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



5. Finally persuaded: the creation of the 1889 Geological Survey of Kansas

On an October afternoon in 1875, members of the Kansas Academy of Science gathered in the Senate chambers of the State capitol building in Topeka. It was the Academy's eighth annual meeting and among the first items of business was a report by a committee appointed to study a geological survey of Kansas. The Academy's members unanimously agreed with the committee that "a thorough geological survey of the state is imperatively needed (Proceedings of the Kansas Academy of Science, 1875). When the state legislature took its turn at the capitol, however, it did not concur. After funding for a survey lapsed in 1865, no geological survey of Kansas was re-created until 1889, when the Survey was established as part of the University of Kansas. The following chapter takes a look at events leading to the establishment of the 1889 version of the Survey, and at the forces that created and shaped it.

The Academy's 1875 report hardly marked the first time that the Academy had implored the legislature to create a state geological survey. Time and again, before a survey was finally established in 1889, the Academy made similar pleas (Buchanan, 1984). But the 1875 report was typical. The report began with an appeal to the legislature's sense of pride. First, said the committee report, "it is now notoriously the fact that tons of choice minerals and fossils of Kansas are being shipped by collectors to the cabinets of eastern universities" (Proceedings, 1875). No one knew better than Benjamin Mudge, a member of the committee and a regular customer in the fossil fields of western Kansas, how many fossils were being shipped outside the state. Second, and even more important, the committee said that "much money has been wasted in this state in useless mining enterprises," and there is "a constantly increasing demand for more accurate and intelligent information as to the coal, gypsum, salt, and other resources of the state" (Proceedings, 1875). The committee members were well aware that nothing appealed to the Kansas legislature like saving money, and they meant to play on that appeal.

In short, the 1875 report of the Kansas Academy was typical of the Academy's attempts to encourage a state survey. The report was typical because it based its arguments on the practical benefits a survey could produce. It was typical because it appealed to the legislature's sense of pride in the state. And it was typical because it was unsuccessful. During the period from 1875 to 1889, the same scene was played over and over again.

It was no accident, by the way, that these attempts were often led by the Kansas Academy of Science. A geological survey was a constant topic of conversation at Academy meetings, probably because a goodly portion of those early members were geologists. The Academy's first president was B. F. Mudge (Page, 1984). Geologic papers often dominated the early publications of the Academy, in part because those were important times in the geologic reconnaissance of Kansas, with the discovery of Cretaceous fossils in western Kansas, the refining of the state's geologic map, and the discovery of important amounts of coal, oil, natural gas, and lead and zinc.

Attempts and appeals

The Academy's lobbying, however, was largely unsuccessful. Several legislatures attempted to create a survey; beginning in 1881, when Governor John P. St. John took up the survey's cause, a bill for creation of a survey was regularly introduced in the legislature. In one year, 1883, at least three different survey bills were introduced, and in 1884, a bill creating a "Board of Survey"--responsible for determining the existence of coal or other minerals, and the practicality of artesian wells in the state of Kansas--went as far as a third reading before the House of Representatives (House Journal, 1885). In 1886, a bill even passed the Kansas House by a count of 87-11 before it died in the Kansas Senate for lack of action (House Journal, 1886).

In all, 10 separate survey bills were introduced in the Kansas legislature between 1880 and 1889. Nine of the 10 were unsuccessful. Yet in every one, the supporters relied on the twin enticements of pride and practicality. Perhaps no two ideas were more important in the argument over a survey's creation, and they were equally important in finally shaping the institution that emerged.

The appeal to pride was probably the lesser of the two points. The survey's backers knew that Kansans feared being left behind by the rest of the country, and they played on that fear. "Such a survey would place us on an equality with the more advanced states of the union" (Proceedings, 1875), said the Academy in its 1875 report, and by 1884 the Academy's president had compiled a list of state-supported geological investigations, and their products. The 1884 study found that "Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, and others report to us that a geological survey has done more for their states than anything else..." (Brown, 1885, p. 56). In a sense, the survey's supporters resorted to the scientific equivalent of "keeping up with the Joneses."

