Skip Navigation

Geological Survey of Kansas (1896)

Prev Page--Chapter II || Next Page--Chapter IV

Chapter III--A Geologic Section Along the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers

by M. Z. Kirk

A--The Neosho River Section:
From the Mississippian Formation of the Indian Territory to Council Grove.
The Cherokee Shales The Carlyle Limestone
The Oswego Limestone The Lane Shales
The Pleasanton Shales The Garnett Limestone
The Osage Mission Well The Lawrence Shales
The Erie Limestone The Hartford Limestone
The Thayer Shales The Emporia Limestone
The Chanute Well The Americus Limestone
The Iola Limestone The Cottonwood Falls Limestone
The Iola Well Summary
B--The Cottonwood River Section:
From Wyckoff to Cedar Grove
Phenis Mound
The Cottonwood Falls Limestone
Anticlinals and Synclinals

A--The Neosho River Section

The Cherokee Shales

The northwestern limit of the Mississippian or Sub-Carboniferous formation along the Neosho river was not definitely determined. It may be at a point about 14 miles below the south Kansas line, at the top of a sandy limestone system which now and then assumes a shaly aspect; or it may be some miles below Miamitown, a little further down the river. Nothing exactly corresponding to this formation is known within the state along the contact line between the lead and zinc bearing limestone of the Mississippian and the Coal Measures, although frequently a sandstone seems to lie at the base of the latter. Above this point for 15 miles or more nothing is exposed along the river bluffs but shale, which here and there assumes such an arenaceous character that it would almost do to be called a sandstone, and a few seams of coal which usually are so thin they have but little commercial value. The Cherokee shales along the Neosho river have a slight dip to the northwest, but about a mile and a half below the mouth of Four-Mile creek there has been a considerable disturbance. The shale here has a dip to the south-east of four feet to the hundred yards. Coal is mined for local use from numerous small veins in the vicinity of Melrose. There are also several small "strippings" between Chetopa and Oswego.

The first limestone system encountered is a thin bed found about seven miles below Oswego, but on the hilltops it reaches farther south. This limestone is not very prominent in the adjoining country, and in many places it is either concealed by the soil or entirely fails to exist. Possibly it should be correlated with the thin limestone occurring near Cherokee which is shown in plate II. A number of other thin limestones have been noted in the Cherokee shales, but presumably they are of little stratigraphic importance, so they will not be considered here.

The Oswego Limestone

As Oswego is reached the Oswego limestones are found capping the hilltops to the west of the Neosho river. They are fully 450 feet vertically above the Mississippian limestone, as shown by the Oswego well in plate III. The Oswego limestone consists of two systems, which are separated by a bed of about 4 or 5 feet of shale. In the environs of Oswego each limestone is about 10 feet thick, but they thicken considerably to the westward, so that six miles out the upper one is 21 feet and the lower one 24, feet, as shown by the record of a well near Stover. To the northeast the Oswego limestone reaches to Fort Scott and even farther. It caps the high hills on the divide between Fort Scott and Pittsburgh, reaching an altitude of fully 1,000 feet above sea level, from which point it dips to the southwest to Oswego at about four feet to the mile. By reference to plate III, one sees that the Oswego limestone is about 740 feet above sea level at Osage Mission. The altitude at Oswego being 899 feet, and the distance about 25 miles, gives the rock a dip to the north of about 10 feet to the mile. The greatest dip is probably to the north of west.

The character of the two strata of the Oswego limestone is very similar. Each stratum is composed of a number of distinct layers; each one also is relatively rich in fossils. Brachiopods occur in considerable abundance and wen-preserved fossil coral is plentiful, particularly in the upper one, as is given in detail by Mr. Bennett in chapter IV. The rock is a compact, solid limestone of a light buff color and is suitable for building purposes of all kinds when it can be obtained of sufficient dimensions. In addition to the fossils the upper one contains quite an abundance of flint nodules.

