geologic cross section of Kansas; though he lacked formal scientific training in geology, Hawn's knowledge of Kansas was undoubtedly helpful and, unlike George C. Swallow, he carried no political liabilities. Swallow was, however, not completely forgotten; Mudge named him the survey's paleontologist, perhaps at the behest of then-Governor Carney.

Without doubt Swallow held the proper academic credentials--he was, in fact, the only member of the staff with extensive college training in geology--and he was familiar with the geology of northeastern Kansas. But Swallow and Mudge were not always on the best of terms, and while Mudge may have felt political pressure to give Swallow a job, he resisted the pressure to make him assistant state geologist. In short, Mudge likely felt that he had to appoint Swallow to some post, but was determined to keep him at as much of a distance as possible. The other two members of the staff were prominent physicians in Leavenworth, where Mudge lived and probably where he directed the survey. The doctors gave the survey an unusual flavor: Tiffin Sinks was in charge of chemistry and meteorology, and C.A. Logan was responsible for reporting on the botany and the medical situation, or "sanitary relations," of the state (Hayes, 1911).

Though natural history investigations were not mentioned in the legislation that created the survey, such an emphasis was not unusual in state geological surveys in the mid-1800s. In addition to basic geology, economic geology, and soils studies that were common to nearly every organization, a number of surveys undertook botanical and zoological investigations as well. The 1874 version of the geological survey in Georgia, for example, was directed to study "the geology, mineralogy, soils, plants, valuable woods, and whatever else may be discovered in Georgia of scientific or economic value..." (Merrill, 1920; Socolow, 1988; for histories of individual state surveys, see also Bergstrom, 1980; Bryan, 1986; Folsom, 1980; Ham, 1983; Shaver, 1987. See also Agnew, 1968, 1976). A few surveys in other states did have staff members making meteorological studies, though Kansas' addition of an M.D. to study sanitary relations was most unusual.

Geology of Kansas

The first result of the Survey's efforts was a 56-page pamphlet entitled Geology of Kansas. Mudge submitted the report to the Governor within the allotted time (House Journal, 1865, p. 20), but the legislature provided no funds for its publication, and it did not appear publicly until 1866, at the same time as the report from the 1865 survey. In scientific terms, Mudge's report broke relatively little new ground. It concentrated on economic geology, with less emphasis on stratigraphy (and the stratigraphy that was discussed was limited to eastern Kansas). Paleontology was left out altogether.

That report reflected Mudge's leadership, and the constraints under which he worked, in several ways. Mudge was never a prodigious publisher; his entire scientific output was 27 papers (American Geological Institute, 1977), many of which were short notes written for the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. The Survey report was Mudge's first effort at publishing scientific literature, which may have affected the report's length and style. And the report may have been short because Mudge knew that money would be provided for a second year of the Survey, at which time a more complete report could be written. There is no evidence for that interpretation, and it seems more likely that the lack of time, the size of the task, and the threat of Indian trouble in the west all combined to limit Mudge's research, and thus the size of the report.

Geology of Kansas reflects an intense concern over economic geology, and in that respect it probably shows less of Mudge's leadership than it does legislative intent. The legislature did not ask for a technical treatise on Kansas geology, but a geological survey that could provide information about coal, building stone, and other minerals that might have economic importance. Probably as a result, the first portion of the report, dealing with the facts Mudge had learned about the state's stratigraphy, comprised only 15 pages, while the rest of the report consisted of information about important minerals, especially coal and salt.

The most detailed information about the state's geology came from eastern Kansas. Mudge gave only one detailed cross section of the state, and that was from Leavenworth where he used coal-mine shafts to establish strata. Thus the report contains much discussion of the eastern third of the state, evidence of extensive field work in that location, but little discussion of eyewitness accounts of the geology west of Fort Riley. At one point Mudge admitted that "the Indian troubles prevented us from visiting those (salt deposits) on the Saline River" (Mudge, 1866, p. 35).

