History of Greene County, Missouri

R. I. Holcombe, Editing Historian

History of Missouri

Chapter 3: Geology of Missouri

Classification of Rocks—Quatenary Formation—Tertiary—Cretaceous—Carboniferous—Devonian—Silurian—Azoic—Economic Geology—Coal—Iron—Lead—Copper—Zinc— Building Stone—Marble—Gypsum—Lime—Clays—Paints— Springs—Water Power.

The stratified rocks of Missouri, as classified and treated of by Prof. G. C. Swallow, belong to the following divisions. I. Quatenary; II. Tertiary; III. Cretaceous; IV. Carboniferous; V. Devonian; VI. Silurian; VII. Azoic.

"The Quatenary formations, are the most recent, and the most valuable to man: valuable, because they can be more readily utilized.

The Quatenary formation in Missouri, embraces the Alluvium, 30 feet thick; Bottom Prairie, 80 feet thick; Bluff, 200 feet thick; and Drift, 155 feet thick. The latest deposits are those which constitute the Alluvium, and includes the soils, pebbles and sand, clays, vegetable mould, bog, iron ore, marls, etc.

The Alluvium deposits, cover an area, within the limits of Missouri, of more than four millions acres of land, which are not surpassed for fertility by any region of country on the globe.

The Bluff Prairie formation is confined to the low lands, which are washed by the two great rivers which course our eastern and western boundaries, and while it is only about half as extensive as the Alluvial, it is equally as rich and productive."

"The Bluff formation," says Prof. Swallow, rests upon the ridges and river bluffs, and descends along their slopes to the lowest valleys, the formation capping all the Bluffs of the Missouri from Fort Union to its mouth, and those of the Mississippi from Dubuque to the mouth of the Ohio. It forms the upper stratum beneath the soil of all the high lands, both timber and prairies, of all the counties north of the Osage and Missouri, and also St. Louis, and the Mississippi counties on the south. [13]

Its greatest development is in the counties on the Missouri River from the Iowa line to Boonville. In some localities it is 200 feet thick. At St. Joseph it is 140; at Boonville 100; and at St. Louis, in St. George's quarry, and the Big Mound, it is about 50 feet; while its greatest observed thickness in Marion county was only 30 feet."

The Drift formation is that which lies beneath the Bluff formation, having, as Prof. Swallow informs us, three distinct deposits, to wit: "Altered Drift, which are strata of sand and pebbles, seen in the banks of the Missouri, in the northwestern portion of the State.

The Boulder formation is a heterogeneous stratum of sand, gravel and boulder, and water-worn fragments of the older rocks.

Boulder Clay is a bed of bluish or brown sandy clay, through which pebbles are scattered in greater or less abundance. In some localities in northern Missouri, this formation assumes a pure white, pipe-clay color."

The Tertiary formation is made up of clays, shales, iron ores, sandstone, and sands, scattered along the blurs, and edges of the bottoms, reaching from Commerce, Scott County, to Stoddard, and south to the Chalk Bluffs in Arkansas.

The Cretaceous formation lies beneath the Tertiary, and is composed of variegated sandstone, bluish-brown sandy slate, whitish-brown impure sandstone, fine white clay mingled with spotted flint, purple, red and blue clays, all being in the aggregate, 158 feet in thickness. There are no fossils in these rocks, and nothing by which their age may be told.

The Carboniferous system includes the Upper Carboniferous or coal-measures, and the Lower Carboniferous or Mountain limestone. The coal-measures are made up of numerous strata of sandstones, limestones, shales, clays, marls, spathic iron ores, and coals.

The Carboniferous formation, including coal-measures and the beds of iron, embrace an area in Missouri of 27,000 square miles. The varieties of coal found in the State are the common bituminous and cannel coals, and they exist in quantities inexhaustible. The fact that these coal-measures are full of fossils, which are always confined to the coal measures, enables the geologist to point them out, and the coal beds contained in them. [14]

The rocks of the Lower Carboniferous formation are varied in color, and are quarried in many different parts of the State, being extensively utilized for building and other purposes.

