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Cool Things - Mining Town Minerals

Tri-State Mines mineral samples

Mineral mining was once an important industry in Treece, Kansas. Now it's an important part of the town's past.

Lead and zinc were mined in Kansas for nearly a century. These minerals were buried over 2,500 square miles throughout southeastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, and northeastern Oklahoma. The region, known as the Tri-State Mining District, produced about 50 percent of all zinc and 10 percent of all lead mined in the entire United States.

The mineral deposits were located about 200 feet down from the surface. Initially using their hands and backs, miners carried from the depths nearly 2.9 million tons of zinc, .07 million tons of lead and roughly 115 million tons of mined ore. Even after the modernization of mining practices, miners were exposed to many health hazards. One of the byproducts of mining is dust; its sharp-edged particles lodged in the lungs of miners and residents alike. The underground mining also left a maze of tunnels beneath the town.

Treece mineral sample

Life in Treece

Former Treece residents Denny and Ella Johnston donated the mineral samples pictured on this page, recalling a time when life in Treece was good. Both came from mining families and remembered the churning sounds of mining operations, and the resulting dust that filled the air night and day. Mining operations were at their peak production during the couple's youth, when Treece was a company town with a solid tax base. It boasted stores, churches, and a school. Then the mines stopped yielding high-grade metal, the mining operations ceased, and the town was left without an industry. People started moving away and the school closed.

Residents who stayed were left with a scarred town. The extensive underground mining had taken a toll on the land and its people. A 1983 tally revealed there were 189 shafts below the town and 97 hazards resulting from mining operations. There had been numerous surface collapses (where the ground opens up and whatever is located at the surface falls into the mine). Mountains of chat were scattered around Treece. Lead dust contaminated the air and the water was tinged red. Residents of the tiny town were stricken with a myriad of health problems such as emphysema, cancer, heart disease, and high blood lead levels. As a result, Cherokee County--Treece's county--was designated a Superfund "mega" site in 1983 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Investigative work did not commence for five years, then another nine years were required to determine clean-up strategies. Clean-up was declared complete in 2000.

Treece mineral sample

Sister Towns

Treece had a sister town, Picher, located directly across the border. The towns were divided only by a road atop the state line and, except for this political barrier, the two were indistinguishable. During the planning and investigation process for Treece, testing also was done in Picher, where results showed elevated blood lead levels in the residents, especially the children. Treece and its conjoined twin clearly had the same environmental problems, however, Picher was governed by a different EPA regional office due to its location in Oklahoma.

Government agencies tried to clean up Picher, as with Treece. Adding insult to injury, a tornado hit the Picher area. It became clear that rebuilding was not practicable, and that residents must be relocated off the unstable ground to ensure their safety.

Residents of Treece began lobbying for the same buyout as Picher. Nine years after clean-up had been finished, blood lead level testing was done on 73 of the 139 remaining residents. Children 6 years old and younger were reported to have higher lead levels than others in their age group throughout the state. This information reinvigorated a grassroots campaign to relocate residents that had begun after Picher's buyout. Twenty-six years after the original Superfund designation, in late 2009, Treece got federal approval to be bought out like its twin across the border.

The Johnstons donated these mineral specimen to the Kansas Museum of History in an effort to document the history and heritage of Treece before it became a ghost town.

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Entry: Cool Things - Mining Town Minerals

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.