The first system Mudge discussed in detail was the Coal Measures, known today as the Pennsylvanian System. The Coal Measures strata received much of the report's attention because of their coals. Mudge referred over and over again to Kansas' coal-producing potential: "As population and the consumption of coal increases, coal mines will probably be sunk in all parts of the 22,000 square miles of the Coal Measures of the State" (Mudge, 1866, p. 3). Mudge also listed the other strata represented in the state: Permian, Triassic, Cretaceous, Drift (represented today in the glaciated northeastern corner of Kansas; see Aber, 1984), loess, and alluvium. With the exception of the delineation of the Permian and the identification of Triassic outcrops, Mudge's division of the surface into various geological ages was fairly accurate, although he published no geologic map of Kansas, probably because of his inability to visit the entire state. Mudge's study was not nearly as detailed as it could have been; contemporary geologists were producing more detailed work, as would George Swallow in his report on the activities of the 1865 survey (Swallow, 1866).

While the report concentrated on the geology of the eastern end of the state, it ignored questions of paleontology altogether. This seems a fairly conspicuous absence, given the importance of fossils in establishing the geological age of rock formations. That lack of information may have been because George Swallow refused to report on Kansas paleontology, at least in part because Swallow and Mudge did not get along. Mudge had collected fossils to be studied by Swallow, but Mudge said that Swallow let the fossils sit "in an open office in Leavenworth" so that they became mixed up and worthless (Mudge, as cited in Page, 1984). Mudge at least suspected that Swallow had designs on the job of state geologist and felt that his lack of effort was an attempt to undercut Mudge's survey.

If Mudge made no spectacular contributions to basic science, he was more helpful in taking inventory of the economically important minerals found in Kansas and the state of their development in 1864. Because he had not visited all of Kansas, Mudge relied on several contributed reports about the state's minerals, and while he discussed limestone, gypsum, building stone, metallic minerals, and petroleum, his primary interests were in salt and coal. Salt alone occupied the last 28 pages of the report, in which Mudge concentrated not so much on giving descriptions of the locations of salt marshes, springs, and visible deposits--probably again because most salt deposits were in central Kansas, where he had not visited--as he did on describing the manufacture of salt in several places around the world and encouraging Kansans to begin producing salt for their own use. Again, preoccupation with an economically important mineral reflects not only Mudge's concern, but the legislature's mandate.

The 1865 Survey

The legislative authorization for the geological survey was for one year, and regardless of the amount accomplished during that year, the Survey ceased to exist at the end of 1864. The re-creation of the Survey the following year engendered none of the political dispute that occurred originally, and there seems to have been an awareness, at least on the part of then-Governor Samuel J. Crawford, that the job had only begun and another year was necessary to finish it. Crawford recommended that "an appropriation be made to complete the survey, which is all-important to the development of the Agricultural and Mineral Resources of the State" (House Journal, 1865, p. 20). However, by February 8, when the 1865 version of the bill was passed and signed by the Governor, Mudge had resigned as state geologist and gone to teach at Kansas State College. Swallow was quickly appointed to the position, this time without the political problems that arose during 1864. Mudge later blamed Swallow's appointment on "the aid of some intriguing politicians" (Mudge, as cited in Page, 1984), although no evidence of the charge survives.

Swallow, however, headed a survey that operated under a substantially different legislative directive than that of 1864. First, the funding of the enterprise had more than doubled, from $3,500 in 1864 to $7,500 in 1865. Second, the legislation made no attempt to spell out the specific responsibilities of the survey. Perhaps the assumption was, as Crawford suggested in his proposal, that the second survey would simply finish what the first survey had begun. Third, no cutoff date was specified in the legislation as there was in the earlier bill, although the assumption seems to have been that the survey would go out of business upon completing its report.

black and white photo of George C. Swallow George C. Swallow, the Survey's second director.

