Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas HistoryVolume 20, Number 1 - October 1973

A Bit of Kansas History

by Conservation Workshop Members


Published by The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and issued by The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee:
James S. Wilson, Gilbert A. Leisman, Harold Durst, Robert F. Clarke

Adapted online edition by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalistis sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol.5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas Stare Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by the Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of October, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, Robert J. Boles, Department of Biology.

This issue of The Kansas School Naturalist was prepared by the following members of Dr. Thomas Eddy's and Kenneth Babcock's Conservation Workshop: Hattie Bachelder, Robert Blunt, Dwight Clum, Walter Crouch, Geary Engemann, Jake Geiger, Donald Knowles, Bill Lynn, Marguerite Newton, Marie Pennel, Vicki Plankington, Virginia Rainwater, Lillian Reighart, Harry Tatum, Jim Wilson, Larry Zwaduk, and Vera Zwaduk.

A Bit of Kansas History

by Conservation Workshop Members

Kansas is known to many people only for its wheat fields, the dust bowl of the 1930's, the howl of the coyote, tornadoes, and the Dodge City portrayed by Matt Dillon in the TV series. Not even native Kansans are too familiar with the plants, animals, and rich historical background. This issue of The Kansas School Naturalist is devoted to the geology, history, and flora and fauna of one small area in and around what is now Doniphan County, in the northeastern corner of the state.

The first explorer to have entered this area was reported to have been a M. De Bourgmont. In July, 1724, he led an expedition into the area, occupied at the time by the Kanza Indians, from which the state later derived its name. The Kanzas remained the undisputed owners of these lands for another fifty years after the visit by De Bourgmont. Conditions changed, however, when the Iowas, Kickapoos, and Sacs invaded the area from the east. The warlike Kanzas resented the intrusion of these tribes, and between 1775 and 1815 the area was the scene of many bloody encounters between the original residents and the new arrivals. The arrows and spears of the Kanzas were no match for the rifles of the Kiowas and Sacs, and the United States Government finally stepped in and attempted to solve the problem by buying the land from the Kanza tribe, and offering them new territory further to the west. Their land was then turned over to the Iowas, Sacs, and Kickapoos. The Iowas and Sacs were assigned the northern part of what was later, in 1855, to become Doniphan County, with the Kickapoos along their southern border. The modern town of Wathena was named after a Kickapoo chief whose little band had a village at the site.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas HistoryThe area, more heavily timbered than the land to the west, teemed with black bears, beavers, white-tailed and mule deer, gray and red foxes, opossums, otters, muskrats, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, gray and flying squirrels, timber wolves, and wildcats. On the uplands, away from the timbered lowlands, were numerous antelopes, badgers, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Perhaps the most striking and numerous mammals were the great herds of buffalo, or bison, which provided most of the necessities of both the Indians and the early pioneers.

The rich land, the abundant game, and the nearby Missouri River soon brought in hunters, trappers, traders, and settlers. New towns sprung up along the river in large numbers. At one time no less than twelve hamlets, some of which were established for purely political reasons, existed along the river that borders the northeastern corner of the county. Many of the developers had visions of rapid growth and prosperity, shipping goods in and out on the Missouri River.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Many new towns sprung up along the Missouri River in northeastern Kansas. Today, only the four underlined towns are still shown on the Kansa s map issued by one of the larger oil companies.

Many of the little towns were doomed to eventual extinction. Charleston, which was formed by a stock company, grew to as many as twelve to fifteen houses. It finally dwindled away, the houses were moved, burned, or decayed to the ground. It was finally vacated, and is now a farm site. Iowa Point was started by a pioneer missionary, S. M. Irvin. At one time it was the second largest city in Kansas in terms of population. A ferry company and a brick yard contributed to the employment opportunities of its residents. Rivers are notoriously restless, and the changing channel of the Missouri brought the growth of Iowa Point to a close, and even eliminated the town of Layfette in the process.