The first shales below the lower limestone and the one between the two are intensely black, and are filled with nodular concretionary bodies from a half inch to three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and which help to recognize the shales. At Oswego the limestone is fully 120 feet above the water in the river. It can be traced over the bluffs and along the hills to the vicinity of Laneville, where it disappears under the river. Throughout this entire distance these black shales are very prominent.

The Pawnee limestone is separated from the Oswego by 30 or 40 feet of sandstone and shale. It occurs on the first hilltops north of Laneville, and caps the hills to the. southwest. It disappears under the water 8 or 10 miles below Osage Mission. This limestone is quite irregular, varying from 8 to 10 feet near Laneville to 25 or 30 feet near Redfield to the west of Fort Scott.

The Pleasanton Shales

Immediately overlying the Pawnee limestone are the Pleasanton shales which are over 250 feet thick as shown by the Chanute well in plate III, and also in plate IX, figure 1. About the middle of this bed vertically is found a small layer of limestone which is so thin and from the best records of so uncertain an extent that it will be mentioned only in connection with these shales. The Pleasanton shales in many places grade into many different varieties of sandstone that are of great importance on account of their thinness of layer and smoothness of surface, which renders them unusually desirable for flagging stone. In section 13, township 30 north, range 20 east, on the land of A. G. Robinett, extensive quarries are opened, from which large amounts of flagging stone are taken to neighboring towns-Parsons, Osage Mission, and other places. At this point the Neosho river brushes against a precipitous bluff on the western bank, where a splendid section may be observed, as follows:

Surface soil and gravel, 5 feet.
Limestone, 8 feet.
Yellow to red sandstone, 8 feet.
Bluish sandstone, 45 feet.

It is the latter that furnishes the best flagging stone. To the northeast the same formation includes the famous Bandera and Gilfillan flagging stone which are shipped so extensively over the state and known as the Fort Scott flag. At each place the flagstones are quite shaly, so they lack a great deal of being pure sandstone. At other places they become more pure, the layers becoming thicker and would furnish good dimension stone. Mr. Josiah Kimmel has opened a quarry in such stone in section 23, township 30 north, range 20 east. Although sandstone seems to be so abundant, yet it should be clearly stated that the predominant part of the system is shale, so that it is properly called a shale formation. Within two miles to the south of Bobinett's quarry this excellent flagstone is almost entirely changed to a shale. These flags and red sandstones are covered by the thin irregular layer of limestone, as shown in the section given above. This rock formerly was quarried quite extensively along the river to the south of Osage Mission. To the west of Osage Mission the Pleasanton shales are quite varied in character, portions of them being dark and bituminous while other portions are light colored and arenaceous.

The Osage Mission Well

The town of Osage Mission rests on the Pleasanton shales. Several years ago a well was bored here with a diamond drill to the depth of 700 feet, which passed through, the limestone near the surface, the Pawnee limestone, the Oswego limestone and penetrated the Cherokee shales about 400 feet without passing through them, as shown in plate III and in plate XV, figure 2.

The Erie Limestone

Immediately overlying the Pleasanton shales one finds an important limestone which has been caned the Erie limestone on account of its extensive development both north and south of Erie. It is exposed on the hilltops to the west and southwest of Osage Mission, but here it is only a few feet thick It increases in thickness to the northwest until it reaches its maximum of nearly 100 feet between Shaw and Austin. This group is divided into three more or less distinct systems. Northeast of Erie, at Uniontown, these systems are entirely distinct, and Mr. Bennett has called it the Triple limestone. The great difference in thickness at different points is largely due to the planing off of the upper surface by erosion, producing a wedge-shaped mass. To the southwest the Erie limestone covers the high ground between the Neosho and Verdigris river and extends into the Indian Territory beyond Coffeyville. In this region the three systems are separated by heavy shale beds as shown by Mr. Adams' section in chapter I.