Operating again out of Leavenworth, this version of the Survey had the same personnel--minus Mudge--as did the earlier version. Once again Indian troubles interfered with the Survey's ability to complete a reconnaissance of the entire state; Swallow wrote that he felt it necessary to make an examination of only the eastern and central part of the state "on account of the Indian troubles on our western border..." (Swallow, 1866, p. 42). In spite of the hindrances, Swallow's report gave the Survey a far different sense of mission than before. In an introduction entitled "What a Geological Survey Should Accomplish," Swallow discussed his goals for the survey and emphasized the value of basic scientific knowledge. "Many have supposed (science) the mere theories, fine-spun from the imaginations of learned men, without any foundation in fact or experience," wrote Swallow, "whereas, science, properly understood, is but a classification of all known facts--all the experience of all the past--so arranged and classified as to manifest all those great principles which lie at the foundation of the practical pursuits of life" (Swallow, 1866, p. 6-7).

In scientific terms, Swallow's 1866 report represents a substantial accomplishment. Certainly much of the work of the 1865 Survey must have been based on information amassed during the previous survey, but the presentation was more complete in the second report. The section on Kansas geology, for instance, included 39 pages describing the stratigraphy of the state, much of it in extreme detail. Swallow's stratigraphy does not differ much from Mudge's--Swallow placed some Permian formations in the Triassic Period, for example--but it is much more detailed. The section on economic geology was shorter in the 1865 report, but it was followed by a 23-page report on the geology of Miami County, representing the first county-wide geologic investigation in Kansas history and the beginning of a long history of county-by-county geologic reports. Swallow's report probably focuses on Miami County because of its location in eastern Kansas, and because it was the site of numerous oil seeps and springs. Geologists were long aware of the connection between petroleum at the surface and underground, and Swallow, in his 1865 report, predicted correctly that Miami County would one day be a major producer of oil. In addition, the report contained a paper written by Hawn on the geology of several other eastern Kansas counties, including Doniphan, Chase, Linn, Greenwood, Lyon, Butler, Osage, Morris, and Brown counties. Reports on the meteorology and sanitary relations of the state, the first tangible contributions by the physicians on the survey staff, were also included.

simple text cover saying Preliminary Report of the Geological Survey of Kansas by G.C. Swallow, State Geologist Cover of George C. Swallow's 1866 report on the geology of Kansas.

The geologic description in the report represents a significant step forward in geologic studies of Kansas. It is the most detailed, complete, and sophisticated stratigraphic description made in Kansas up to that date. The report was extensively criticized by eastern geologists, however, because of a disagreement over Swallow's designation of several strata as Triassic, and his delineation of the border between Permian and Pennsylvanian deposits. In the American Journal of Arts and Sciences, F.V. Hayden questioned "the accuracy of these determinations..." (Hayden, 1867) made in Swallow's report and proposed several alternative interpretations of Kansas geology.

Some of the criticism, however, seemed to stem from the old disagreement between Hayden and Swallow over Swallow's identification of Permian fossils. In the 1865 report, Swallow commented in a footnote that "The discovery was first announced by myself February 22, 1858," (Swallow, 1866, p. 42) which understandably gave the impression that he alone had identified the specimens. Hayden used the disagreement as a starting point for his complaints about Swallow, and while it is clear that the two did differ on several notions about the stratigraphy of the state, their differences would probably have been expressed more quietly and with far more diplomacy had the business of Permian fossils not come between them. "We regret to see that Prof. Swallow uses language, which ... would lead some to think he had intentionally ignored the agency of any other parties in that discovery..." (Hayden, 1867). Swallow was not above answering the charge with some invective of his own: "It would be much more agreeable, if those who feel duty bound to correct our errors would, in doing it, exhibit a little more of the suaviter and the amenities so common to, and inseparable from, scholarly men of science" (Swallow, 1868, p. 33). Complaining about the length of the debate, Swallow concluded, "They will not let it rest; they keep its miserable ghost in an everlasting perambulation to the infinite disgust of the scientific world" (Swallow, 1868, p. 510).

