USGS Logo Geological Survey Bulletin 613
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part C. The Santa Fe Route

Kansas City, Mo.
Elevation 750 feet.
Population 248,381.1

Kansas City, Mo. (see sheet 1, p. 14), is the commercial metropolis of the large area of fertile prairie plains of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It is also an important railroad and manufacturing center and one of the great cities of the United States, ranking in 1910 twentieth in population. It covers nearly 58 square miles. Kansas City, Kans., though a distinct municipality, is really continuous with it, the two forming a single community. Most of Kansas City, Mo., is built on a rolling plateau on top of a bluff rising about 200 feet abruptly from the bank of Missouri River, but its western part is on a low flat adjoining the mouth of Kansas River, locally called the Kaw. The railway station used for many years was on this flat, at the foot of the bluff which rises steeply to the main part of the city on the east. The new station, a mile southeast of the old one, is in a depression, originally an old river channel extending across the highland.

This station and its approaches, costing $40,000,000, is the largest railway station west of New York. The building, which cost nearly $6,000,000, has room for 10,000 passengers, and 260 passenger trains arrive and depart daily on its 16 tracks.

The location and development of Kansas City were influenced by various conditions. The builders of the earliest trail found a good crossing in the big bend of the Missouri just below the mouth of Kansas River, where the bank was stable, and here a settlement, called Westport Landing, was gradually established. Later, when there were boats on the river, the deep water at this point made it a most desirable landing, and so Westport Landing soon became an important place. Here was fought a battle of the Civil War in which 29,000 men were engaged. Soon outgrowing the flat area, the city climbed the high bluff to the south, and in later years it has spread widely over the rocky plateau.

Kansas City has many factories and local industries, employing about 40,000 persons, with an annual output valued at $250,000,000. Its sales of agricultural implements aggregate $40,000,000 a year, and it ranks high in the trade in lumber, mules, hay, cigars, and grain. Meat packing is one of the important industries, for the stock yards, which cover an area of 200 acres, handle about 20,000 animals a day. The flour mills have an annual output of 4,500,000 barrels.

1The figures given for the population of incorporated places are those of the United States Census for 1910. For unincorporated places the census figures give the population of the election precinct, township, or other similar unit, and such figures are here marked with an asterisk (*).

The high bluffs of Kansas City consist of thick beds of limestone and shale, about 225 feet in total thickness. The harder layers of limestone, 130 feet in all, crop out as prominent white or gray ledges. The beds appear to be horizontal, but in reality they slope (dip) at a low angle toward the northwest.1 The limestones and shales in the bluff are part of the widely extended succession of beds which underlie Kansas, as well as the adjoining region, as shown in the sections on several sheets of the route map. The materials of which these rocks are composed were deposited many millions of years ago, at a time when a large part of central North America was covered by a sea. The limestone consists of calcium carbonate separated from the sea water by various chemical reactions, in part through the agency of sea plants and sea animals, and the shale was a mud which gradually settled from turbid water. Both kinds of sediment accumulated very slowly, and the great thickness of the rocks into which they have been consolidated represents a long period of geologic time.

1These rocks are a portion of the Pennsylvanian series of the Carboniferous system. (See table on p. ii.) As shown in figure 1, they consist mainly of the Kansas City formation, the upper bed of limestone and the bed of shale underlying it representing the lower part of the Lansing formation. In accordance with the general practice among geologists each of these formations has been named from a locality where its beds are found in typical character. Some of the limestones contain impressions of fossil shells, one having yielded more than 70 species or varieties.

FIGURE 1.—Section of bluff at Kansas City, Mo., showing succession of limestones and shales.