On the whole, the Erie limestone constitutes one of the most extensive and most important limestone systems in the state. This is by far the heaviest and most constant limestone system reached thus far above the Mississippian. The quality of the Erie limestone is varied. Where it is weathered it seems quite porous, due to the unequal degree of solubility of the rock. In protected places it is firm and compact and would make an excellent building stone. At one place in a railroad cut between Shaw and Erie the rock assumes a, wonderfully brecciated texture. The extent of such a texture was not determined, but it must be quite limited, for nowhere else was it observed.

The Thayer Shales

Above the Erie limestone is another system of shales and sandstones which to the northwest reaches a thickness of about 100 feet, as given by Mr. Bennett in chapter IV. Along the Neosho river section it possibly does not exceed. 90 feet, and the drill records at Iola show the shales to be even less than 75 feet. It reaches its maximum thickness to the southwest and for this reason they were named the Thayer shales in chapter I. This system is first encountered on the high hills northwest of Osage Mission. These shales and sandstone to the south of Chanute and west of Austin have not been protected by a strong limestone system and hence the hills have been weathered and rounded. At places along the eastern bank the sandstone has increased in thickness and the weathering has been more irregular. Here as elsewhere sandstone appears and disappears with great readiness. Around Thayer the sandstones appear in heavy beds, some of which produce excellent building material.

The Chanute Well

The Chanute well record gives us a very good check upon our stratigraphical work, as shown in plate III and plate XIII, figure 2. The latter gives the exact thickness of the different strata passed through. By reference to plate III it will be seen that this well was begun in the Thayer shales and passed through the Erie limestone, the Pleasanton shales, the Pawnee limestone, Oswego limestone, Cherokee shales, and into the Mississippian limestone. This give us a vertical section at this place of 960 feet, and permits us, to determine the dip of all the strata from Oswego towards the northwest. The surface of the Mississippian at Oswego is 390 feet above the sea level and at Chanute is 40 feet below sea level. The distance is 42 miles, which gives us a dip of a little more than 10 feet to the mile. At Chanute the Cherokee shales have about the same thickness as at Oswego, so the dip of the Oswego limestone is the same as that of the Mississippian.

The Iola Limestone

To the west of Chanute the hills are covered with a thin stratum of limestone. As we trace it to the north we find it gradually grows thicker until we reach Iola where it is 40 feet thick. Along the section from Chanute to Iola we have a splendid illustration of the way erosion has worn this great mass of limestone down to a feather edge, as seen at Chanute and along the hills to the northeast and southwest. The Iola marble quarries are situated in this system, and for this reason it has been named the Iola limestone. It is probably the heaviest and most persistent limestone in the state. It has been traced from the south side of the state west of the Verdigris river to the east line of the state near La Cygne, and from there northward to Kansas City, where it constitutes the heavy limestone near the tops of the bluffs, as shown in plate II and plate VI of this report. The character of the rock is remarkable, particularly regarding the unusually thick layers it produces. In this respect it surpasses any limestone system in the state. On this account rock of almost any dimension can be obtained from it, as is practically demonstrated at the Iola quarries. The inclosed fossils, which are fully described by Mr. Bennett in chapter IV, often produce very pretty figures in a polished surface.

The Iola Well

We are so fortunate as to have the record of a diamond-drill well at this place, as given in plate XV, figure 1, and plate III, which not only gives the exact thickness of the Iola limestone, but all of the systems down to the Cherokee shales. The Iola well is found to agree almost exactly with the Chanute well, as it also does with the Humboldt well. These drill records are as accurate as could be procured, and the well sections are all drawn to scale and represent the exact facts. Having the records of so many wells it has been quite easy to correlate the different limestone systems occurring in different parts of the state as shown by the dotted lines in plate III.