The disgust of the scientific establishment seems none too evident at this point in the debate, but its weariness was. Swallow's blast in 1868 was the final explosion in the disagreement. Perhaps more problematic, the disagreement over the Permian investigation served to cloud the reviews of Swallow's report and probably resulted in less acclaim than it might have otherwise received. Certainly there remained a number of questions about the boundaries Swallow had drawn between stratigraphic units, but without a geologic map it is difficult to tell precisely where Swallow intended those lines to be drawn. Still, the report was a vast improvement over previous studies of Kansas geology, and represents the first systematic approach to explicating the state's geology. In fact, its rude reception in the eastern scientific establishment may have been in part because it was the first systematic study from Kansas to be worthy of any reception whatsoever. Flaws and all, Swallow's report seems a worthy accomplishment in terms of basic geology.

But the report wasn't restricted to geology. The section on "Economical Geology" contained the first soils analyses done by the Survey, though they were hardly as numerous as the original legislation had envisioned. Swallow's report included chemical analyses of just two soil samples and suggested few steps that farmers could take to insure the continuing productivity of their land. Swallow also discussed coal, gypsum, iron ore ("The tertiary strata in the western part of the state probably contain extensive lead, clay, marble, building materials, salt, oil, timber, and water" [Swallow, 1866, p. 58]). In all this, however, there was none of the detail so evident in the first report, probably because Swallow felt it would be duplicative.

The report contained two other sections of special note. One, written by Tiffin Sinks, contained a number of observations about the Kansas climate, and included several tables showing temperatures and rainfall as recorded by government personnel at forts throughout the state. For the most part, Sinks made few subjective interpretations of the data, and seemed relatively unconcerned about defending the state from the lingering label as the Great American Desert. His report is almost entirely a presentation of observations, with only a few explanations of the reasons for certain climatological phenomena, and only a little helpful agriculturally related weather information such as the first and last frost-free dates in Kansas. Sinks' report is not particularly unusual for state geological surveys, many of which were charged with recording and publishing climatological data during the 1800s. The report is notable probably in that it represents one of the earliest published records of the Kansas climate, a subject of on-going scientific and political discussion.

The sanitary relations of Kansas

The final part of the report, written by C. A. Logan and concerning the state of sanitation in Kansas, is unusual. Though Logan began his report by noting that "The idea of linking together, in one movement, two subjects (geology and sanitation) so closely allied, the one with the material interests of man, and the other with his health and life, is not only entirely new, but eminently proper and praiseworthy" (Logan, in Swallow, 1866, p. 125), there was little explanation for Logan's presence within the survey. Logan's report is noteworthy because it is something of an anomaly in the history of state geological surveys and because it was an initial attempt at a description of public health in frontier Kansas (Buchanan, 1983).

simple text cover saying Report on the Sanitary Relations of the State of Kansas by C.A. Logan, M.D. Cover of Logans's 1866 report on public health.

One part of Logan's essay was an attempt to categorize the types of health problems most prevalent in Kansas at the time of the survey. Logan's efforts seem to be entirely the result of anecdotal observations rather than any formal survey as such, and he painted a picture of a relatively healthful Kansas. The state had few problems with fevers of all types, he wrote, and especially few citizens who suffered from malaria, probably because the soil was well drained so that Kansans "should be exempt to a great extent from the violent malarious fevers..." (Logan, in Swallow, 1866, p. 168). In addition, the state seemed to suffer little from dysentery or smallpox, "Its attacks being confined, in a great measure, to the habitats of filth" (Logan, in Swallow, 1866, p. 169). Other diseases, such as scarlet fever, measles, and cholera, caused more problems, although Logan downplayed their significance, saying that they were found most commonly not in permanent residents of the state but in travelers or in the soldiers who manned Kansas forts.

