The oldest possible history of any spot upon the globe is to be found in its geological records. Being the oldest, it is also, so far as it can be read, the most authentic. The nature of the soil is determined by the rocks, and the rocks carry us back to the first beginnings—the gases. The wealth of Morgan County is combined in her vast stores of minerals under the earth, and her agricultural wealth, that comes from the use and cultivation of the soil above her immeasurable coal fields, and her rich deposits of lead, zinc, iron, clays and still other valuable mineral productions, of which there are many indications.
The county contains a superficial area of nearly 640 square miles, and its most elevated portion is 400 to 550 feet above the Osage River and from 600 to 700 feet above high water mark at St. Louis. This elevation passes nearly east and west through the county, and but a little south of the middle, forming the divide of the north and south water-sheds, the north streams flowing ultimately into the Missouri River, and those south into the Osage River. The divide passes through Versailles, the water from the south side of the public square going south; that from the north side flowing in the opposite direction. The streams on the north are more sluggish than those on the south, and they also differ in this, that the former are from pools and surface water only, while those on the south are fed by deep and strong springs, and are cold and clear, except for a short time after heavy rains. On the north the majority of the streams at times become very low and sometimes dry, while at the south they are but little affected by the weather.
The surface of the country is rolling, and is divided between timber and prairie land. The latter is rich and rolling, presenting the most beautiful landscapes to the eye in passing over the county. The prairie land is in the middle, north and northeast part of the county, and is about one-third of the area. In the southern portion it is heavily timbered. The surface in the middle portion of the county is elevated, undulating prairie mostly, and toward the south there are at first gentle slopes, gradually becoming more hilly, and when near the Osage and tributary streams, it is of a somewhat broken and rocky nature. The most elevated point in the county is about five miles west of Versailles.
The largest stream touching the county is the Osage River, on the south. It forms the boundary lines of the southwest and southeast corners of the county. In the south water-shed is Big Gravois Creek, the largest stream south of the divide. It rises in Township 42, Range 18, flowing southwest to the Osage, and has a length of twenty miles, with a fall of 400 feet. It is a strong stream, about seventy yards wide at the mouth, and is a fine water power. There are several small branches flowing into it, all clear, rapid and strong streams. In the southwest part of the county are Proctor, Mills, Little Buffalo and Minow Creeks, and Jenkins', Huff's and Lick Branches. Such is their fall as to give them good horse power for mechanical purposes.
Big Buffalo Creek heads in Township 42, Range 19, running southwest, crossing the line into Benton County. A branch of Little Gravois Creek heads in Township 41, Range 16, running south and west four miles, where it joins the main stream.
North of the divide are Big and Little Richland, Haw and Flat Creeks. Except Flat Creek these head in Township 42, Ranges 18 and 19, flowing northerly, and empty into Flat Creek in Township 45, Range 19, and form the Lamine. These streams are more sluggish than the streams running south, as they have less fall. Flat Creek is the largest stream north of the divide; it connects with Richland. near the north county line to form the Lamine. Northeast of Versailles a short distance some head branches of North Moreau rise, flowing northeast into Moniteau County. In addition to Moreau Creek are Linder's, Burris' and Smith's Forks. Taking Versailles as the central point, the drainage from here carries the water in all directions, but mostly north, northeast and south.
Nearly the entire area of the county is occupied by the series of magnesian limestone and sandstone, representing the calciferous rocks—the lower part of the Lower Silurian. The alluvium of the Quarternary period ranges up to forty feet in depth, in which there is a slightly mixed coarse sand. The heavy alluvial deposits are in the valleys, mostly a yellowish clay, the alluvium mixed with this being left by the streams or brought from the highland. The uplands, where free from rocks, are rich and productive in plant food, especially the cereals, and are finely adapted for fruits of nearly all kinds grown in this latitude. The rocky portions are only in the southern part of the county, and these lands are superior ranges for stock, and suited to the cultivation of the grape. A natural product of the soil, produced by pasturing, is a luxuriant growth of blue-grass.
On the headwaters of the Gravois, southwest of Versailles, is a cave, called Cave Mills, about a quarter of a mile long, that forms a perfect tunnel through the hill, with a natural and ample opening at each end. It is walled, roofed and floored; the roof at the entrance on the creek is about thirty feet above the floor. In entering at this point there is seen a fine spring. One is impressed in looking at this, probably the most ancient tunnel in the world, with the idea that the prehistoric races built railroads and tunneled the mountains.