But if they did appeal to state pride, the promoters' most forceful argument was an appeal to the practical benefits a survey could produce. In an early report, they pointed out that a careful survey would "tend to fix more definitely the boundary line between our fertile coal measures and those that are barren" (Mudge, 1877). Adequate supplies of coal were a continuous concern in Kansas, and one area where additional geologic reconnaissance could help. The 1880s brought concerns about other minerals: oil, gas, lead, and zinc. Said the Academy's 1884 transactions, "We know very little in regard to our mineral wealth.... If the State should take hold of a geological survey and prosecute it faithfully, the public would find that Kansas possesses within her limits, valuable resources which now lie idle and unknown" (Brown, 1885, p. 51). Such an argument made two points. First, the state's citizens were missing opportunities to produce minerals that a survey could help locate. And second, they were wasting money in the search for minerals that scientists knew could not be found in Kansas. "There is now enough capital being thrown away in any one good year in the blind search for coal, iron, zinc and other minerals," thundered the Academy, "to pay for a good geological survey in connection with the national work" (Thompson, 1886).

The Kansas legislature was not persuaded, for several reasons. First, and most obviously, the legislature simply did not feel that a survey was worth the expense. Supporters bandied about several figures for the cost of a survey--one as high as $100,000 over 10 years (Brown, 1885, p. 51)--that frightened frugal public servants. Wrote Governor John Alexander Martin in 1885, in a back-handed defense of one survey bill, "It should not be forgotten ... that a survey of this character, if properly conducted, will be very expensive; and that if it is not thoroughly prosecuted, by the most competent men, it is worthless" (House Journal, 1885, p. 147-148). Then too, there was a sense that many legislators simply did not understand what a survey was about or what it could be expected to accomplish. One report says that the legislature thought a survey was simply to "pay expenses of someone for collecting old bones and minerals that are found scattered over the prairies" (Brown, 1885, p. 50) The expense, and the uncertainty about the survey's role, combined to work against a survey through the early 1880s.

Created again

That situation changed in 1889, when the bill creating a survey passed, through an unusual set of circumstances. Understanding those events requires a quick look at funding for the University of Kansas through the 1880s. Prior to 1889, the University was governed by a Board of Regents that went to the legislature with specific requests for funding individual projects such as buildings or supplies. Legislators were able to approve, disapprove, or cut as they saw fit (Griffin, 1974). However in 1889, under the sponsorship of Senator Joel Moody of Mound City, the legislature appropriated a lump-sum $75,000 budget for KU, to be spent as the KU Regents saw fit. Included in that bill was a provision for the expenses of "any geological survey or scientific work which may be conducted under the auspices of the University for the benefit of science or the state" (State of Kansas, Session Laws, 1889). In short, the legislature suddenly had done what the Academy had been asking.

But it was done in an unusual way. First, and most obviously, the state had created a geological survey without paying for it. The Moody Act contained no specific appropriation for a geological survey, only granted KU the right to undertake such a project. In short, if there was to be a survey, it would have to be paid for out of the $75,000 appropriated for KU's budget. The legislature had taken the easy way out. It could now respond to the Academy and its members that it had created such a survey, yet it didn't have to pay the bills, at least directly. Second, it had not created a separate agency, the way previous bills would have. It made operating the survey a function of the University of Kansas.

Still, several questions remain about the legislature's action. First, why did it happen when it did? Why, after 24 years without an organized survey, did the Kansas legislature suddenly feel compelled to act? Why, after nine unsuccessful attempts during the 1880s to create a state survey, did the proponents finally succeed? It was not due to any improvement in the state's economy. Following a brief boom in the mid-1880s, there were years of drought, fantastically hard winters--the blizzard of 1886 is still famous in Kansas for the hardship it caused--and falling agricultural prices. The result, said Governor Martin, was that "Crop failure, epidemic diseases among stock, and other calamities of nature, have impoverished many of our people" (House Journal, 1889).