On the bluffs of Kansas City there is a thin sheet of sand and gravelly clay, called till, which was left by the glacier or ice sheet that once covered this region. This occupation by ice was one of the most interesting events in the geologic history of the continent.1

1In the earlier part of the glacial epoch, called the Kansan stage, the ice sheet extended from the north halfway across northeastern Kansas, reaching the present valley of Kansas River and in places extending a few miles south of it. Probably the ice sheet had much to do with determining the position of the Kansas River valley, for the river began at that time to flow in its present general course. This ice sheet covered about 4,000,000 square miles in northern North America about 300,000 years ago and endured for a long time. It was several thousand feet thick, and it accumulated at a time when the fall of snow was in excess of melting and evaporation. Its southern edge was in the zone where melting kept pace with the advance of the ice, and apparently in some stages of its existence its margin remained at the same place for a long time. Its flow was due mainly to the thickness of the ice, for the land does not all slope downward to the south, which was the direction of the movement. The flow of a glacier of this character is illustrated in general by the lateral flow of a thick mass of pitch lying on a table.

As the glacier moved along it picked up large quantities of rock and soil. This material was slowly carried southward and in some areas accumulated at the southern edge of the ice in a deposit known as a terminal moraine. When melting gained on the rate of advance the glacial front receded and the clay, sand, gravel, and bowlders which the ice had contained were left behind in a sheet covering the rocks of the country. This deposit is called till or drift. Much of the material was brought great distances, and its coarser components, especially the bowlders are of such character that their sources are known by geologists familiar with the rocks of the country to the north. Some of the bowlders that were carried along the bottom of the glacier are scratched by grinding against rocky ledges, and in places these ledges also show scratches and scorings which the moving rocks have cut in them. Many of the features indicative of glaciation are round in northeastern Kansas as far south as Kansas City and Topeka.

The glacier evidently extended over the area occupied by Kansas City, for glacial scratches have been observed on the surfaces of limestone ledges in the middle of the city. The scratches trend somewhat east of south and are clearly marked, having been preserved by a covering of the glacial till. This till caps the ridge in the northern half of the city but appears to thin out and disappear at no great distance to the south, indicating the southern limit of the ice. No clearly defined moraine is known in this place. The till is all on the highland, indicating that the deep river valley now lying a short distance to the north did not exist in glacial time.

Other glacial scratches are observed on the bluffs on the north side of the river 3 miles north of Kansas City, about 100 feet above the river. One set trends S. 24° W. and another S. 51° E., indicating two directions of ice movement, probably at two different stages of ice advance. Scratches are also exposed at the deep cut in the northwestern part of Kansas City, Kans. These scratches are clear cut and extend for some distance, so that they could not have been produced by bowlders in floating or floe ice.

The new Union Station in Kansas City is in a marked depression or valley which lies behind the main bluff all the way from Missouri River on the east to the slopes descending to Kansas River on the west. This depression is now followed by most of the railways entering Kansas City from the east. It has walls of limestone, the harder beds appearing as ledges and the softer beds as slopes. It is floored with sand and clay to the height of about 100 feet above the present river flats. It was the valley of Kansas River at a time geologically not very remote, probably when the glacial ice extended southward as far as the city and when the valleys of the region lacked 100 feet of their present depth. The length of time that the Kansas followed this course to the Missouri was not great, but it was sufficient to cut a channel in the limestone 100 feet or more in depth. Eventually the water was drawn off by some small affluent of Missouri River at the time when that stream was cutting in its southern bank the great concave curve along which the larger part of Kansas City, Kans., now lies.

Some of the lower slopes along the Missouri Valley in Kansas City and elsewhere are covered by a highly characteristic deposit called loess.1 This material, accumulated at a time later than the glacial epoch, is a fine sandy loam, so thick and firm that where it is cut into by streams it makes prominent bluffs. Some of it can be seen in the eastern part of Kansas City, extending far up the limestone slopes and in part covering the glacial drift.

1Geologists differ in accounting for the origin of the deposit known as loess, but many of them believe that while rivers may have cooperated in its accumulation, most of it was at one time or another wind-blown dust.

