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Geological Survey of Kansas, v. 2 (1897)

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The Pleistocene of Kansas

by S. W. Williston

Following the terminology of Dana, the Pleistocene of North America has two well limited periods, the Glacial and the Champlain, the former characterized by the prevalence of glacial conditions, the latter by fluvial, by an ameliorated climate, luxuriant forest growths, and more or less submergence. The third period of the Quaternary, the Recent, is characterized by a partial return to the, colder climate, the elevation of the land, the development of the prairies, and a drier climate. It is precisely at this time, that of the change from the warmer and moister climate to the colder and drier one, that we would expect the culmination of the more susceptible forms of life and rapid change in the flora and fauna. Cope has already called attention to this change in an article that I will quote from further on. Every additional fact furnished from Kansas seems to substantiate his conclusions that the Megalonyx fauna of the east and the Equus fauna of the west were contemporaneous and that both occurred during the period of depression, that is during late Pleistocene time. It is strange that some writers should still follow Marsh in his location of the Equus fauna in the Pliocene. That Marsh does so is not surprising, since, as Hatcher has shown, he has confounded the Loup Fork and Equus faunas in part, and seems to be unaware of recent publications on the subject.

That there was a depression in Kansas during Champlain times is certain. That this depression was considerable I do not believe, inasmuch as the river terraces in the eastern part of the state nowhere exceed twenty feet in total height.

"The Equus beds are always to be distinguished by the presence of Elephas primigenius, when other forms less easily preserved are not recognized." [Cope, Vert. Pal. Llan. Estac. p. 75.] This species is the most common fossil, or at least the one of which we have most knowledge, in the Quaternary deposits of the state, and is the most widely distributed, and the conclusion is, hence, that the Equus beds are the prevailing superficial deposits of the state, a conclusion borne out by the other vertebrate fossils that are known. That all the forms given below were contemporaneous, is of course not yet proven, but I believe that they were.

Cragin, in a recent paper (Colorado College Studies, Vol. VI, p. 53), has given a preliminary notice of three terranes in Clark County, which he wrongly ascribes to the late Pliocene. The lithological characters of these terranes are of course nearly worthless save for local use, and he has not yet given a critical list of the vertebrate fossils contained in them. The lowermost of these, which he calls the Meade gravels, contained "abundant remains of horses, llamas, elephants, turtles, etc.," some of which are "Elephas imperator (?), Megalonyx leidyi, Equus complicatus, E. curvidens, Auchenia huerfanensis, etc." Lying upon this terrane are the volcanic ash beds, which he calls the "Pearlette Beds," and upon the ash beds are the "Kingsdown Marls, consisting of yellowish brown, lacustrine or slack-water marls containing variously shaped concretions of carbonate or silicate of lime." This latter included Elephas, and reached a thickness of one hundred feet in Clark County, and has "more than twice that thickness at certain localities on divides further west." All these terranes he locates in the Equus beds of Cope. It seems to me that further and careful study of the fossils is desirable before we assume as certain that the late Pleistocene in Kansas reached the great thickness of over two hundred and fifty feet.

The following list includes all the species of vertebrate fossils found in the Kansas Pleistocene, of which I have any knowledge:

Homo sapiens.
Mastodon americanus.
Elephas primigenius.
E. imperator (?). [Cragin.]
Bison americanus.
Bison antiquus.
B. crampianus.
B. alleni.
Alces, species indet.
Equus major.
E. excelsus.
E. occidentalis.
E. complicatus. [Cragin.]
E. curvidens. [Cragin.]
Platygonus compressus.
Camelops kansanus.
Auchenia huerfanensis.
Camelids, species indet.
Megalonyx leidyi.
Mylodon (?) species indet.
Canis lupus.
Canis, species indet.
Geomys bursarius.

Homo sapiens: The contemporaneity of man with the Equus fauna is, I think assured by the discovery of arrowheads associated with the remains of Bos antiquus, in Gove County, by Mr. H. T. Martin.

Mastodon americanus: This species is rather rare in Kansas. An excellent pair of jaws was discovered some years ago in the alluvium of the Wakarusa valley, near Lawrence, and I have further knowledge of the same species from Manhattan and Jewell County. Reputed discoveries of this Mastodon are not always to be trusted, since it is commonly confounded with Elephas primigenius.

Elephas primigenius: This species has been found in nearly all parts of the state, but occurs most freguently in the western and southern parts, and yet more frequently in the Indian Territory south of Kansas. Three years ago an extraordinary deposit was discovered in Lane County in the valley of the Smoky Hill by Mr. Chas. Sternberg, the veteran collector of Kansas. From a small area, not more than two or three rods in diameter, portions of a score or more of these animals were obtained, together with others of Equus excelsus and of a small dog. Some seventy or more of the teeth are now in the University collection. The deposit was in a basin in a small ravine that had been hollowed out of the Niobrara chalk, and considerably below the Loup Fork beds, which here yielded teeth of Protohippus placidus. In the vicinity, and from a higher horizon were obtained teeth of Protohippus lenticularis, a typical Goodnight beds species. There can be no question of the local character of the Elephas deposit. Everything indicates that the spot was the site of some old spring to which the different animals had come and died.