White Cloud, named after a Kiowa chieftain, is located on one of the most beautiful sites in Kansas. On one side the residents may look out upon the rolling expanse of the great Missouri River, while to their back rise the wooded bluffs with their rich outlines draped in dark green foliage in the summer, and a riot of colors in the fall.

The effect of the Missouri River on this area of the state cannot be overemphasized. Most of the time it was a benefactor, providing a means of bringing in and carrying out passengers and items of trade, enriching the flood-plain farms with its rich deposits of silt, and providing fish to supplement the diet and income of the settlers along its shore. It could, however, turn into a veritable monster, changing its course to wipe out farms, and even cities, as in the case of the town of Layfette. Due to the activities of the Corps of Engineers, the extremes of "Old Muddy Mo" have been brought under better control, and its behavior is now more predictable.

Pollution and exploitation have taken their toll of the once bountiful riches of the river. At one time many commercial fishermen made a good living in the area; now one, Bill VanHorn, is the only full-time commercial fisherman left. No longer can a fisherman expect to catch all the fish he needs within a few miles of his home. Bill VanHorn must travel upstream as far as St. Joseph, Mi ssouri, and as far downstream as Wolcott, Kansas, to make his catch. When the pioneers came to the area, fish of over fifty pounds were not uncommon: now one of twentyfive pounds is considered a big fish. The more desirable fishes, such as channel catfish, flat-head catfish, and paddlefish, have declined in numbers, with a corresponding increase of less desirable species, such as the carp.

Geology of the Area

The hills and bluffs along the river are composed of a material called "loess." Loess is made of unstratified silt made of angular fragments of many different rocks and minerals. It is a wind-blown material which was deposited during three distinct periods of prehistoric time. Each time corresponds to a recession of one of the great glaciers which moved down from the north, advancing southward to a distance some miles south of the bluff area. The grinding effect of the glacier itself and the further weathering of transported rock
materials by glacial outwash created the loess material which now makes up the bluffs. The river acted as a barrier, and the accumulation of loess exceeds two hundred feet over the existing bedrock in some areas.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Road bed showing the erodability of the loess material.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Outcrop showing alternating layers of limestone and shale.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Loess dolls. They are about one inch in length, and were formed by the swirling of damp loess.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Black snakes are excellent climbers, and may spend part of their time hidden among the leaves in trees along the bluffs.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

The coloration or the copperhead makes it very difficult to see, especially among the fallen leaves of fall.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Bats are difficult to see when hanging from the twigs of trees. They look like wrinkled brown leaves.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

Beavers may still be found along the river and streams, where they sometimes cut down trees of considerable size.

KSN - Vol 20, No 1 - A Bit of Kansas History

This interesting structure was built by a crayfish. Such "crayfish chimneys" may be seen in low places along the river.

The latest glacier, the Kansas, deposited pebbles, boulders, and sand in a clay-silt matrix. This till is composed of quartzite, igneous rocks, and limestone. In addition, the glacial till is responsible in a large part as an important source of ground water.

Outcrops of shale and limestone, usually alternating, are evident. The limestone outcrops are massive, and where accessable are used extensively as crushed rock for road beds. Many farmers have derived an extra source of income from exposed layers of limestone on their property. Early settlers used the limestone for building purposes, and many houses, barns, and other outbuildings constructed of this material still remain standing. The rock has also been hewn for gate posts and monuments, and even piled to make fences. In some areas layers of coal may be seen, and some of the coal has been mined in the past. However, the coal is of low grade, and not suitable for fuel on any large scale operation.

Streams running into the river have eroded deeply into the land, helping to form the steep bluffs and deep ravines. In such areas, the rough topography no doubt makes it more valuable for scenery than for agriculture, although much fertile farm land IS found bordering the main tributaries. Wherever machines can operate and man can till the soil, good crops can be grown, due to the tremendous fertility of the land.

Flora and Fauna of the Areas

The number of species of fishes increases as you go from the western part of the state to the eastern border. Over fifty different species of fishes have been reported from the Doniphan area, some of which are found nowhere else in the state. Some of these fishes are mentioned below.