On leaving the Kansas City station the train rapidly descends a small valley leading into the valley of Kansas River. The south bank of this river is followed to Topeka by the old main line of the railway, but the trains that go by way of the Ottawa cut-off to Emporia follow it only to Holiday, a distance of 13.4 miles. Just before the river is reached the State line is crossed, at a point 1-1/2 miles from the station.


Kansas has an area of 82,158 square miles, or nearly double that of New York, Pennsylvania, or Tennessee. Its length is about 406 miles, but the Santa Fe Route, in crossing it from east to west, covers about 465 miles. The population of the State, according to the census of 1910, was 1,690,949. The density of population averages 20.7 to the mile but is much greater in the eastern part of the State and far less in the western counties. Kansas was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and when Missouri was made a State its eastern boundary was defined, but for many years the region west of that line was regarded as an Indian country with no prospect of white settlement. This region was crossed by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804 and by Lieut. Pike in 1806.

In 1854 Kansas was organized as a Territory under the Kansas-Nebraska act, which left the question of slavery to be settled by vote. This question caused several years of bitter contention, in which many persons came from far and near to join. The struggle of the slavery and antislavery forces finally became a national issue and was one of the causes of the Civil War. In 1861 Kansas was admitted as a "free State." It has been settled by a great variety of people, some of whom have come in large bodies. After the Civil War many soldiers settled in the State, taking advantage of the provision that a person who had given military service could have his term of service deducted from the five years required for homesteading.

Kansas has considerable resources in oil, coal, cement rock, and other minerals, but the principal industry of the State has been agriculture, and in this she has taken high rank. Kansas produces about one-tenth of our wheat, ranking first in that crop. Nearly 5,500,000 acres is planted in wheat, and the average annual yield from 1900 to 1913 was 75,347,000 bushels, but in 1914 the crop was 177,200,000 bushels, valued at $168,340,000, or more than ever before. The oat crop in that year was 58,960,000 bushels, and the estimated total value of farm and live-stock products of Kansas for 1914 was $638,000,000, or nearly double the cost of the Panama Canal. The average yield of wheat in Kansas for the last 10 years is 14.1 bushels to the acre, and the State ranks twenty-sixth in that respect. The average yield of wheat for the United States is 14.8 bushels to the acre. Indian corn is an important crop in Kansas, the yield in 1913 being 174,225,000 bushels.

The mineral products of Kansas in 1913 had an aggregate value of $27,312,563. Coal ($12,036,292) was the leading item, and Portland cement (3,291,818 barrels, valued at $3,268,861) ranked second. The zinc produced was valued at $1,129,856; lead, $213,576; clay products, nearly $2,000,000; salt, nearly 2,700,000 barrels, valued at $860,000; petroleum, 2,375,029 barrels, valued at $2,248,283.

On the north side of the river is a wide, low flat, on which is built the southern part of Kansas City, Kans. The flat consists of sand and gravel deposited by the river and extending to steep slopes of limestone on the north. The valley of the Kansas is from 2 to 3 miles wide, and the stream meanders across its bottom in long, swinging bends, skirting the limestone bluff on one side for a few miles and then crossing to the other side. Features of this sort are common to all large streams that carry sediment across a generally flat country, especially to those vary greatly in volume at different times in the year. Kansas River is noted for its floods, which follow exceptionally heavy or protracted rains. During their progress the volume of water in the stream is enormously increased. Overflowing the ordinary channel, the water extends widely over the lower lands, and as its velocity is also greatly increased, it does much damage. As the stream is well known to be subject to floods, many precautions have been taken to make railway embankments, bridge abutments, and other structures along it sufficiently high and strong to withstand them, but occasionally a very high flood causes great havoc.

The great flood early in June, 1903, was the highest since the flood of 1844 and was more destructive than that one because of the greater population in the valley. The water extended from bluff to bluff at most places, but fortunately there were many localities at which the current was not strong. At the Union Pacific station, in Topeka, there was from 7 to 8 feet of water and at the Kansas City Union Station the water was nearly as deep. There was great loss of life and property, a large amount of mud was deposited, and the river's course was changed in places. The flood was caused by exceptionally heavy rainfall at the end of a long rainy season, which had saturated the ground and increased the flow of all the streams in the region.