A large series of Elephas primigenius bones were obtained some years ago from the reddish alluvium of Clark County.

Bison americanus: Teeth agreeing quite with this species were obtained some years ago from eight or ten feet below the surface in the alluvium of the Wakarusa valley. There is also a jaw of this species in the collection from the southern part of the state bearing this label: "Found on strip pit (coal), on S. L. Cherry's place, in blue muck clay and on top of coal, six or seven feet from surface." A while ago Professor Hay sent to me for examination a part of a skeleton from the western part of the state, partly fossilized, and which Hay thought to have been a contemporary with extinct species.

Bison antiquus: The only known occurrence of this species is in Gove County, in the valley of the Smoky Hill, where Mr. H. T. Martin obtained for our museum two years ago a complete skeleton, which will be mounted. The material in which it was found was quite like that of the Elephas and Platygonus deposits not far distant. As already stated, with these specimens were found arrowheads, well fashioned but small.

Bison crampianus: This species was described by Cope from a part of a skull found near Wellington, associated with Elephas primigenius.

Bison alleni: This species was described from a specimen discovered in the Blue river near Manhattan. The description is meagre. The horizon is located in the "lower Pliocene." Upon what evidence I know not, as the type specimen was purchased by myself from the finder of it.

Alces species indet: An extinct species of moose or an allied animal is represented by maxillary and mandibular bones in the University collection, figured herewith. Plate XLVII. There is no record of the collector, though I doubt not they were obtained by Judge West, who rarely attached his name to the specimens in the collection. They have the following label, in Judge West's handwriting: "From the loess near Kansas City, fifty feet from surface," and are accompanied by several skulls of Geomys bursarius, all of which are partly enclosed in an exceedingly hard matrix. Possibly the moose is Cervalces americanus, of which I can find no adequate description of the dentition. The teeth are larger than are the largest specimens of the living moose in our collection, obtained by Professor Dyche. The upper molars differ especially in the presence of a prominent tooth-like process or projection near the base of the premolars on the outer side posteriorly, and which encloses a cavity between it and the tooth. It is largest on the second premolar, and is represented by a rudiment on the first true molar at the base of the strong middle column. In addition, the second and third premolars differ markedly in the much stouter anterior column exteriorly, which is dilated and turned backwards, and which would give, when worn, a T-shaped surface. The first and second upper molars have a small, tooth-like process in the valley internally. If the species is not C. americanus, it must be distinct from any hitherto described.

Plate XLVII—Alces, species undetermined. From the loess near Kansas City, fifty feet below surface. (Photographed by Williston, 1896.)

Black and white photo: Alces, species undetermined. From the loess near Kansas City, fifty feet below surface.

Equus major: So far as I am aware, the only occurrence of this species in Kansas, is from the vicinity of McPherson, associated with Megalonyx leidyi. The determination is by Cope.

Equus occidentalis: Several teeth from Bluff creek, Clark County, agree perfectly with the figures and descriptions of this species given by Cope.

Equus excelsus: A complete upper dentition, agreeing quite with this species, was found in the Elephas deposit in Lane County before mentioned, by Sternberg.

Platygonus compressus: The skeletons of peccary obtained from near Goodland in this state I am more and more inclined to identify with this species, notwithstanding the differences they present If the species is compressus, it is very important in the correlation of the Megalonyx and Equus beds.

Camelops kansanus: This species, described in 1856 from the "Drift" of Kansas by Leidy has never since been identified. Possibly it is the same as one or the other of the following species:

Auchenia huerfanensis: This species was described by Cragin from Texas. Its identity with the Kansas species needs further verification, inasmuch as the bones from this state examined by Cragin are uncharacteristic.

Camelid, species indet: Two metapodials, differing considerably in size, are in the University collection, which can be referred to this family only at present. One of them, the smaller, was discovered by Mr. C. N. Gould in Barber County. The unworn fourth lower molar of a large species was discovered by Mr. F. H. Rose, about ten miles northeast of Dodge City.

Canis species, indet: A complete mandible of a small species of dog was obtained in the Elephant deposits in Lane County by Mr. Martin. I do not at present have access to the specimen and can not give the specific name.

Canis lupus: A complete skull and other parts of the skeleton are in the University collection obtained from near Goodland, in apparently the same deposits as those which yielded the Platygonus remains.

Megalonyx leidyi: An excellent skull of this species, the type specimen, was obtained a few years ago from the Equus beds near McPherson, associated with Equus major, a species found associated in the east with Megalonyx. Cragin has reported the same species from Clark County, associated with other species of Equus. He does not state upon what evidence the identity is based.

Mylodon (?) species indet: A fibula, figures 12 and 13, was doubtfully referred to Mylodon by myself in a paper in the Kans. Univ. Quarterly. The bone came from thirty feet below the surface in a well at Seneca, Kansas.

Figure 12—Mylodon Sp. External view of fibula.

Mylodon Sp. External view of fibula.

Figure 13—Mylodon Sp. Internal view of fibula.

Mylodon Sp. Internal view of fibula.

