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Minerals and Soils

This section is adapted from “Discover Cooper County by looking Back”

by Ann Betteridge, 1995 (Edited by Mike Dickey, 2020)


From the beginning of the Paleozoic era (542 million years ago) through the end of Mesozoic era (65 million years ago) Missouri was mostly covered by shallow inland seas or sometimes low swampy ground. For two thirds of the Cenozoic era (65 million – 2.6 million years ago) Missouri was mostly dry and subtropical.


During the Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,500 years ago) four periods of glaciation covered much of North America. These glaciers extended almost to the Missouri River valley. Runoff from the melting glaciers formed the Missouri River about 400,000 years ago, reaching its current configuration about 11,500 years ago. The glaciers carried rocks and boulders which ground down the soil and deposited the resulting rich, black soil along the Missouri River. This soil was also deposited by the wind onto bluffs and hills. This is why land near the Missouri River consists of gentle rolling hills and is great farmland.


The Missouri landscape in the Pleistocene epoch was roamed by megafauna like mastodons, mammoths, giant bison, giant beaver, stag-elk, giant sloths, glyptodonts (giant armadillos), peccaries, giant short-faced bears, dire wolves and sabre toothed cats. The megafauna went extinct by the end of this epoch. Animals that survived the extinction and still inhabit Missouri are the American bison, whitetail deer, wapiti (elk), beavers, black bears, and occasionally mountain lions.

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Crinoid Fossils


Fossils of the Mississippian Period (359 – 324 million years ago) were found at the old Sweeney Quarry near Clifton City. It is easy to observe the sedimentary layer of soil deposited by the inland sea at the quarry. Some of the common fossils found in the county are marine animals such as bryozoans, sponges, corals, brachiopods, gastropods, cephalopods, pelecypods and crinoids.


The Crinoid is the Missouri State Fossil. Crinoids are a large group of invertebrate, marine animals somewhat flower-like in form and anchored by a stalk opposite of the mouth end. They are closely related to today’s sea-lilies, urchins and starfish. Crinoids are abundant in Cooper County. Some beds of limestone are almost completely composed of crinoid remains. The fossilized stems often appear as small circular disks with holes in the center.

The largest fossil crinoid on record had a stem 40 m (130 ft) in length. In 2012, three geologists reported they had isolated complex organic molecules from 340-million-year-old (Mississippian) fossils of multiple species of crinoids. Fossil crinoids apparently grew in large groups because their distribution in the rocks is irregular. Coral and shell fossils are also fairly abundant in some locales.

Vertebrate fossils are extremely rare in Cooper County. Dinosaur fossils in Missouri have been found only in Bollinger County. The remains of Pleistocene megafauna have been found in bone beds in the eastern Missouri Ozarks, along the Pomme de Terre and Osage rivers and in some Ozarks caves. Occasionally, mastodon teeth have been found in plowed fields in Cooper County.


Missouri's State Rock

Mozarkite is a colorful form of chert (flint) was adopted as the official state rock on July 21, 1967, by the 74th General Assembly. An attractive rock, Mozarkite appears in a variety of colors, predominately white, gray, or brown in color, but in many locations with patches and swirls of pink, red, purple, orange, and yellow. The rock's beauty is enhanced by cutting and polishing into ornamental shapes for jewelry. Mozarkite is most commonly found in west-central Missouri south of the Missouri River. Benton County has been the major source for collecting Mozarkite. (RSMo 10.045)            

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Missouri State Rock 
Photo by Wayne Lammers

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Missouri State Mineral 
Galena (Lead Ore)

Missouri's State Rock

Mozarkite was adopted as the official state rock on July 21, 1967, by the 74th General Assembly. An attractive rock, Mozarkite appears in a variety of colors, most predominantly green, red or purple. The rock's beauty is enhanced by cutting and polishing into ornamental shapes for jewelry. Mozarkite is most commonly found in Benton County. (RSMo 10.045)