One parasitic fish, the chestnut lamprey, has been reported from the area. Probably never common, it is even rarer today, possibly due to the increased silt load of the river and the reduction in the size and number of the. fish upon which it attached to secure its food.

One species of sturgeon, the pallid sturgeon, is quite rare, and may be approaching the status of an endangered species.1 Anyone catching a sturgeon that he suspects of belonging to this species should report it to an authority for correct identification. Be sure to record when and where it was caught, and, if possible, save the fish and call Dr. Frank Cross, of the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, for he may wish to place it in their collection of fishes from our state.2 The only fish with which the pallid sturgeon might be confused is the shovelnose sturgeon, which may still be caught in the spring when fishing with worms off the sandbars of the Missouri and its larger tributaries.

The paddlefish is another interesting fish of the area. Its numbers declined following the coming of the settlers, with pollution and situation being among the contributing factors. Better farming practices, along with steps to improve the aquatic environment, may help to restore this interesting primitive fish to its place among the fishes of the area.

Three other species of rather primitive fishes may be taken in this part of our state. Shortnose and longnose gars may sometimes be a source of irritation when they steal the live bait from a fisherman's line. The bowfin, or "dogfish," was probably much more common at one time, but river control work, and the draining and filling of "oxblow" lakes, have played a part in bringing about this decline by reducing the habitat required by this fish.

Some reports say that northern pike were present when the pioneers moved into the region, but apparently disappeared, or at least became extremely rare, with the coming of agriculture to the stream and river valleys.

Minnows are well represented in the Doniphan area. Some, such as the creek chub and the stoneroller, are confined to the smaller clearer streams, while others, like the silver chub, sicklefin chub, speckled chub, river shiner, and bigmouth shiner, prefer the larger rivers as a place in which to live. Some of minnows may now be classed as rare, such as the silver band shiner, northern common shiner, and brassy minnow.

The blue sucker that has been reported from the area is now considered to be very rare, and may possibly become an endangered species in a few years, if not already.3

Catfish are still plentiful, but not longer are such "monsters" as the blue catfish caught in 1856 that was reported to have weighed over 250 pounds, taken by either the ordinary or commercial fisherman.

One of the rarest fishes is the burbot which has been taken from the Missouri River where it borders Doniphan County. Anyone catching one should report it to the Kansas Museum of Natural History in Lawrence.

Game and panfish, belonging to the sunfish family, may sometimes be taken from the river, but they are most likely escapes from ponds and lakes in the area. The river is usually too turbid for these sight-feeders to secure su fficient food for good growth, and spawning areas are limited or absent.

The bluff area provides ideal habitat for many reptiles and amphibians. Visitors to the tree-covered hillsides should keep their eyes open to avoid too close an encounter with a timber rattlesnake. Copperheads may be found along the streams in the summer, but make their way from the lowlands back up into the bluffs in the fall to hibernate, where they may sometimes be found in the same den with not only timber rattlesnakes, but even several species of nonpoisonous as well. These are the only two poisonous reptiles in the area, and, with a moderate amount of caution, need not be a cause of great concern when you are exploring the ravines and cliffs.

Nonpoisonous snakes include the pilot black snakes, red king snakes, and blue racers, as well as teh smaller and more secretive ringnecks and worm snakes.

The sonoran skink may be found running about among the leaves beneath the trees. They are harmless, but be careful when attempting to catch one to show your students or friends. If you should happen to catch the skink by its tail, it will promptly let it fall off, where the piece will writhe violently while its former owner sneaks away to live and grow a new tail in the weeks to come. You may even find a legless lizard, or
glass snake, which "falls apart" even more readily than a skink when disturbed. Legless lizards and skinks are both beneficial, eating insects and worms, and should not be killed.

Turtles are not uncommon, and you may see the inoffensive and slow-moving box tortise searching for a meal on the upland away from the water. Most of the turtles, however, will be found in association with ponds or streams. The powerful, mean-tempered snapping turtle can inflict a mean, but nonpoisonous, bite. Slow and clumsy on land, the painted turtles, elegant sliders, and soft-shelled turtles move swiftly through the water. Like turtles everywhere, they do far more good than harm, and deserve your protection.