East of Versailles, and about a quarter of a mile from Martin's coal-pit, is Wolf Cave. It has never been investigated. It opens nearly perpendicular, and a tree has slid into the hole, and leans at an easy angle; wolves formerly made their entrance and exit by means of the tree. In former times innumerable tracks of these animals could be seen about this opening.
Price's Cave, southeast of Versailles eight miles, on Indian Creek (dry branch), enters on a level, in which one can ride a horse. This has been examined for more than a mile; room after room appears, with some of the ceilings more than fifty feet high, and between these rooms are some large and some small openings. The cave appears to branch and run in different directions. Numerous fine specimens of stalagmites are found.
The Jacobs' Cave, seven miles south of Versailles, was first discovered by a miner, who, in digging, opened out into a very large room. This has been explored half a mile without the end of it being discovered.
Purvis Cave, on Mill Creek, in Section 17, Township 40, Range 17, has a fine entrance. It has been explored between two and three miles. It also seems to branch in different directions. In it have been found bear-dens and evidences that at one time the Indians occupied parts of it. Lead has been found in this cave in considerable quantities.
At the mouth of the Big Gravois is a cave with an opening of fifty feet. This runs back about 300 yards. From the hill is an opening down to the cave, through which voices below can be heard.
Timber and Rock
All the valuable hardwoods are found in the forests, the heavy growths of white-oak leading in quality and value. All the varieties of oak of this latitude are found. Black and white ash and walnut are plentiful. It will be many a day before the dark old woods are hewn away.
Building and lime-making rocks are abundant all over the county, and of easy access. The best encrinital limestone is found in Richland Township, the limestone and composite quartz being the most abundant. Some specimens of the latter have been worked, and polish equal to granite.
The county seems to be a vast storehouse of valuable minerals. Zinc and lead are probably up to the present the best developed, and worked with most profit. The Buffalo Spring Mine, on Section 12, Township 24, Range 18, is sending off about two car-loads of ore a week. It has been in operation one year. Other mines are being opened. The ore outcrops in several places in the county, especially in the northern shed, on Haw Creek, where are picked up and can be found specimens of zinc, or "Black Jack," of a grade unsurpassed anywhere. Mining and shipping are already among the valuable industries in the county. New lead mines are being opened, and projectors are constantly coming.
When Morgan County has the proper facilities for transportation she will show a production of iron great in quantity and excellent in quality. In the southern part of the county are apparently beds of brown and red hematite ores, of a kind and quality not surpassed in the State. A few years ago the Osage Iron Works were established just south of the south line of the county. This induced the opening of mines in that part of Morgan, but the enterprise failed, and the development of this source of wealth here therefore stopped. It was the mistake of situation, caused by the absence of means of transportation, that caused the works to be abandoned. Iron is found in outcrops, and following these leads to valuable beds of the ore. In Section 27, Township 41. Range 17, large bodies of the "pipe-stem" brown hematite are found. The outcroppings are in masses, and are ten feet in diameter, the vertical columns indicating the qualities behind them. Heavy spar, containing iron and lead in fine crystals, are found in Section 24, Township 41, Range 17, and Section 18, Township 41, Range 16. This is very abundant, especially at Section 24.
Lead is found in greater or less quantities in every township in the county. Originally deposited in the magnesian limestone, it now appears mingled with chert and rock fragments in the superficial deposits, as well as in regular fissures and rock cavities, in places lying loosely on the ground's surface in abundance, and there can be no question of the quantities in the rocks below. East of Versailles is a continuous bed of lead ore. It is deposited in the magnesian limestone series, and is also found in the sheds of Haw and Richland Creeks, and in clay pockets, both here and at other points, almost wherever hunted for. In the third and fourth magnesian limestone series disseminated lead ore is thoroughly mixed with the rocks, needing improved machinery to crush and properly extract it. The surface ores are so far the only ones attempted to handle.
The Globe Mining and smelting Works, on Mill Creek, Section 9, Township 40, Range 17, are in operation, having a capacity of 6,000 pounds a day. They own 7,000 acres of ore land. Their works were started in January, 1889.
At the mines nine miles northwest of Versailles there was a solid lump of lead ore weighing 30,000 pounds mined. At the Jones mines, two miles southeast of Versailles, a solid piece weighing over 12,000 pounds was taken out.