It seems more likely that the legislature took advantage of the lump-sum appropriation to add the survey at a time when minerals exploration was reaching a new high in the state. Natural gas was an economic force to be reckoned with. Lead and zinc mining created an unprecedented economic boom in southeastern Kansas. Coal mining was up to more than a million tons a year, and strip mining was beginning now that railroads were moving across the state. The first full-scale salt mine was established in 1888, and by the end of the year, 12 more were scattered across Kansas. By the mid-1880s, Kansas was the leading gypsum-producing state in the nation.

Taken together, the economic impact of these enterprises was great, perhaps enough to convince legislators that it was time for a geological survey to determine what other resources were available in the state. Assuming it would cost no additional taxpayer money as part of the regular University of Kansas appropriation, legislators must have thought that the time was propitious.

A second question, however, is this: why KU? Why not Kansas State College? After all, there was perceived to be a close relationship between an agricultural college and an investigation of soils, which was an important reason for the creation of the first two surveys and was often mentioned as a responsibility of a new geological survey. Wouldn't those geological investigations have gone hand-in-hand with Kansas State's agricultural emphasis? And why not put the survey at Kansas State, which had a professor of geology long before KU? At the time of the survey's establishment in 1889, KU had no expert geologist on its staff.

So why KU? It is difficult to answer that question with any certainty. There is no printed account of the discussion and deliberation that must have gone on at the time. It seems logical that KU Chancellor Joshua Lippincott was involved, although there is no record of that. Francis H. Snow, who taught the geology courses offered by KU at the time and in 1890 became chancellor, may have been involved in the dealings, although again there is no record. It is difficult to speculate just how actively KU sought the survey, if at all.

It is a little less difficult to speculate why the survey did not go to Kansas State. In 1874, John Anderson replaced Joseph Denison as president of Kansas State. Three members of the school's faculty, including geologist Benjamin Mudge, protested Anderson's appointment by going to Topeka to lobby against his confirmation. A few days later the three were dismissed for "insubordination and gross misconduct" (Carey, 1977). The dismissal severely damaged Kansas State's standing with the geologic community. Mudge left to join the State Board of Agriculture, and his prize student, Samuel Williston, left to attend medical school at Yale. Williston, among others, never forgave Kansas State's treatment of Mudge. He later said that the school offered him its presidency, and he turned it down over that long-simmering dispute. Again, while there is no proof of such an offer, it requires little imagination to believe that the sour taste of Mudge's dismissal still lingered in some quarters. When it came time to create a survey, Mudge's treatment and the convenience of the Moody appropriation bill may have combined to make the legislature place the Survey at KU.

The Survey did not immediately prosper in Lawrence, however. In 1889, the year the Survey was authorized, the Regents requested $138,000 for fiscal 1890 for the entire University (Griffin, 1974), but the legislature appropriated only $75,000, or $63,000 less than the Regents requested. Not surprisingly, that reduction left little money with which to begin a full-fledged geological survey. Still, the University did begin to make a few moves. In 1890, KU hired Samuel Williston, the paleontologist who had broken with Kansas State, and in 1892 it added Erasmus Haworth to the faculty (Griffin, 1974, p. 254). Even though there was no money specifically appropriated for the survey, Williston and Haworth began field work, looking primarily at eastern Kansas stratigraphy, minerals, and paleontology during the summers of 1893 and 1894. During that time Haworth worked on a publication describing the mineral-producing strata of the state, and Williston wrote a report on the building stone found in Kansas (Ninth Biennial Report of the Board of Regents, 1894). These works were published later, but they were started, and largely completed, prior to 1895.

In 1895, when the state's appropriation to KU was increased, the Board of Regents set up a more formal structure for studying the state's geology. In its minutes, "The Board directed the organization of 'The University Geological Survey,' the purpose of which is to carry out that part of the law governing the 'U' which provides for a geological survey of the state... "(Board of Regents Minutes, 1895). Chancellor Snow was named as an ex officio member of the survey, and its three associates were S. W. Williston in paleontology, Erasmus Haworth in geology and mineralogy, and E. H. S. Bailey in chemistry (Board of Regents Minutes, 1895). With that formal declaration, the history of the Survey is easier to trace. The organization began regular publication and quickly earned a scientific niche. But the struggle to create a survey left its mark long after.

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Web version February 2003. Original publication date 1989.