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West of the Missouri-Kansas State line Kansas River makes a large bend to the south, cutting into the limestone slope of the valley so that a prominent bluff rises steeply above the stream. This bluff, which extends to Argentine, is nearly 200 feet high and exposes the same beds of limestone and shale that are seen in the bluffs farther downstream. The railway is built on a cut and fill at its foot.

Argentine, Kans.
Elevation 750 feet.
Kansas city 5 miles.

Argentine, the first stopping place in Kansas, was named from the Latin word for silver (argentum), smelting being the first industry established there. It is a part of Kansas City, Kans. West of Argentine for a few miles the railway leaves the immediate river bank and runs near the foot of a wooded bluff, in which may be seen most of the limestone beds that are exposed at Argentine and Kansas City. Chief among these is a 30-foot bed of the Iola limestone, which is used extensively for the manufacture of Portland cement at Iola, in southeastern Kansas. Next above is shale (Lane shale), and at the top of the bluff is a succession of limestones (the Stanton and Plattsburg limestones). All the beds descend gradually to the west, for the dip is mostly in that direction, and the land also rises as the valley is ascended. The grade of Kansas River is low; the rise from its mouth at Kansas City, where the elevation above sea level is about 720 feet, to Topeka is only about 150 feet. As the distance is 65 miles, the slope is less than 2-1/2 feet to the mile.

Elevation 760 feet.
Kansas City 13 miles.

Elevation 772 feet.
Kansas City 17 miles.

Near milepost 9 and again from a point west of milepost 11 nearly to Holliday the railway is on the bank of the river. At milepost 13, east of Holliday, there is a cliff of Drum limestone, a bed which gradually descends toward the west and passes beneath the river near Wilder. Holliday was named for C. K. Holliday, of Topeka. From this place the cut-off line leads westward to Emporia. This line is described on pages 19-22.

Beyond Holliday the main line1 follows a nearly west course for 3-1/2 miles along the southern margin of the Kansas River flat. At Wilder siding the valley makes a sharp turn to the southwest along the outcrop of the upper beds of the Chanute shale, which underlies the Iola limestone. The course of the valley, however, was established long before these soft beds were cut into at this place. Probably its position was influenced by the ice sheet of the glacial epoch, the southern edge of which appears to have projected several miles farther south in this vicinity than in the regions to the east and west. The ice occupied the highlands north of the river, but it is believed not to have extended south of the present stream between the western part of Kansas City and Lawrence.

1On this line the mileposts indicate distance west of Holliday as far as Topeka, beyond which they indicate distance from Atchison.

At Bonner Springs, across the river from Wilder, there are large quarries of limestone. The hills north of the river, from a point opposite Wilder to a point beyond Weaver, are capped by till containing scattered bowlders brought from the north by the glacial ice. One of these bowlders, about 8 miles north of Topeka, is 40 feet long and 25 feet high and weighs about 1,500 tons. In large quarries on the north bank of the river opposite milepost 8 the limestones are worked for ballast, road metal, and concrete material. When the clay and till were removed from the limestone many glacial scratches were uncovered. They bear S. 20° E. and give unmistakable evidence that glacial ice moved in that direction across the country before the present valley was excavated. The rock fragments carried in the base of the ice scored the limestone surface. Probably an earlier Kansas River flowed along the south edge of the ice sheet and received much water from the melting ice.2

2At one stage of the excavation of the valley, probably while the ice extended to the line of the present valley at Wilder, the river flowed eastward across the ridge a mile south of Wilder, for an old high-level gravel and sand bed is found on the east slope of this ridge. The river did not flow long in this course, for it cut only a small valley through the ridge, which forms the present divide.