Geomys bursarius: A number of skulls of this species were found associated with remains of the Alces described above, fifty feet below the surface in the "loess" near Kansas City. The skulls can not be freed from the very hard matrix, but such portions as are exposed agree perfectly with the living species.

Bones of the living Spermophilus tredecemlineatus were found associated with the bones of Platygonus at Goodland, but I suspect that they were from old burrows.

Cragin has reported Felids from the Meade gravels, and Cope has described a sabre-toothed cat (Dinobastis) from Oklahoma.

Usually the Pleistocene, or Quaternary deposits in eastern Kansas do not exceed sixty or seventy feet in thickness, though one hundred and fifty is the thickness given for them at Kansas City by Mudge. At Lawrence, borings in the river valley gave about sixty feet as the thickness, or about forty feet below the present river bed. Of course it is possible that borings elsewhere in the river valley might give greater depths. The material at these depths was coarse gravel, partly of glacial origin. Variations in the coarseness of the gravel and sand were found at different depths, but no fine, sandy marl was found save at or near the surface. I leave it for others to name the various "terranes!"

The Equus beds evidently form the whole of the superficial deposits of western Kansas. They are, towards the surface at any rate, composed of a light colored, calcareous marl, the Plains marl of Hay, with sufficient clay to make fair bricks, which burn a light red. Its depth it is impossible to say, though I suspect that it is considerable. If Cragin is right in ascribing two hundred feet and over as its possible thickness, then in all probability there are a hundred feet or more of it on the upland plains. In the river valleys, the material scarcely differs, save often for the presence of a greater proportion of calcareous material derived from the Cretaceous beds below them.

How these upland deposits were formed is not clear to me. That there could have been extensive lakes over these plains during Champlain times is impossible, since contemporary deposits, of local origin, are found in the valleys, containing vertebrate fossils of the Champlain epoch, and lakes on the uplands must need have been banked up to have existed. That they are river deposits is equally indefensible. Taking into consideration the uniform fineness of the material, the barrenness of fossils, and their poor petrifaction, and the absence of coarser pebbles, everything seems to show an aeolian origin.

Hatcher found evidence of unconformability between the Loup Fork and Equus beds in western Nebraska, and stated that Marsh had confounded them and confounded the fossils which he had described from them, which seems not at all unlikely in view of the bit of ancient history he has given us in the Amer. Jour. Science for December of 1896, in his scheme of the nomenclature and characteristic fossils of the later Neozoic epochs.

Since the Loup Fork is Miocene or early Pliocene and the Equus beds clearly late Pleistocene, it is quite certain that there must have been a considerable interval between them, which in Texas is represented by both the Blanco and Goodnight beds. The Goodnight beds exist in Kansas, and I confidently believe that the Blanco will be found also.

In conclusion because of its pertinency to the present subject, I will quote from a paper of Cope's in the American Naturalist for 1895, p. 598:

"The Equus beds are found covering areas of various extent in Oregon, Nevada, California, the Staked Plains, southern Texas, Chihuahua, the valley of Mexico. Their most eastern station is western Nebraska. They contain a fauna which includes one extinct species of the Megalonyx beds (Equus major Dek.) and the recent Castor fiber. They contain the extinct genus of sloths, Mylodon, of a species different from that of the east, and four species of camels of the genus Holomeniscus, and a peccary. Recent species of Canis and Thomomys occur, while two extinct horses (Equus occidentalis and E. tau) are common. The hairy elephant, E. primigenius, is abundant, while Mastodon americanus is rare, if occurring at all. The proportion of recent to extinct species and genera in the Equus beds is very similar to that occurring in the Megalonyx fauna, while they differ as to details. This fauna has also disappeared from the continent, a few species, as in the east, surviving to a later date. Was its disappearance due to a submergence, as in the east?"

That there was any submergence of the western plains during the Champlain epoch I can not believe possible.

His Megalonyx fauna of the east "includes the extinct genera of mammalia, Platygonus, Smilodon, Megalonyx, Mylodon, Mastodon, and extinct species of Bos, Dicotyles, Equus, Tapirus, Ursus, Castor, Arvicola, and Lagomys."

As is seen above, all these extinct genera, with the exception of Smilodon, which is replaced by Dinobastis, occur in Kansas.

"The remains of man have been shown to occur in the gold-bearing gravels. I have found them (obsidian spear and arrowheads) in profusion mixed with the bones of the extinct fauna at Fossil Lake, Oregon, in a friable and windblown formation. This man, however, so far at least as regards California, was not paleolithic, since he made mostly ground pestles and mortars."
"There is, therefore, considerable probability that man was a contemporary of the Equus fauna, and the Equus fauna was contemporary with the Megalonyx fauna of the east," all of which conclusions the evidence from Kansas substantiates.

The problems of especial interest in the Neocene deposits of Kansas are the position, thickness and characteristics of the Goodnight beds, the determination of the Blanco beds and the relative extent of all of these and of the Equus beds overlying them.

As already stated, Marsh is hopelessly befogged on these subjects and his published statements are misleading.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Jan. 20, 2018; originally published 1897.
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