How Mozarkite became the State rock by Bonnie Widel Rapp:

In the 1950’s, Dad (Philip Widel), who lived in Blackwater, became very interested in a certain type of rock that he found mostly in the Lincoln Missouri area. It was a type of chert, or flint, and was used as barter by the Indians, as it was valuable to them in making of arrows. Dad found it hard enough to be sawed by diamond saws, rated 7 on the Mohs scale and deemed to be of Gem quality. His fascination with it was, that though it was rough and ugly on the outside, when sliced, it exposed beautiful pinks, purples, blues and grays. Even more exciting were the scenes he could see, as one sees in clouds, lakes, mountains, waterfalls and even people.  He carefully started cutting these scenes out and polished them to a high degree. His favorites, he framed with his silverware braids and glued them to a leather satchel, which he carried over his shoulder to the many rock shows he attended, despite its considerable weight. Quite an interest was stirred in this “new” rock and Dad traded it for semi-precious stone to other rock hounds who wanted a chance to explore its possibilities. This rock is found only in Missouri, about as far north as Marshall and south into Arkansas. The name of it is “Mozarkite” and it has always been told by those who knew him then, that Dad named it. The “mo” is taken from the abbreviation of Missouri, the “ozark” from the Ozark Mountains, and the “ite” classifies it as a rock.

Articles I’ve collected from Missouri Life and other sources, make no mention of how the name was acquired. Dad became more and more intent on having Mozarkite named as the state rock, as we had a state bird, flower and tree. He made numerous trips to Jefferson City, where in the capitol he made talks and presented his collection for observation. On October 13, 1967, the 7th General Assembly passed Senate Bills #216 and #217, making Mozarkite the official state rock and Galena the state mineral. Dad received a letter telling him that the bill had been passed and was given the honorary title of “Mr. Mozarkite."     

Missouri State Mineral

Galena (Lead Ore)

Cubes of galena; photo by Rob Lavinsky on Wikipedia (use permitted with attribution / share alike: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Missouri designated galena (lead sulfide) as the official state mineral in 1967. Galena is the major source of lead ore, and Missouri is the top producer of lead in the United States. Galena is dark gray in color and breaks into small cubes.

Lead is a very soft, blue-gray, metallic element that has been used since ancient times. It is a very heavy element, but it is rare for the element to appear alone in nature. Lead is normally combined with other elements, forming a variety of interesting and beautiful minerals - the most significant is galena, smelted worldwide for its lead content.

The majority of lead is used to make batteries for cars, trucks and other vehicles, wheel weights, solder, bearings and other parts. Lead is also used in electronics and communications, ammunition, television glass, construction, and protective coatings. Some is used to make protective aprons for patients having x-rays to shield the body from excess radiation exposure, for crystal glass production, weights and ballast, and specialized chemicals.

Missouri has long been a major producer of lead. In the War of 1812 era, nearly all the lead used by U.S. military forces came from Missouri Territory, mostly the “Lead District” of the southeast Missouri Ozarks. Galena has been found in both Lamine and Blackwater Townships.


Etienne Sieur de Bourgmond was the first European whose journey up the Missouri River is documented. He paused at the mouth of the Lamine River in 1714 and wrote, “there are some prairies and a little low land above, where the Indians mine lead.” Mined galena has been found in archaeological sites associated with prehistoric Indian cultures, apparently used for decorative or ceremonial purposes. By the early 1700s the Osage learned simple smelting processes from the French and made molds for casting lead amulets, personal adornments and making bullets.


Edwin James of Stephen Long’s 1819 Yellowstone Expedition reported on the surface mines along the Lamine River: “The diggings so often mentioned in this region as objects of curiosity. These are regular but very numerous excavations of little depth, but evidently the united labours of many persons, who were possessed of instruments of iron and steel…These excavations occur frequently in the extent of two or three miles”.