The gentle northwesterly dip which prevails in eastern Kansas brings the Iola limestone almost to river level at De Soto. The south abutment of a bridge across the river here rests on this limestone, which shows for a short distance in the bank and finally passes beneath the alluvial filling of the river flats. About 8 miles farther west, the next overlying limestones (the Stanton and Plattsburg) in turn pass beneath the river flat near Eudora. As the formation above them is soft, easily eroded shale, the bluffs along the valley sides here greatly diminish in height and steepness.

Elevation 813 feet.
Population 640.
Kansas City 33 miles.

Eudora was named after the daughter of a Kansa chief, Pascal Fish, from whom the site was purchased. Here the railway crosses the mouth of Wakarusa Creek, which occupies a wide valley extending far westward. This valley is wide mainly because it has been excavated by a good-sized stream in a thick body of soft shales but also because at one time, probably during the glacial epoch, it served as a channel for Kansas River. Since that time, however, all the valleys of the region have been cut about 100 feet deeper. Another old channel of Kansas River extends across the wide bench on the north side of the present valley, 4 miles south of Eudora, about 150 feet above the river. This channel, however, is older than the one in Wakarusa Valley, for it is higher and the coarser materials in it are largely flint of local origin. This channel is believed to be preglacial, because its deposits show none of the rocks of northern origin which were later spread over this region by the glacier.

The flat at the junction of the Wakarusa and Kansas valleys is wide and shows terraces of moderate height, which extend some distance west of Eudora. The railway passes over this flat, and in places, as at milepost 23, its course is 2 miles south of Kansas River.

The wide flats along Kansas River contain a thick mass of sand and loam deposited by the river. This material affords excellent soil at most localities, and from Kansas City to and beyond Topeka it is cultivated for corn, vegetables, and other crops, which are highly profitable. Unfortunately some parts of this land are not out of the reach of ordinary freshets, and a large area is subject to flood and damage when the river is exceptionally high. Heavy freshets, however, are so rare that many farmers take the chances of damage by high water.

From points not far beyond Eudora the highlands south of the river are visible. Their prominence is due to a thick cap of hard, massive limestone which protects the soft underlying shale from erosion. One high butte known as Blue Mound, 5 miles southwest of Eudora, is capped by an outlying mass of this limestone, and other peaks and hills farther southwest present the same feature.1

1The succession of rocks near Eudora and Lawrence is shown in figure 2, below. The Iatan limestone (formerly called the Kickapoo) is 10 feet thick at the base of Blue Mound, and in this vicinity the Lawrence shales contain a thin bed of coal that was formerly worked near Lawrence. The limestone and shales constituting the Oread limestone cover a wide area but vary somewhat in thickness from place to place.

FIGURE 2.—Section of rocks exposed near Eudora and Lawrence, Kans.

The thick Oread limestone and the great mass of soft shale below it form one of the most prominent of the long "steps" crossing the plateaus of eastern Kansas. The formation passes under 90 feet of Kanwaka shale to the west, and it dips beneath the valley of Kansas River near Lecompton.

At the east edge of Lawrence the Santa Fe line is crossed by a branch of the Union Pacific system coming from the north side of Kansas River.

Elevation 822 feet.
Population 12,374.
Kansas City 40 miles.

The State University of Kansas is in the southwestern part of Lawrence. The group of university buildings on the ridge known as Mount Oread2 is about a mile southwest of the railway station and can be reached by trolley cars. The university enrollment is about 1,200 students, mostly residents of Kansas, to whom tuition is free. Connected with the university is the State Geological Survey, which has published many reports on the geology and mineral resources of Kansas.

2This ridge was named by the first party of settlers in honor of Mount Oread Seminary, at Worcester, Mass., which was founded and owned by Eli Thayer, the organizer of the New England Emigrant Aid Society.

Haskell Institute, a Government school for young Indians, established in 1884, is situated in the southern part of Lawrence. Most of these Indians come from the several reservations near by. The number of students is 800.