The Carlyle Limestone

Above the Iola limestone lies a bed of hard, sandy, brittle shale which has a thickness of about 75 or 100 feet, although in Iola it is probably not quite so heavy, Above this another limestone system begins, and is first seen below Iola forming a stratum of 4 or 5 feet, capping the bluff just northeast of the quarry in the Iola limestone. This upper system extends to the northeast and is abundantly exposed at the little railroad station, Carlyle, five miles north of Iola, and for this reason is known as the Carlyle limestone. Farther up the river from Iola it increases to the thickness of 15 or 20 feet, but is nowhere a very heavy limestone system. It is exposed along the hills to the vicinity of Neosho Falls.

The Lane Shales

First above the Carlyle limestone is a heavy bed of shales which in some places carries large quantities of sandstone. The sandstone bills west of Neosho Falls are in these shales, which have been named the Lane shales (chapter II) on account of their prominence in the vicinity of Lane. Northeast of Neosho Falls is a broad, rich river bottom, while at Moody station the high sandstone bluff approaches the river. Just south of Moody these Lane shales are about 120 feet thick, and at this point they contain so much sandstone that the north and east sides are very precipitous.

The Garnett Limestone

To the west of Moody the high hills are capped with two strata of limestone which are separated by 8 or 10 feet of shale. This system was traced from these hills to the river at Burlington. To the south of Burlington are a number of quarries one of which lying east of the Taylor horse-farm has been worked quite extensively. These strata are quite thin, being only 10 or 12 inches respectively two miles south of Burlington at the above-named quarry. On account of its prominence around Burlington this system has been called the Burlington limestone, but it is also quite an important system near Garnett, so it may bear the name of Burlington or Garnett limestone. This system has a peculiar blue color, which is especially noticeable near Burlington. The upper stratum is a good building stone while the lower crumbles upon exposure.

The Lawrence Shales

Above the Garnett limestone is a heavy shale formation which in places is quite sandy. It has been traced to the northeast to the vicinity of Lawrence where it constitutes a heavy and important shale bed. It has been known as the Lawrence shales. It extends several miles above Burlington, producing the wide bottom lands in that vicinity. The small hills to the west are very much eroded and rounded until we reach the Strawn limestone which commercially is rather an unimportant system. It is exposed along the hills to a point a short distance above Strawn station.

The Hartford Limestone

The limestone which passes under the river at Hartford will be called the Hartford limestone. It is separated from the Strawn limestone by at least 60 feet of sandy shale which is exposed along the bluff near the railroad above Strawn. The Hartford limestone at this place has a peculiar appearance and weathered surface caused by the small seams in the stone being filled with crystals of calcite which have resisted weathering better than the surrounding limestone material. At the bridge about a mile east of Hartford this limestone is of a light color where it is exposed to the weather.

The next limestone system above the Hartford is separated from the latter by about 50 feet of shale. At the church just south of the junction of the Cottonwood and Neosho rivers another limestone system is seen on the top of the hills from which place it extends up the river almost to Emporia. It will be known as the Wyckoff limestone, as it is prominent in the vicinity of that town. It is exposed at Humphrey's ford and is about 4 feet thick in Coal creek to the southeast.

The Emporia Limestone

Above the Wyckoff limestone is a heavy bed of shale as exposed along the hills to the southeast of Emporia. In the road and ravines to the north of Wyckoff occurs the .Emporia limestone. It was first seen in Chicago Mound, which is near Wyckoff, and is by far the largest hill in this vicinity. This rock has been quarried to some extent at Emporia and to the northeast it has been quarried for street and bridge purposes. This system disappears under the river, near Emporia water-works.

The Americus Limestone

Above the Emporia limestone is quite an extensive shale bed as seen on the water reservoir hill at Emporia. The hills to the north and west are capped with two thin layers of limestone which are about 4 feet apart. This system is of greatest commercial interest west of the river opposite Americus, in the northwest quarter of section 9. At this place it is about 20 feet above the river bed. The upper stratum is of a bluish color while the lower is a light buff stone and is about 16 inches thick, very solid and compact. Splendid dimension stone has been, taken out of the Stevens quarry at this place to be used at Emporia, Hartford and elsewhere. The position of the Americus limestone is shown in plate III.