Charles Lockhart believed this area may have held precious metals besides lead.  In 1819 and 1820 he sometimes had as many as 30 hired laborers digging along the Lamine and Blackwater Rivers in a search for silver or gold. Instead he found only galena. Boiling salt at some of the briny springs in the Lamine valley became more profitable for him.


Some market for Cooper County lead appears to have developed. The Gazetteer of Missouri (1837) says that “many thousand pounds of lead have been raised on the farm of Mr. William Scott.” This farm was located in Lamine Township. In 1869, an Arrow Rock correspondent for the Saline County Progress newspaper reported, “Mr. Dills, 4 miles south of here [Arrow Rock] is succeeding with his new lead mines beyond all expectations.” However, lead mining did not remain a long-term industry in the area. Thomas Rainey of Arrow Rock reported in 1914 that the excavations along the Lamine River were still visible although overgrown by large trees.

Although a vitally important commodity, lead is toxic and ingestion can cause damage to the digestive and nervous systems. Its use in some applications has been discontinued - as with lead-based paints, which have a sweet taste. Some children would eat paint chips, causing lead poisoning.  Tailings, the waste from lead mining operates can contaminate water resources and has been the focus of environmental cleanup projects conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 


CHERT (Flint)

Rocks and minerals form important natural resources. Nodules and beds of silica carbonate which forms chert were deposited when Burlington limestone bluffs began to be formed about 325 million years ago. Chert is actually the proper name for flint. The highest grades of chert are like glass and will flake into razor sharp edges. This chert comes from volcanic regions of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest and was traded by American Indians across the continent. Missouri chert is of a lower quality but was still very useful. Nearby major sources for chert were the Arrow Rock bluff and the Manitou Bluffs near Rocheport. Other small outcroppings of chert occur throughout the region. Native Americans produced arrowheads, lance and dart points and tools such as hide scrapers and drills by chipping them from chert. 


Clay was made into pots for cooking, storage of food and hauling water. As time advanced, vessels became more decorative. Adding ground pieces of mussel shell to the clay tempered it and made the vessels more durable. Pottery was made not only by Indians, but by European and American settlers as well. A significant pottery works existed at Pilot Grove in the 19th century.


Clay was also fired in kilns to make bricks. Brickyards for manufacturing existed in Boonville and probably other communities as well. The extensive number of 19th century structures in Cooper County built with handmade bricks also attests to the quality of clay deposits in the region.    


Sand and gravel companies operate near Boonville producing sand, rock, and agricultural lime. The sand and gravel are fundamental materials for construction and road building. The lime is produced from crushed limestone and sold to farmers for application on their fields to improve the pH acidity of the soil, improving the uptake of nutrients in plants and allowing for better penetration of water into soil.


IRON ORE in the form of red hematite, has been found in outcrops along the Lamine and Blackwater River. Red and black hematite was ground to powder by American Indians and mixed with animal grease to produce body paint for ceremonial purposes. There are some reports of iron ore being commercially mined in the 19th century, but it did not become a major industrial enterprise.



Large quantities of coal were surface mined in Boonville Township. Coal formed from vast amounts of decomposing vegetation in swamps during the Carboniferous Period about 358 to 258 million years ago. The coal mined in this area was cannel, a hot burning bituminous variety. The relatively small fireboxes in some surviving 19th structures in the region indicates that coal, rather than wood, was burned in them. Coal burned hotter and longer than wood. The remains of large strip mines can still be observed in some areas. 


Cannel coal from south of Arrow Rock was exhibited at the New York Industrial Exhibition in 1854. The British House of Commons appointed a committee to attend the exhibition and they were impressed by the quality of the coal. The Missouri State Board of Agriculture reported in 1874 that “There are fine deposits of cannel coal near Arrow Rock, and lead and iron which are successfully mined.” But again, mining these minerals did not remain as a significant economic enterprise into the 20th century.


