Lead and zinc mining
In 1870, the discovery of zinc ore in far southeastern Kansas marked the beginning of a century of lead and zinc mining in the Kansas part of the Tri-State mining district. The district, which extends into southwestern Missouri, northeastern Oklahoma, and the very southeastern corner of Kansas, was once one of the major lead and zinc mining areas in the world. From 1850 to 1950, the district produced 50 percent of the zinc and 10 percent of the lead in the United States, with production peaking between 1918 and 1941.
Lead and zinc deposits in Kansas are found within the Ozark Plateau region in extreme southeastern Cherokee County in the vicinity of Baxter Springs and Galena. Mississippian-age rocks that crop out there are the oldest rocks found on the surface in the state. The lead was extracted from the mineral galena, and the zinc was extracted from the mineral sphalerite.
In general, mining was done underground, using the room-and-pillar method, in which room-shaped areas were mined and large pillars of rock left in place for roof support. Underground rooms had walls 25 to 100 feet high and pillars 20 to 50 feet thick. In areas around the town of Galena, where the ore was not very deep, however, surface mining was more common. The area became known as a poor man's mining district because small claims could be easily worked without much equipment.
After World War II, production in the Tri-State mining district gradually declined until 1970, when the last active mine, located two miles west of Baxter Springs, shut down due to environmental and economic problems. Lead and zinc mining resulted in a number of hazards and environmental problems in Kansas that had to be mitigated years after the mines closed.
Buchanan, R., 2010, Kansas Geology: An Introduction to Landscapes, Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils (2nd ed.): Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas, 240 p.
Buchanan, R., and McCauley, J. R., 2010, Roadside Kansas: A Traveler's Guide to Its Geology and Landmarks (2nd ed.): Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas, 392 p.
Kansas Rocks and Minerals: Kansas Geological Survey Educational Series 2.
Lead and Zinc Mining in Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey Public Information Circular 17.