Among the Lower Carboniferous rocks is found the Upper Archimedes Limestone, 200 feet; Ferruginous Sandstone, 195 feet; Middle Archimedes, 50 feet; St. Louis Limestone, 250 feet; Oölitic Limestone, 25 feet; Lower Archimedes Limestone, 350 feet; and Encrinital Limestone, 500 feet. These limestones generally contain fossils.

The Ferruginous limestone is soft when quarried, but becomes hard and durable after exposure. It contains large quantities of iron, and is found skirting the eastern coal measures from the mouth of the Des Moines to McDonald county.

The St. Louis limestone is of various hues and tints, and very hard. It is found in Clark, Lewis and St. Louis counties.

The Lower Archimedes limestone includes partly the lead bearing rocks of Southwestern Missouri.

The Encrinital limestone is the most extensive of the divisions of Carboniferous limestone, and is made up of brown, buff, gray and white. In these strata are found the remains of corals and mollusks. This formation extends from Marion county to Greene county. The Devonian system contains: Chemung Group, Hamilton Group, Onondaga limestone and Oriskany sandstone. The rocks of the Devonian system are found in Marion, Ralls, Pike, Callaway, Saline and Ste. Genevieve counties.

The Chemung Group has three formations, Chouteau limestone, 85 feet; Vermicular sandstone and shales, 75 feet; Lithographic limestone, 125 feet.

The Chouteau limestone is in two divisions, when fully developed, and when first quarried is soft. It is not only good for building purposes but makes an excellent cement.

The Vermicular sandstone and shales are usually buff or yellowish brown, and perforated with pores.

The Lithographic limestone is a pure, fine, compact, evenly-textured limestone. Its color varies from light drab to buff and blue. It is called "pot metal," because under the hammer it gives a sharp, ringing sound. It has but few fossils. [15]

The Hamilton Group is made up of some 40 feet of blue shales, and 170 feet of crystalline limestone.

Onondaga limestone is usually a coarse, gray or buff crystalline, thick-bedded and cherty limestone. No formation in Missouri presents such variable and widely different lithological characters as the Onondaga.

The Oriskany sandstone is a light, gray limestone.

Of the Upper Silurian series there are the following formations: Lower Helderberg, 350 feet; Niagara Group, 200 feet; Cape Girardeau limestone; 60 feet.

The Lower Helderberg is made up of buff, gray, and reddish cherty and argillaceous limestone.

Niagara Group—The Upper part of this group consists of red, yellow and ash-colored shales, with compact limestones, variegated with bands and nodules of chert.

The Cape Girardeau limestone, on the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau, is a compact, bluish-gray, brittle limestone, with smooth fractures in layers from two to six inches in thickness, with argillaceous partings. These strata contain a great many fossils.

The Lower Silurian has the following ten formations, to wit: Hudson River Group, 220 feet; Trenton limestone, 360 feet; Black River and Bird's Eye limestone, 175 feet; first Magnesian limestone, 200 feet; Saccharoidal sandstone, 125 feet; second Magnesian limestone, 250 feet; second sandstone, 115 feet; third Magnesian limestone, 350 feet; third sandstone, 60 feet; fourth Magnesian limestone, 350 feet.

Hudson River Group—There are three formations which Prof. Swallow refers to in this group. These formations are found in the bluff above and below Louisiana; on the Grassy a few miles northwest of Louisiana; and in Ralls, Pike, Cape Girardeau and Ste. Genevieve Counties.

Trenton limestone—The upper part of this formation is made up of thick beds of hard, compact, bluish gray and drab limestone, variegated with irregular cavities, filled with greenish materials.

The beds are exposed between Hannibal and New London, north of Salt River, near Glencoe, St. Louis County, and are seventy-five feet thick.

