1904 History of Cherokee County Kansas


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In taking out lead and zinc ores the operations are so different from those employed in the mining of coal that it is deemed a matter of interest here to make a brief statement, so that the reader not acquainted with the differences will have a better understanding of them. Coal nearly always lies in strata or layers, varying in thickness, from a few inches to several feet. These strata are sometimes level; oftener they are slightly tilted, and sometimes much so. In the coal fields of Southeastern Kansas the strata incline slightly downward toward the northwest. If one owns a tract of land on all sides of which shafts have been sunk and a stratum of coal found, he is almost absolutely safe in the presumption that he has the same stratum lying under his land, and at about the same depth of that of his neighbors, making allowances for the surface variations and the general tilt of the stratum. This is not true with respect to lead and zinc. These ores lie in pockets or lodges, or they may be scattered through the earth very irregularly, sometimes "good stuff," sometimes "poor stuff," according to the per centum of ore, compared with the rock and earth to be worked. The ores can never be depended upon to lie in strata; and, on this account, one can not judge from surrounding operations, only in a general way, whether he will find ore or not. His neighbor may find the richest of deposits; but he may not even get a "shine," although he may sink his shaft close by.

The amount of earth and rock taken out is simply enormous. Excavations are sometimes made so large that the roof of a "room" may be 50 feet above the floor, or even higher. The whole force of miners may be employed in a single excavation. Of course, the rocks not containing ore are not hoisted to the surface, after the room is large enough for storing them, if the drifting is on a level; but often the ore is so scattered through the stones that it is necessary to bring them to the surface. There is not much of what is called "free ore."

After the ore-bearing rock is brought up it is run through powerful crushers, which grind it into a fine gravel. It is then run through "jigs," where it is shaken thoroughly in w ater, when the heavier particles go to the bottom. The water is then lowered and the top part of the gravel is skimmed off and thrown aside. This is called "tailings," but it yet contains a low per centum of ore. The heavy part, at the bottom, is then taken out of the "jig," when it is ready for the smelter. Recently, some companies have put in what are called "sludge mills," which grind the "tailings" into a still finer gravel, and this is put through the same kind of process as last described. The owners of these mills usually buy the great dumps of "tailings" at such prices as will justify them in working over the entire quantity, sometimes as large as a great hill containing thousands of tons.


On account of the fact that lead and zinc ores do not lie in strata, but in pockets, scattered here and there through the region, many persons fail in their mining operations. Thousands of dollars have been spent in prospecting, and ground has been abandoned in numberless cases. In many instances abandoned shafts have been reopened and drifts started in other directions from those at first started, and these have led into the richest "finds" of ore. To those engaged in mining there are many interesting things. Some fail where others succeed; some become suddenly wealthy by some fortunate turn, and afterwards strike a "streak of bad luck," and lose all they had formerly made; others have toiled on from year to year, battling always against adverse conditions, at last to "strike it rich," and in a few months be independent. There is a fascination about the business, and this, with the chances to make money, attracts many people and leads to the building up of a community of rugged, courageous class of citizens who, besides gaining the comforts which wealth affords, add largely to the material progress of the county. Lead and zinc have done wonders for Cherokee County. In its wealth of metal and mineral it stands in the front rank among the counties of the State, and if not at the very head, it is a question of a very short time when it will be there.


In the chapter of this book, under The Early Settling of Cherokee County, the fact is mentioned that Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts, who was one of the attorneys for the first settlers of the county, in their controversy with James F. Joy, once planned to secure the franchise for the water power of Spring River, or that part of it which flows through Cherokee County, Kansas. This was more than 30 years ago. It is believed that, had General Butler won the suit which was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, and was decided adversely to the people, in 1872, he would have pushed the water power project to the extent of making Southwestern Missouri and Southeastern Kansas a great manufacturing district, after the pattern of many in the New England States. General Butler was a far-seeing man. He foresaw that the time was then not far away when the manufacturing interests of Massachusetts and its neighboring States would move South and West; that the commercial requirements of the country would make it necessary. But it was the mining interests of this section that chiefly led him to consider the feasibility of the project concerning which I now write, although the mining operations here were then in their inception. Joplin was then a mere village of board shanties and here and there a few habitations of better pretense. That was five years before the discovery of lead and zinc at Galena, or rather where Galena now stands, for the place was then unhonored and unnamed. The region was then a post-oak and black-jack wilderness hemmed in by hills and bluffs of flint and limestone, where an occasional traveler would sometimes halt to quench his thirst at a rippling stream, thinking not at all that he trod the surface beneath which lay unfold stores of wealth. The Joplin distr ict seven miles away, had begun to attract the attention of capitalists in the Northern and Eastern States, and some of them had come and were beginning operations for developing its riches.

