Cherokee Lowlands

Cherokee Lowlands
Big Brutus, the world’s largest electric coal shovel, is located near West Mineral in Cherokee County, Kansas.

The Cherokee Lowlands occupy roughly 1,000 square miles in parts of Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties in the southeastern part of the state. Overall, the region is one of mostly level plains, although a few hills rise up here and there. These plains are cut by narrow valleys and by ditches left over from mining days.


Strip mining has taken a devastating toll on soil fertility throughout the region. Eroded, poorly drained hardpan forms the uplands. However, the valleys still contain some undamaged soil, which is relatively deep and fertile.


Oak and hickory trees grow on the slopes and in the stream valleys, and tallgrass prairie covers the uplands. Mining areas are slowly being reclaimed by native vegetation. Efforts have been made to plant trees and grasses near the old strip mines in order to repair the damage.


The Cherokee Lowlands benefit from streams and an abundance of annual precipitation. Furthermore, the ditches left over from the strip mines also provide a source of water. Many of them are now stocked with fish.


Although the average annual precipitation is over 40 inches, rain arrives on a seasonal basis. The summers can be extremely dry.


Until recently, the Cherokee Lowlands were considered useless. Good cropland and pastures, however, can be found in the reclaimed strip mines and in the more fertile areas where mining was never practiced.

Cherokee Lowlands
© 2013 Homestead on the Range

Also of Interest

Strip mining had a profound impact on the region, removing the natural vegetation and changing the landscape, especially along the Kansas–Missouri state line. Coal, zinc, clay, and limestone were abundant for a time, but by the 1930s mining was typically no longer profitable. Only coal is still mined in the Cherokee Lowlands.

Now that the strip mining days have passed, the land is slowly healing. Agriculture is gradually creeping into the region. For now, it is difficult to generalize about the prevailing conditions in the Cherokee Lowlands. Their story is not yet complete.

Helpful Resource

Strip Mining
A photo of strip mining in progress in Crawford County.

Complete Series

Kansas Regions

Kansas Regions

By hsotr

Pulling from nearly 20 years of experience, Michelle Lindsey started Homestead on the Range to help Kansans and others around flyover country achieve an abundant country lifestyle. Michelle is the author of four country living books. She is also a serious student of history, specializing in Kansas, agriculture, and the American West. When not gardening or pursuing hobbies ranging from music to cooking to birdwatching, she can usually be found researching or writing about her many interests.