Lawrence was settled by a colony of New England people who were ardent advocates of the abolition of slavery. The attempt to make Kansas a proslavery State was prosecuted with zeal, and vigorous endeavor was made to keep out settlers who were not in sympathy with that side. On the other hand the abolitionists of the East organized companies which established and assisted in maintaining "free-soil colonies." The New England Emigrant Aid Society, of which Amos A. Lawrence, of Boston, was an active member, was responsible for the settlement of Lawrence, Kans., in 1854. From this time to the Civil War the town was the stronghold of the antislavery party. In 1803 Quantrell raided Lawrence with a band of Missourians who killed 288 men, a large proportion of the adult male population at the time. Lawrence was a noted station on the so-called underground railroad system by which slaves escaped from Missouri and other States.

At Lawrence brick of various kinds is made from shale, and sand is dredged from the river for use in making concrete and other building operations. The dredge is plainly visible from the railway station (to the north), and the principal brickworks are south of the railway, a mile west of the station. In the pits the shale is capped by terrace deposits. A 1,400-foot well just east of Lawrence station furnishes a small flow of saline water that is in considerable demand for the treatment of rheumatism. The river is dammed at Lawrence to afford power, which is used mainly by a flour mill.

Much stone is quarried from the ledges of Oread limestone west of Lawrence. About 90 feet of shale (Kanwaka) intervenes between the Oread and the next higher limestone (the Lecompton),1 which caps the ridges southwest of Lawrence. The Lecompton limestone dips west and passes below the alluvium of the valley filling near Spencer siding. In quarries north of Kansas River it yields large slabs that are used in Lawrence and other places for curbing, pavements, and trimmings.

1The Lecompton limestone consists of five principal beds; 5 feet of limestone at the base, 5-1/2 feet of shale, 16 inches of blue limestone, 4 feet of shale, and 10 feet of light-gray limestone which disintegrates easily. Great quantities of the peculiar fossil, Fusulina, occur in the basal part of the Lecompton limestone. It is a foraminifer of elongated oval form, generally about a quarter of an inch in length, and is common also in higher limestones. The shale that overlies the Lecompton limestone, known as the Tecumseh shale, is about 75 feet thick and includes two thin limestone beds which make riffles in the river.

Half a mile west of Lawrence station, on the north side of the railway, are the city waterworks. Water from the underflow of the river is obtained by large pits, in the bottom of which perforated pipes are sunk deep in the sand. The railway passes along a flat with low terraces on the south side that extend to the foot of a wooded bluff capped by ledges of limestone.

Elevation 830 feet.
Kansas City 45 miles.

Near Lakeview several old sections of river channel or oxbows are conspicuous. They are now abandoned by the main stream, which passes north of them, but are in part filled with water. Features of this sort are common along streams flowing in a wide alluvial flat, for in nearly every freshet sand banks accumulate which dam up an old course for a few miles while a new channel is scoured out by the strong current deflected in another direction.

Long ago Kansas River cut its valley about as deep as is possible with the low grade finally attained, and since that time the flats have been in process of being built up. The valley is being widened, however, for every few miles along its course the stream cuts into its banks and removes more or less of the limestone and shale. This cutting shifts in location from time to time, and some of these old cut banks now rise from old channels long ago abandoned. As its banks are cut back the river valley gradually widens, and if the process continues sufficiently long the side valleys also will be widened in the same manner and the adjoining highlands disappear.

In the region west of Lawrence the ice sheet of the Kansan glacial stage extended several miles south of the present Kansas River valley, for the south margin of the drift covers the greater part of the high ridge between that river and the valley of Wakarusa Creek. The drift margin continues in this position to Topeka and beyond, but it is hardly perceptible to the traveler on the railway, which follows the relatively recent river bottom. The rolling hills that can be seen on the upland in places north of the river consist largely of glacial drift.

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Last Updated: 28-Nov-2006