LEAD has been found in both Lamine and Blackwater Townships. Missouri has long been a major producer of lead. In the War of 1812 era, nearly all the lead used by U.S. military forces came from the Missouri Territory. Without lead for bullets, the Americans could have lost the War in the Boonslick area and areas further East.  Lead was so important to Missouri’s economy that galena, the principal ore of lead, is designated the State Mineral.


Etienne Sieur de Bourgmond was the first European whose journey up the Missouri River is documented. He paused at the mouth of the Lamine River in 1714 and wrote, “there are some prairies and a little low land above, where the Indians mine lead. Mined galena has been found in archaeological sites associated with prehistoric Indian cultures, apparently used for decorative or ceremonial purposes. By the early 1700s the Osage learned simple smelting from the French and made molds for casting lead amulets and personal adornments.


Cooper County, and neighboring Saline and Howard counties, contain large amounts of salt deposited as prehistoric seas retreated from the area. Water percolating through the ground resulted in the formation of many saltwater springs and briny creeks in the region. The Boonville Western Emigrant newspaper reported in 1839: “The extraordinary number of salt springs found in the Boon’s Lick country & the quantities of pure salt water they discharge, forms a marvel to the curious, and must at some future day, prove a source of great profit.”   


One of the largest of these saltwater springs was Mackay’s Lick about eight miles northwest of New Franklin in Howard County. James Mackay obtained a Spanish grant for the land around the salt springs in 1795 as a reward for mapping the Missouri River.  A “lick” was a place frequented by animals to lick the natural salt deposits around the springs. In 1805, Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone, sons of frontiersman Daniel Boone, established a salt manufacturing business there in partnership with James and Jesse Morrison of St. Charles. The Boones used twelve, 20-gallon kettles to boil the brine water. The remaining salty sediment was dried and packed in barrels called hogsheads. Approximately one gallon produced two teaspoons of salt. In 1807, they expanded their operation, and added forty more kettles and hired extra men to help.


The salt was shipped by keelboat to St. Louis to sell. The keelboat would return in about two weeks’ time, laden with supplies for the salt operation. In those days before refrigerators and freezers, salt was one of the main ways to preserve food. Salt was also used for the tanning process for leather to make shoes, saddles, and harnesses. The abundance of salt in the region was one attraction for white settlers. Consequently, many bypassed the open land in eastern Missouri to come directly to the Boonslick Country.

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Courtesy of Sharon Dyer

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As early as 1855, the medicinal qualities of the Chouteau Springs mineral water were touted in newspapers. A spa resort and a community grew up around the five springs: two with fresh water and three with sulpher water. The fresh water was sold in two-gallon crock jugs throughout the state for its “healthful” benefits. The resort entered its heyday in the 1870s and remained in operation until about 1960. All that remains of the once thriving resort now are ruins.

Tar Balls in Cooper County

By Wayne Lammers

While deer hunting half way between Boonville and Lamine, I discovered many very black balls of all sizes and forms in the corn field that I was in. I retrieved many of them and brought them home. In my inspection, I found they ranged from golf ball size balls all the way down to pea size. I had never seen one like this before. I could tell that the ball was made of tar by the smell. I did my research and found the millions of years ago this land was reinventing itself by making new earth and land. In doing this, pockets of oil or tar bubbled to the surface creating these small balls of tar. I further discovered that the Indians used these tar balls to seal the inside and outside of their early canoes while navigating the Missouri and Lamine Rivers.

Tar Balls in Cooper County

Tar Balls in Cooper County


Alluvial soils are of recent origin and have been deposited in the flood plains of streams, particularly the Missouri River. The silt carried and deposited by the river also produced some of the richest farmland in the nation. There are at least 46 different types of soils listed in the Soil Survey of Cooper County, Missouri, published by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. A copy can be found online.              


The quality of much of the soil of Cooper County is highly conducive to row crops. The tillable land in this area is another reason many early settlers came to the county.


For general information from the Missouri Archaeological Society 


Washington University in St. Louis has a nice site on Geology of Missouri 

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