Black River and Bird's Eye limestone the same color as the Trenton limestone. [16]

The first Magnesian limestone cap the picturesque bluffs of the Osage in Benton and neighboring counties.

The Saccharoidal sandstone has a wide range in the State. In a bluff about two miles from Warsaw, is a very striking change of thickness of this formation.

Second Magnesian limestone, in lithological character, is like the first.

The second sandstone, usually of yellowish brown, sometimes becomes a pure white, fine-grained, soft sandstone as on Cedar Creek, in Washington and Franklin Counties.

The third Magnesian limestone is exposed in the high and picturesque bluffs of the Niangua, in the neighborhood of Bryce's Spring.

The third sandstone is white and has a formation in moving water. The fourth Magnesian limestone is seen on the Niangua and Osage Rivers.

The Azoic rocks lie below the Silurian and form a series of silicious and other slates which contain no remains of organic life. [17]


Coal.—Missouri is particularly rich in minerals. Indeed, no State in the Union, surpasses, her in this respect. In some unknown age of the past—long before the existence of man—Nature, by a wise process, made a bountiful provision for the time, when in the order of things, it should be necessary for civilized man to take possession of these broad, rich prairies. As an equivalent for lack of forests, she quietly stored away beneath the soil those wonderful Carboniferous treasures for the use of man.

Geological surveys have developed the fact that the coal deposits in the State are almost unnumbered, embracing all varieties of the best bituminous coal. A large portion of the State, has been ascertained to be one continuous coal field, stretching from the mouth of the Des Moines River through Clark, Lewis, Scotland, Adair, Macon, Shelby, Monroe, Andrain, Callaway, Boone, Cooper, Pettis, Benton, Henry, St. Clair, Bates, Vernon, Cedar, Dade, Barton and Jasper, into the Indian Territory, and the counties on the northwest of this line contain more or less coal. Coal rocks exist in Ralls, Montgomery, Warren, St. Charles, Moniteau, Cole, Moran, Crawford and Lincoln, and during the past few years, all along the lines of all the railroads in North Missouri, and along the western end of the Missouri Pacific, and on the Missouri River, between Kansas City and Sioux City, has systematic mining, opened up hundreds of mines in different localities. The area of our coal beds, on the line of the southwestern boundary of the State alone, embraces more than 26,000 square miles of regular coal measures. This will give of workable coal, if the average be one foot, 26,800,000,000 tons. The estimates from the developments already made, in the different portions of the State, will give 134,000,000,000 tons. [17-18]

The economical value of this coal to the State, its influence in domestic life, in navigation, commerce and manufactures, is beyond the imagination of man to conceive. Suffice it to say, that in the possession of her developed and undeveloped coal mines, Missouri has a motive power, which in its influences for good, in the civilization of man, is more potent than the gold of California.

Iron.—Prominent among the minerals, which increase the power and prosperity of a nation, is iron. Of this ore, Missouri has an inexhaustible quantity, andlike her coal fields, it has been developed in many portions of the State, and of the best and purest quality. It is found in great abundance in the counties of Cooper, St. Clair, Greene, Henry, Franklin, Benton, Dallas, Camden, Stone, Madison, Iron, Washington, Perry, St. Francois, Reynolds, Stoddard, Scott, Dent and others. The greatest deposit of iron is found in the Iron Mountain, which is two hundred feet high, and covers an area of five hundred acres, and produces a metal, which is shown by analysis, to contain from 65 to 69 per cent of metallic iron.

The ore of Shepherd Mountain contains from 64 to 67 per cent of metallic iron. The ore of Pilot Knob contains from 53 to 60 per cent.

Rich beds of iron are also found at the Big Bogy Mountain, and at Russell Mountain. This ore has, in its nude state, a variety of colors, from the red, dark red, black, brown, to a light bluish gray. The red ores are found in twenty-one or more counties of the State, and are of great commercial value. The brown hematite iron ores extend over a greater range of country than all the others combined, embracing about one hundred counties, and have been ascertained to exist in these in large quantities.