Despite the relatively optimistic picture he painted, Logan had several recommendations to maintain that health and to improve matters before great populations entered the state, saying that Kansas had a duty to "shape her... institutions into a channel that will resound to the happiness and longevity of her people" (Logan, in Swallow, 1866, p. 155). To that end, Logan urged Kansans to make haste in implementing his suggestions. Perhaps above all he was concerned with the sewage systems being created in Kansas cities, feeling that systems should be put in place before towns grew to the point that such systems were difficult to install. "Each city," he wrote, "should have a well devised system of sewerage marked out to correspond with the established grade" (Logan, in Swallow, 1866, p. 145). Second, he recommended more concern with providing the population with pure water. Logan's concern with water was at least partially motivated by his knowledge that cholera was a waterborne disease. Third, Logan recommended the creation of a public health agency that could ascertain the most prevalent health problems in the state and find their solution. In addition, such an organization could register births, deaths, marriages, and enforce the vaccination of all children.

Such suggestions were not unusual at the time in the United States. The public health movement was beginning to pick up steam, especially when the New York Public Health Board prevented a serious outbreak of cholera in 1866. Thus, while Logan was the first to make such recommendations in Kansas--and was particularly unusual in that he made such recommendations from a state geological survey--his ideas were neither singular nor visionary (Buchanan, 1983).

In summary, then, the 1865 report is probably more noteworthy as a whole than for its individual parts. The report carries a sense of finality, of completing what was started in 1864. When the first survey submitted its report, it was clear that much was left undone, that time had allowed only a cursory look at the state's geology. Even with the second report, much remained. Geologic knowledge of western Kansas was based on second-hand reports. Soils analyses, which weighed so heavily in the initial creation of the survey, and were touted constantly by newspapers as a reason to fund a scientific institution, were never undertaken to the extent that the original legislation envisioned.

Yet the second report implies that the Survey had finished all that geologists could accomplish at the time. The stratigraphy reported by Swallow was detailed, under the circumstances. While it was clear that additional work might better define the boundaries of geologic formations, it was equally clear that such definition probably would have little economic impact on the state and could deliver on none of the promises of practical results that other aspects of the survey had made. In addition, the inventory of economically important minerals had been completed and in some instances, such as coal, the survey probably did help clarify the amount, location, and availability of such resources. Additionally, a report had been finished for one county of the state. Perhaps in that respect, the report carries a sense of unfinished business. Swallow and his staff may have wanted to write equally detailed reports for other counties in the state, but such reports would have represented a commitment to a permanent geological survey, and the Kansas legislature never indicated that it was prepared to take such a step. But the format of county-wide geological investigations was influential, and it remained an important mode of publication well into the 1960s.

With the completion of that second report, then, the Survey's funding lapsed. Not that such an event was particularly unusual in the lifetime of a 19th-century geological survey. Of the 33 state surveys that came into existence prior to 1900, none existed continuously from the time of its creation until the end of the century (Merrill, 1920). In all cases, funding came in starts and stops. As surveys completed the tasks that state legislatures perceived at the time of their creation, or as economic conditions forced cuts in state spending, state surveys came into and out of existence. Thus the failure of the 1866 Kansas legislature to provide funding for a third year of the survey was hardly unusual. It would have been more uncharacteristic of the legislature to have lengthened the survey's life indefinitely.

By allowing the survey to go out of existence at that moment, however, the legislature profoundly affected the course of the history of geology and paleontology in Kansas. Just two years after the survey stopped, the first large vertebrate fossil from the Cretaceous was found in Wallace County near the Colorado border. That discovery, and many others that followed in the early 1870s, made the period from 1866 to 1889 one of the most exciting times in the history of geologic study of the state. But for the state survey, those 22 years served only as a hiatus.

Prev Page--First Survey || Next Page--Hiatus

  Kansas Geological Survey, KGS History
Comments to
Web version February 2003. Original publication date 1989.