Amphibians, the first vertebrates to make the transition from water to land, are well represented, though some species are seldom seen except by those with a special interest in this group of animals. Many are much more likely to be identified by their calls, and campers may sit quietly of an evening and listen to the peeps and trills of the cricket frogs, striped chorus frogs, leopard frogs, bull frogs, tree frogs, and American toads. Tiger salamanders may be found in the damp, shady places, but do not advertise their presence as do the frogs and toads.

Only the deer remain of the large game animals found in the area by the pioneers. Gone are the elk, buffalo, and antelope. The larger carnivores have also been eliminated by the residents, and only the coyotes and bob-. cats have managed to hold their own against the rifle, trap, and hunting dog. Various furbearing mammals may still be taken, such as the beaver, muskrat, and a few mink.

The smallest mammal in the Doniphan area is the shrew. It makes up somewhat for its tiny size by having a poisonous saliva ; in fact, it is the only poisonous mammal in Kansas. Feeding primarily upon insects and young mice, the shrew is one of our beneficial mammals.

There are many native mice and rats in the area, such as the deer mouse, woods mouse, and western harvest mouse. They are at home among the brush and shrubs, and in turn furnish food for larger carnivores, such as owls and badgers. Two undesirable imports may be included in with the rodent fauna, the house mouse and the Norway rat. They are more likely to move into man-made structures than are native rodents, where they destroy grain and may even be responsible for fires by chewing through insulation on electric wiring.

Many caves may be found in the bluffs along the river. These caves provide homes for several species of bats, such as the big myotis, evening bat, and the big brown bat. Not all species of bats live in caves, however. The red bat rests in trees, hanging downward from limbs, where it is hidden by the dense foliage. You may see these flying mammals swooping about of an evening, or their shadows pass between you and the moon, as they catch their daily meal of flying nocturnal insects.

The oak-hickory woods, which are not found in the western part of the state, provide both food and home for the gray squirrel. Unlike the fox squirrel, which may often be seen foraging about on the ground for fallen acorns, the gray squirrel spends most of its life in the branches above the ground. This is also one of the few areas in the state where the flying squirrel may be found. This tiny mammal is active at night, so is seldom seen as it glides from tree to tree.

These are some of the mammals that make their homes among the many varied habitats of Doniphan county.

Birds, as well as mammals, are well represented in the bluff area. Many permanent residents may be seen, such as the eastern meadowlark, field sparrow, downy woodpecker, and crow. Two non-native birds are now common, the English sparrow and the starling. The number of species increases greatly in the spring, as the migratory forms move in from their southern winter homes. You may watch the effortless gliding of the turkey vulture, hear the soft cooing of the mourning dove, or watch the acrobatics of the nighthawk and chimney swift as they catch their food on the wing. Some tax the trained eye of even the experienced birdwatcher, such as the tiny black-capped chickadee, least flycatcher, tufted titmouse, or ruby-crowned kinglet. Some are so brightly colored as to look almost artificial, like the male cardinal, red-headed woodpecker, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, or indigo bunting.

The bluff area is a popular place for the hunter of upland game. The rough terrain and the trees and shrubs make the hunting of quail a real challenge. Sometimes a ring-necked pheasant may be included in the day's bag. Even the recently introduced wild turkey is doing so well that there may be a limited hunting season on this great game bird before too many years.

Migratory waterfowl are not uncommon. Situated on the borders of the central and Mississippi flyways, ducks and geese from either flyway may sometimes be seen. Three nearby wildlife refuges, the Trimble, Swanhole, and Squaw Creek, provide protection for great numbers of migrating waterfowl, and some, such as the Canada goose and the mallard duck, remain in the area throughout the year.