The development of the water power of Spring River, for more than the operation of an occasional grist mill, was left for persons coming upon the field at a later time. Perhaps it is better that it was so. There are turns in the affairs of men which lay hardships upon the individual and later change for the benefit of the whole community, though lapses of time may often intervene. Thirty years ago the opportune time had not arrived for the undertaking here considered. The conditions of population and of material development were not such as would justify the undertaking then; but the absence of these did not hinder far-seeing men from judging that they would speedily come.


Within the last two years The Spring River Power Company, a corporation controlling all the money that it needs, has taken hold of the matter of harnessing the power of that river, and the work is largely on its way. Surveys have been made, lands have been purchased, franchises have been obtained and the work of building a mighty dam across Spring River, at Lowell, just below the mouth of Shoal Creek, is well under way. I was at the scene of operations on July 16, 1904, and the extent to which the work had been carried indicates that a gigantic enterprise is in progress. More than 300 men were at work; and it is expected that by the first of January, 1905, the dam will be completed, the machinery put in and the company ready to furnish electric power to any point within a radius of 50 miles. History, generally, does not have to do with matters of the future; its province is to record the incidents and achievements of the past; but in an instance where a great enterprise has been planned and the material operations have been begun, it can scarcely be improper to lay out before the reader the scope and purpose of the undertaking. Such is the matter in hand; and the object of this record is to preserve facts which if not now set down, may escape the historian, who, in the years to come, will enlarge upon that of which I now write.

The scope of the enterprise is planned to be broad, so broad as to meet the requirements laid upon it as the conditions may require from time to time along down the future. Besides the dam already under construction and well on its way to completion, another will be built at the south line of Cherokee County, where Spring River leaves the State of Kansas. By the course of the stream this is about 10 miles below Lowell, the point at which the first dam is being built. It is also said that the company will build a dam somewhere above Lowell, in Cherokee County, which will make three dams in the county. Besides these, the company intends to build a dam across the same stream, in the Indian Territory at a point a few miles west of Seneca, Missouri, on account of the rich ore fields in that district, as well as for other general purposes. But it is concerning the water power of Cherokee County that this chapter is being written. Mention is made of the fourth dam, as indicating the general scope of the company's planned undertaking.

The three dams in Cherokee County, if the whole energy of the stream can be conserved, will perhaps secure the application of 60,000 horse power; for Spring River is a magnificent stream of pure, limpid, spring water, with such a descent as admits of the feasibility of frequent clams along its course. Its main branch rises in Christian County, Missouri, not far west of Springfield. Its north fork rises in Dade County, Missouri, and Shoal Creek rises in Barry County, in that State. The main stream and all its branches flow through districts where there are many never-failing springs, some of which are large enough, in a single spring, to afford power for light-running grist mills and for other purposes.

The purpose of the undertaking, concerning which this article is written, is to supply electric power for every kind of mechanical contrivance through which it may be profitably applied. It will be used in the operation of railway systems, for the transportation of passengers and freight; in supplying light and power for use in the towns and cities of the district, and for the smelting of ores in the near-lying mining fields along the river, on either side. In a sentence, the purpose of the undertaking is to turn Cherokee County, with the other districts lying within reach of the seat of power, into a great manufacturing center, where the cheap power can be used in the production of the commodities of trade and commerce; where the energy of the cold stream, now flowing on toward the distant sea, may be turned into light and power, for the comfort and convenience of the people now living, and yet to live, along its shores, and this without destroying its quality or much interrupting its course. That the water of this beautiful stream has flowed on for years, decades and centuries, deepening its channel among the hills and through the valleys, affords a presumption that it will continue to flow, and thus offer to those who dwell along its way the opportunity of securing the benefits which will help to lighten toil and open an easement from the drudgery of life; and acting on this presumption the company entering upon the gigantic undertaking now in its inception will, before long, come to the test of the feasibility of the enterprise. The people will watch the progress of the great scheme with an eagerness proportionate with the vastness of the work to be done, and with the hope that disappointment will come neither to those who have it in charge, nor to those to whom its benefits will come. The water power of Cherokee County is foremost among the many advantages which its material resources afford.

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