Lead.—Long before any permanent settlements were made in Missouri by the whites, lead was mined within the limits of the State at two or three points on the Mississippi. At this time more than five hundred mines are opened, and many of them are being successfully worked. These deposits of lead cover in area, so far as developed, of more than seven thousand square miles. Mines have been opened in Jefferson, Washington, St. Francois, Madison, Wayne, Carter, Reynolds, Crawford, Ste. Genevieve, Perry, Cole, Cape Girardeau, Camden, Morgan, and many other counties. [18]

Copper and Zinc.—Several varieties of copper ore are found in Missouri. The copper mines of Shannon, Madison and Franklin Counties have been known for years, and some of these have been successfully worked and are now yielding good results.

Deposits of copper have been discovered in Dent, Crawford, Benton, Maries, Green, Lawrence, Dade, Taney, Dallas, Phelps, Reynolds and Wright Counties.

Zinc is abundant in nearly all the lead mines in the southwestern part of the State, and since the completion of the A. & P. R. R. a market has been furnished for this ore, which will be converted into valuable merchandise.

Building Stone and Marble.—There is no scarcity of good building stone in Missouri. Limestone, sandstone and granite exist in all shades of buff, blue, red and brown, and are of great beauty as building material.

There are many marble beds in the State, some of which furnish very beautiful and excellent marble. It is found in Marion, Cooper, St. Louis, and other counties.

One of the most desirable of the Missouri. marbles is in the 3rd Magnesian limestone, on the Niangua. It is fine-grained, crystalline, silico-magnesian limestone, light-drab, slightly tinged with peach blossom, and clouded by deep flesh-colored shades. In ornamental architecture it is rarely surpassed.

Gypsum and Lime.—Though no extensive beds of gypsum have been discovered in Missouri, there are vast beds of the pure white crystalline variety on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, on Kansas River, and on Gypsum Creek. It exists also in several other localities accessible by both rail and boat.

All of the limestone formations in the State, from the coal measures to fourth Magnesian, have more or less strata of very nearly pure carbonate of pure lime.

Clays and Paints.—Clays are found in nearly all parts of the State suitable for making bricks. Potters' clay and fire-clay are worked in many localities.

There are several beds of purple shades in the coal measures which possess the properties requisite for paints used in outside work. Yellow and red ochres are found in considerable quantities on the Missouri River. Some of these paints have been thoroughly tested and found fire-proof and durable. [19]


No State is, perhaps, better supplied with cold springs of pure water than Missouri. Out of the bottoms, there is scarcely a section of land but has one or more perennial springs of good water. Even where there are no springs, good water can be obtained by digging from twenty to forty feet. Salt springs are abundant in the central part of the State, and discharge their brine in Cooper, Saline, Howard, and adjoining counties. Considerable salt was made in Cooper and Howard Counties at an early day.

Sulphur springs are also numerous throughout the State. The Chouteau Springs in Cooper, the Monagaw Springs in St. Clair, the Elk Springs in Pike, and the Cheltenham Springs in St. Louis County have acquired considerable reputation as salubrious waters, and have become popular places of resort. Many other counties have good sulphur springs.

Among the Chalybeate springs the Sweet Springs on the Blackwater, and the Chalybeate spring in the University campus are, perhaps, the most popular of the kind in the State. There are, however, other springs impregnated with some of the salts of iron.

Petroleum springs are found in Carroll, Ray, Randolph, Cass, Lafayette, Bates, Vernon, and other counties. The variety called lubricating oil is the more common.

The water power of the State is excellent. Large springs are particularly abundant on the waters of the Meramec, Gasconade, Bourbeuse, Osage, Niangua, Spring, White, Sugar, and other streams. Besides these, there are hundreds of springs sufficiently large to drive mills and factories, and the day is not far distant when these crystal fountains will be utilized, and a thousand saws will buzz to their dashing music. [20]

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