First Geological Survey of Missouri

Monitor-Index & Democrat,  24 Feb. 1939

Pg. 10, Col. 3 & 4


Early travelers in Missouri seemingly found its geological formations & mineral deposits a most interesting topic for letters, reports & extended travel sketches.  Du Tisne, the first Frenchman to leave a record of his travels across Missouri, wrote of lead mines, rocks & varied geological formations, while Major Amos Stoddard included an excellent chapter of twenty pages on “Mineral Riches” in his “Sketches of Louisiana.”  Schoolcraft, who toured the western country between 1816 & 1819, was amazed at the mineral resources & referred to French accounts where the land was pictured as equal to that of the Nile & the mountains to those of Peru.  As early as 1715 Sieur de Lochon operated a lead mine on the Meramec river.  Moses Austin had enough men at Mine a Breton in 1799 to beat off a war party of Osage Indians, & near the present site of Potosi Austin erected the first reverberatory furnace for smelting lead, & sank the first shaft in Upper Louisiana.


In spite of these early mining interests, the first record of official action preparatory to a geological survey is contained in the message of Lilburn W. Boggs to the tenth general assembly in 1838, where he recommended an appropriation for carrying on a geological survey as a part of a program of internal improvement.  Soon after this a survey of the Meramec, Salt, North Grand & Osage rivers was started, under the direction of a board of internal improvement, & Dr. H. King made a geological examination of the Osage river.  From that time on several governors & organizations made recommendations favoring a state geological survey.  Finally, realizing the interests involved were too important to be longer neglected, the legislators adopted on February 24, 1853, eighty-six years ago this week, an act creating the first geological survey of the State of Missouri.


In an attempt to carry out the provisions of this act George Clinton Swallow, a practical geologist & professor of chemistry in the University of Missouri, was commissioned State geologist.  He was charged with the responsibility of carrying on a minute, accurate, & thorough geological & mineralogical survey of the State for the purpose of determining the order, succession, arrangement & relative magnitude of the geological formations.  He was also to examine all ore deposits, coal, _?_ & other mineral substances, mineral waters, & soil formations as might be valuable to industry & commerce.


Professor Swallow immediately began preparations for the work, ordering the necessary instrument & outfits & securing the help of able & experienced assistants.  On April 15, Dr. Abraham Litton of St. Louis was appointed chemist & B.B. Price of Brunswick, draughtsman of the survey.  In May Swallow visited St. Louis to secure another assistant & obtained the services B.F Shumard, who began work in September.


To facilitate the detailed examinations demanded by the act, Swallow decided to make a somewhat rapid though careful reconnaissance of the whole State.  Early in 1855 this preliminary survey was completed & the surveyors then centered their attention upon county work, leading to the production of special county maps & reports.  A table contained in the fifth report shows that by the end of 1860 filed work had been completed in eighty counties, with reports made upon thirty-three, while in a considerable number of other counties more or less work had been done.  The work of the survey was discontinued in 1861.


A later State Geologist, reviewing the work of the survey, says: “We must recognize as remarkable & excellent & classification of the rocks……as well as the general accuracy with which the distribution of the formations was defined…….Swallow & his assistants established a table of formation, & outlined a geographical map of the State which remains to this day unchanged in its larger features.”