The Cottonwood Falls Limestone

Passing on up the hill to the west from Stevens quarry one crosses a shale bed about 50 feet in thickness before reaching the lower Dunlap limestone. This system is composed of two strata separated by about 20 feet of blue shale. The upper stratum furnishes some good stone at Dunlap. The system is of much less importance than the one about 25 or 30 feet above it which is known as the Cottonwood Falls limestone. The latter is exposed upon the hills north of Dunlap and can be traced along the hillside to the Joseph Dutcher quarry about three miles northwest of Dunlap. Here the limestone is 5 feet 6 inches thick and is quarried quite extensively for railroad and building purposes. It is a very pretty light colored. stone and can be obtained in large blocks. It is also quite easily cut into pieces of any desired size and shape. Material is shipped from this quarry to various parts of the state. Although the stone is first-class they are not as well supplied with machinery for cutting it as at Cottonwood Falls and elsewhere. This Cottonwood Falls rock passes under the surface near Council Grove.


This completes the Neosho river section from the Mississippian formation to the Cottonwood Falls limestone. In making the drawings for the sections given in plate III it was found necessary to exaggerate the thickness of nearly all the limestone systems and at the same time some small shale beds had to be omitted. In the drawing only general facts could be represented but this has been done with as great accuracy as possible. The section given in plate III. represents all the important limestone systems, but future study may and probably will develop a few more small systems.

B--The Cottonwood River Section

From Wyckoff to Cedar Grove

Let us now return. to the junction of the Cottonwood and Neosho rivers near Wyckoff and trace the section along the Cottonwood river, as shown in the lower part of plate III. The Wyckoff limestone, as has been stated, is seen along the Cottonwood river below Emporia at Humphrey's ford and elsewhere. This stone is separated from the Emporia limestone by 40 or 50 feet of shale. As we pass up the Cottonwood river the Emporia limestone is first observed along the hilltops about four miles south and one mile east of Emporia. It is also exposed on the top of the hill just south of the church in section 33, township 19 north, 11 east, at which place the limestone is about 5 feet thick. It continues westward, but as the surface rises rapidly it soon passes under the ground. This system is characterized by being so full of seams that no large pieces can be obtained. Mr. Curtis has a quarry in section 28 of the township mentioned above. He finds a considerable market for the rock in Emporia where it is used for walling cellars, wells, and for making other structures for which large dimension stone are not required.

Phenis Mound

As one approaches Phenis Mound (which is probably twice as high above the river as any hill near it and is approximately 300 feet above the river) from the Curtis quarry one crosses at least 40 feet of shale before striking another limestone system. This limestone appears in a small ravine about half way up the mound and extends to the northwest beyond Plymouth. Thirty feet above this another limestone system is found which is composed of two strata separated from each other by 10 or 12 feet of shale. It extends almost to Cottonwood Falls, and is seen along the branch railroad just east of the Cottonwood Falls quarry. It has been quarried at a number of places between Phenis Mound and Cottonwood Falls but not very extensively compared with the work done in the heavy limestone 30 feet above.

The Cottonwood Falls Limestone

This important limestone system appears on the summit of Phenis Mound, eight or nine miles below Cottonwood Falls. At this place a few small porous fragments are found covering an area about 25 feet square at the very summit of the mound. This system is quite prominent at the famous stone quarries owned by the Retticker Brothers, about 2 1/2 miles east of Cottonwood Falls. At this place we have the following sections:

Beginning on the hilltop we find about 30 feet of soil, gravel and shale, in the latter of which marine invertebrate fossils are unusually abundant. They weather out on the hillside above the limestone. Below this is the Cottonwood Falls limestone, which is composed of two layers, the upper one being 2 1/2 feet thick and the lower one 3. Each layer is remarkably uniform and particularly free from vertical fissures. These properties render the stone the most valuable for building purposes of any thus far extensively operated in the state. It is possible to obtain masses of almost unlimited size with a thickness of 2 1/2 or 3 feet. By splitting or sawing the layer, flagging stone of any desired thickness and 20 or 30 feet long can easily be obtained. Below this stone is about 30 feet of shale, but it is not nearly so silicious here as along the Neosho river. Below this is the upper stratum of the Dunlap limestone system. In character the rock is quite similar to the Cottonwood Falls limestone and has been quarried considerably, but the operations were finally abandoned on account of the thinness of the layers and the large amount of stripping necessary. Below another 9 or 10 feet of shale the lower stratum of this system is found. It differs radically from the upper one, being much finer grained and more compact in texture, and in having so many vertical fissures that it is impossible to work it into dimension stone. Yet for ballast and for structural purposes where small pieces are wanted it is quite valuable. It has a subconchoidal fracture, a dark bluish gray color, and its blocks are so angular that it is locally known as "joint-rock."

Anticlinals and Synclinals in the Cottonwood Falls Series

Although the Cottonwood Falls limestone passes downward out of sight about a mile above Strong City it again appears about two miles farther west. There is thus produced a very pronounced synclinal trough the limbs of which make an angle with the horizontal of fully 100 feet to the mile. The synclinal axis trends north and south so that the same conditions are observed on both sides of the river, although the valley here is fully three miles wide. In fact the exposures on the south bank are better than those on the north, so the irregularity in position can be better studied. As one passes westward along the wagon road from Cottonwood Falls the limestone is seen to pass under the first little hill west of the town and is seen no more throughout a distance of about two miles. Suddenly it is seen to rise out of the ground making an angle of three degrees with the horizontal. The first limestone beneath it also appears only a few rods further west, so that seemingly the two are entirely conformable with each other. From this place they continue to rise westward to the high hilltop just east of Elmdale Mills. As this hill is higher than the one on which the Cottonwood Falls quarry is located and is five miles to the west one may readily see the importance of this great synclinal trough. Had the limestone continued to dip to the west at the angle common to most formations in this part of the state it would be at least 200 feet below the hill at Elmdale Mills instead of being on its very summit. On the north side of the river there are two synclinal troughs about a half mile apart. Along the side of one of these the dip for a short distance is fully four degrees, which is the equivalent of about 375 feet to the mile. Westward from Elmdale Mills the limestone is almost horizontal for several miles, but finally again dips to the west and passes out of sight between Clements and Cedar Grove. This is the most pronounced instance of either anticlinals or synclinals in the whole area of the Coal Measures. No evidence was available which had a bearing on the question of its cause, so that at present at least we are left in doubt regarding its origin. Its existence is a fortunate one, however, for this valuable limestone series is thereby again brought to the surface so that it may produce a larger quantity of the most excellent building stone which it furnishes. The quarries at Elmdale Mills and Clements are located in it, and at many other points equally good opportunities exist for the opening of extensive quarries, which sooner or later probably will be done.

Plate III--A Geologic Section along the Neosho river from the south line of the state to Council Grove, and along the Cottonwood river from Wyckoff to Cedar Grove.

By M. Z. Kirk; to accompany Chapter III.
Scale: Vertical, 1 inch equals 500 feet; horizontal, 1 inch equals 5 miles.
The limestones are represented by the conventional masonry. The shales and sandstones are left bare.
The contours of this section are principally taken from the United States Geological Survey Topographic sheets, the part along the Cottonwood river being taken from the level of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railway track.
Available as an Acrobat PDF, 2.3 MB.

Prev Page--Chapter II || Next Page--Chapter IV

Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web June 1, 2017; originally published 1896.
Comments to
The URL for this page is