A History of Kansas (Prentis 1899)/Chapter 1

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Natural Kansas[edit]

1. Character of Surface.—Kansas has been described by geologists as a part of the great plain stretching from the Mississippi river on the east to the Rocky Mountains on the west. It is approximately 200 by 400 miles in extent, and should be looked upon as a block in the great plain, constituting an essential part of it, and not specially different from other portions lying on either side of it. The average elevation above sea level of the eastern end is about 850 feet, with Bonita, 1,075 feet above, as the highest point, and the Union Depot at Kansas City, 750 feet, the lowest. The northern boundary line rises steadily and uniformly westward from the Missouri river. The southern boundary rises and falls. At Coffeyville, the elevation is 734 feet, sixteen feet lower than at Kansas City. At the point of crossing the Flint Hills west of Independence, the elevation is 1,700 feet, declining to the westward. The elevation at Arkansas City is 1,066 feet. The lowest part of the State is where the southern line crosses the Verdigris valley. From Arkansas City, west, the ascent is gradual to the southwest corner. The western boundary varies slightly from north to south, but is between 3,500 and 4,000 feet above sea level.

2. Appearance to Observer.—The general effect is that of an immense prairie, rising westward into a very high prairie, but the appearance is not that of a flat and boundless plain. The waters of the State, which generally flow eastward, have an average fall for the whole State of nearly [10] eight feet to the mile. Although the surface is a great plain sloping eastward, its minute topography is often rugged and varied; valleys 200 feet deep, bluffs and mounds with precipitous walls 300 feet high; overhanging rocky ledges and remnants of cataracts and falls in numerous streams, giving a variety of scenery, are to be observed all over the eastern part of the State, and to even a greater extent in some portions of the west.

3. Effect on Kansas Literature.—All the natural features of this great rectangle; all the varying aspects of the earth, as touched by the shaping hands of the seasons; all [11] the shifting panorama of the skies; all the myriad voices of the winds; the shine of shallow, wide and wandering streams; the fringing trees that watch the waters as they pass; the lovely charm of each rocky promontory that looks out upon the sea of grass, all these have proved to be the inspiring and informing spirit of Kansas literature.

4. Story of Kansas Nature Told in Prose and Verse.—In all that has been written in prose and verse since first the wide wilderness heard the cautious but advancing feet of the pioneer, the story of Kansas nature has been told. The reader of books written in, by, and for Kansas, will find the journals of the Kansas year, with the impressions made on the minds and hearts of eye-witnesses by sun and cloud, by drouth and rain, and calm and storm. Such readers witness the procession of the days of the Kansas year. Days when, as one has written, “the broad, wintry landscape is flooded with that indescribable splendor that never was on sea or shore—a purple silken softness that half veils half discloses the alien horizon, the vast curves of the remote river, the transient architecture of the clouds, and days without clouds and nights without dew, when the effulgent sun floods the dome with fierce and blinding radiance, days of glittering leaves and burnished blades of corn, days when the transparent air, purged of all earthly exhalation and alloy, seems like a pure, powerful lens, revealing a remoter horizon and a profounder sky.”


  1. In the north the surface rises uniformly from Missouri river, while in the south it both rises and falls.
  2. To an observer the surface is rugged and varied, and remnants of cataracts are found.