The steep bluffs, rising sharply back from the river, provide the diversity of habitats necessary for a profusion of plant life . To get the full impact of the plant life of the area, it should be visited during each of the four seasons of the year. The soft green of the opening leaf buds and the profusion of pink flowers on the redbud trees in the spring contrasts sharply to the dark green foliage that covers the bluffs in the summer. Return in the fall and you will be impressed by the profusion of browns, greens, yellows, and reds of the leaves of the various species of trees. Winter presents still a different face, from the stark branches of the sycamore to the dark brown leaves of the oaks.

Kansas is in general a rather dry state, and the bluff area of the northeast provides one of the few places where the moisture-loving mosses may grow in an) profusion. All mosses are rather small, and some can only be examined carefully by the use of a magnifying glass or hand lens. They have no means of storing water, nor can their thin cell walls protect them against the drying effects of low humidity and hot winds. The moss has a rather complicated life cycle, involving the conspicuous soft green sexual stage, and a parasitic asexual stage that produces the spores from which the next sexual generation will arise. You may wish to have your students accompany you on a field trip to collect some mosses, so that you may take them back to the classroom to be raised in a terrarium. Have your students visit the library to look up the important role these soft, tiny plants have played in the formation of soil and coal.

If you look carefully in the dam p areas of the bluffs and ravines, you may find an even less known relative of the mosses, the liverworts. Some will look somewhat mosslike, while others will be Oat plates of cells growing prostrate and overlapping on patches of mud. During times of drought, these plants roll up and from all appearances have died, but let a wet cycle come and the liverworts will spring to life again.

Ferns, like the mosses and liverworts, are moisture-loving plants, and the damp, shaded ravines cutting into the loess bluffs provide an ideal habitat for their growth. Two species occur along the river bluffs in relative abundance, the maidenhair fern and the rock fern. Though larger than mosses or liverworts, they are still low-growing plants. In fact, their stems lie underground, with only the specialized leaves, or fronds, appearing above ground.

One of the main reasons the great buffalo herds of pre-pioneer days ranged into northeastern Kansas was to feed upon the rich grasses that grew there, especially buffalo grass, little bluestem grass, and big bluestem grass. Though less than the height of a man's ankle, the buffalo grass was an excellent
year-round forage for the bison. A perennial plant, spreading by runners, or stolons, it could stand heavy grazing and the tread of the hooves of the buffalo herds.

Though plowed under in the flat lowlands so that the soil could be cultivated for domestic crops, both big and little bluestem grasses still flourish in the uplands back of the high bluffs. Because of the great value these grasses have had on the cattle industry of our state, some people have suggested that the big bluestem be adopted as the Kansas state grass.

Perhaps these glimpses of the history, the geology, and the interesting plant and animal life of the northeastern part of your State will serve to stimulate a desire to visit this unique area of Kansas. This we are sure of - it will take more than a few days to do it justice!


Andreas, A. T. 1883. History of the State of Kansas. Lakeside Press, Chicago.

Cross, Frank B. 1967. Handbook of Fishes of Kansas. Misc. Pub. No. 45. Museum of Natural History. University of Kansas.

Frye, John C. and K. L. Walters. 1950. Subsurface Reconnaissance of Glacial Deposits in Northeastern Kansas. Bulletin 86, Part 6. State Geological Survey of Kansas. University of Kansas Publishers.

Gray, P. L. 1905. Gray's Doniphan County History. Roy Crost Press, Bendena, Kansas.

Hall, E. Raymond. 1955. Handbook of Mammals of Kansas. Misc. Pub. No. 7. Museum of Natural History. University of Kansas.

Katz, Paul R. An Analysis of Archaeological Data from the Kelly Site, Northeastern Kansas.

Phol , R. W. 1968. How to Know the Grasses. Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers.

Robbins, Chandler S., Bertel Brunn, and Herbert S. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. Golden Press. New York.

Smith, Hobart M. 1956. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. Misc. Pub. No.9. Museum of Natural History. University of Kansas.

Stephens, H. A. 1969. Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas. The University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, Kansas.

1 - The Pallid sturgeon was placed on the endangered species list in 1990 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

2 - This is from the original 1973 edition of this book.

3 - While the blue sucker is still rare, it has yet to be placed on the endangered species list.

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