Great fields of "glass-tiff" are found in the county. A tiff mill is now in successful operation, started in September, 1888. It is on Section 1, Township 41, Range 19, six miles due south -of Versailles. The deposit is in the third magnesian series.
Recent developments establish the fact that in this county are some of the most extensive coal fields in the west, both cannel and bituminous. The cannel coal measures begin near Tipton, and extend along the eastern portion of Morgan County to the head of Indian Creek, occupying all the east and northeast portions of the county. It is of fine grate and gas quality, and will not be exhausted in generations, as shafts have been sunk in beds of from ten to fifty feet thick. Where the cannel coal measures stop, the bituminous coal commences, and this in quality and thickness of vein is probably not surpassed in the United States. Numerous shafts at a depth of about thirty feet reach micaceous veins of superior block coal from fourteen to sixty feet in depth. Experts from all quarters who have examined these openings pronounce them far superior to anything they have ever seen. The extent of these fields renders them nearly inexhaustible.
The south part of the county is supplied with many strong springs. The largest in the county is in the south part of Osage Township, on Section 21, about ten miles south of Versailles. It furnishes a motive power for the Gravois Mills. About three miles south of Versailles is a strong spring of excellent water, that will supply the city with abundance of excellent Water at small outlay.
In Richland Township are vast deposits of fire-clay and excellent potter's clay, and beds of kaolin are plentiful in the county. At Florence is an extensive pottery, working the clays and kaolin; this is a prosperous enterprise.
Inexhaustible beds of white or glass sand are found between the second and third Laurentian series. The finest bed of this is near the Globe Smelting Company's land.
The geological formations in this county, especially the mineral and coal deposits, have puzzled and deceived geologists in a most extraordinary way. Even the high authority, Mr. Broadhead, after examining the county, made his report, and said it was a "pocket county," that is, that the lead and coal would only be found in pockets, with no well-defined fissure veins or rock formations that are considered as a part of the regular geological formations. They were judging by the books and the world's past observation and experience. It was only when practical experts came, who had had much experience in the Joplin District, that practical tests were started which soon sent to the winds the theories of geologists. People declared that in digging down a few feet they would find, sometimes, cannel coal, bituminous coal and black-jack, either side by side or lying adjacent, or the zinc and coal sometimes mixed, and about these would be tumbled rocks of chert, magnesia, composite or cotton rock, apparently just as it happened in the tumble and toss-up. Two years ago Capt. A. Arnold, a practical mining expert, who had had years of experience in the southwest mines, came here, and after looking over the ground sunk a coal shaft southeast of Versailles, in what Broadhead would call a "pocket." He followed the trend of the deposit, and sunk experimental holes covering about 7,000 acres of land, and demonstrated that whether it was a pocket or regular vein it was wholly immaterial; that, certain it was, here was the most wonderful coal deposit in the world -- the thickness of the bed over seventy feet, all to be reached simply by stripping, when it can be loaded like soil from a hillside. All these things give, upon a careful estimate, a deposit of coal under each acre of land in the 7,000-acre tract of $150,000. It is being demonstrated every week at this time that the geologists were mistaken when they pronounced Morgan a "pocket county."
At the lead smelting works eighteen miles southwest of Versailles, after taking out great quantities of lead in the clay, a depth has been reached where work is done in a regular walled fissure vein, demonstrating that all that is necessary to develop one of the richest lead ore fields is to go into the rocks and find the regular deposits. No scientific mining has ever been attempted here; no improved machinery, simply the pick and shovel, the old-fashioned windlass and bucket, and invariably, when prospectors have scratched the surface and picked up such loose mineral as they could find in the soil, they have abandoned this to go to a new place.
It seems that these have been almost wholly overlooked in the county, but there can be no doubt that some day in the near future they will attract wide attention. A flowing but neglected spring, southeast of Versailles a short distance, was well known to the early settlers for its curative qualities in all bilious and malarial diseases incident to the settlement of a new country. Years ago the woodmen, by exposing themselves in the bottoms, frequently became sick, and soon learned, when they could get well in no other way, to change their location; but when they worked near the spring and used the waters their former rugged health was restored. Invalids of all kinds found the waters very beneficial. For years it has been neglected, and is now known only to few. It is filled up with debris and to some extent sipes to the surface and escapes in various directions. Sulphur and iron waters are frequently found.
The Alum Well
Near the corporate limits of Versailles, on the southwest, is what has long been known as the alum well. A shaft was sunk about twenty feet deep, and a strong flow of water was found. People pronounced it very strong alum water, even stronger, possibly, than could be made by dissolving any amount of alum in water. It was discovered by teamsters that to bathe their horses' shoulders in this water would cure them of any sores. It was a powerful diuretic, and excited some curiosity years ago, but was never analyzed, and the shaft was allowed to fill with surface water. Those who are acquainted with the noted medicinal waters of Eldon, Iowa, believe this to be possessed of the same qualities, and as strong if not stronger.
The wealth of Morgan County is probably nearly equally divided between that hidden under the soil and that grown above it. Her coal, lead, zinc, iron, baryta, clays, kaolin, etc., are not yet sufficiently developed to measure them with even approximate results. As to other resources, the following authentic figures will speak for themselves. The official report [of] 1880 shows:
Wheat, 9,019 acres, 79,231 bushels; corn, 39,651 acres, 1,215,783 bushels; oats, 8,532 acres, 126,558 bushels; broom corn, 40,600 pounds; sorghum, 48,929 gallons; maple sugar, 830 pounds, 62 gallons molasses; wool, 10,902 fleeces, 55,925 pounds; flax, 6,224 bushels, 40 tons straw; orchard products, $4,468; potatoes, 29,665 bushels; sweet potatoes, 1,536 bushels; tobacco, 8,660 pounds; honey, 2,309 pounds; wax, 549 pounds; barn-yard poultry of all kinds, 86,708; hay, 5,123 acres; horses, 4,717; mules, 1,592; milch cows, 4,863; other cattle, 11,042; swine,26,649; butter from farms, 213,939 pounds; cheese, 460 pounds; number of farms, 1,530, average, 170 acres; meadow, 36,140 acres; farms and improvements, $2,090,678; farm implements, $119,185; live stock, $2,096,084; value farm products, 1879, $490,316; forest products, 1879, $29,426.
Assessment and Valuation
The assessed wealth of Morgan County in 1886 was: Acres, 385,928, value, $1,178,400; town lots, 669, value $82,441; total real estate, $1,260,841. Personal property: Horses, 4,482, value, $160,384; mules, 1,818, value, $80,856; asses and jennets, 54, value, $2,867; neat cattle, 14,039, value, $166,915; sheep, 11,702, value, $11,984; hogs, 19,967, value, $32,007; moneys, notes and all other evidences of debt, $191,264; other personal property, $123,156; total personal property, $769,433; total taxable wealth in county, $2,030,274.
The valuation for 1888 was as follows: Acres, 384,969, value, $1,288,844; town lots, 653, value, $92,122; horses, 5,082, value, $176,287; asses and jennets, 80, value, $4,695; mules, 1,810, value, $74,883; neat cattle, 16,792, value, $187,093; sheep, 8,956, value, $9,013; hogs, 15,046, value, $25,249; notes and evidences of debt, value, $222,995; total real estate value, $1,380,966; total personal property, $827,225; total taxable property, $2,208,291; increase over 1886, $178,017.
There is water power enough in the county to turn all the machinery of the State for many years to come, and there is fuel enough to supply a world. Quick and cheap access to markets is now the only requisite essential to support here as large a population as any community in the United States.
The water, soil and climate invite the tree-man to come with his budded fruit of every kind that grows in a temperate climate. The figures above show but little of the facts, as the greatest improvement in fruit growing is now being constantly made. Apples, peaches and grapes will be the standards, and in time every foot of dry land in the county will be in fruits or rich pasture land, that is now considered too rocky or rough for agriculture.
This is a natural breeding ground for cattle and hogs, and that industry is now being advanced rapidly, both in numbers and quality. The ranges are natural and never-ending pasture lands for these and all domestic animals. Graded cattle, blooded horses and improved breeds of hogs are rapidly replacing the original stock. Mules are raised here with much profit, and farmers find in them remunerative and sure returns.
The promises and possibilities in the development of the natural resources of Morgan County are marvelous to the outsider who has heard nothing of this to him term incognito. The awakening, however, is just begun, and the near future will acquaint the world with the wealth that here awaits their coming. The stream of keen-eyed investigators has started hitherward; at present it is a little stream, and mostly comes from overdone Kansas. But many are seeking this location, and soon these will swell to a great and mighty host.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries and Osage Counties, Missouri, Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.