Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area landform origins, South Dakota and Nebraska, USA

Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area discussed here is located along the South Dakota-Nebraska border, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area have been available for more than fifty years detailed map evidence has not previously been used to interpret the region’s geomorphic history. The interpretation provided here is based entirely on topographic map evidence. The Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area is interpreted to have been eroded during immense southeast-oriented flood events, the first of which flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest points in the present-day drainage divide area. Flood erosion ended when headward erosion of the deep east-oriented White River valley captured all southeast-oriented flood flow.

Preface:

The following interpretation of detailed topographic map evidence is provided as evidence in the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project, which is compiling similar evidence for all major drainage divides contained within the Missouri River drainage basin and for all major drainage divides with and within certain adjacent drainage basins. The research project is interpreting evidence in the context of a previously unexplored geomorphology paradigm, which is briefly described in the introduction below. Project essays are listed on the sidebar category list under their appropriate Missouri River tributary drainage basin, Missouri River segment drainage basin (by state), and/or state in which the Missouri River drainage basin is located.

Introduction:

  • The purpose of this essay is to use topographic map interpretation methods to explore South Dakota and Nebraska Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area landform origins. Map interpretation methods can be used to unravel many geomorphic events leading up to formation of present-day drainage routes and development of other landform features. While each detailed topographic map feature provides detailed evidence to be explained, the solution must be consistent with explanations for adjacent area map evidence as well as solutions to big picture map evidence puzzles. I invite readers to improve upon my solutions or to propose alternate solutions that better explain evidence and are also consistent with adjacent map area and big picture evidence. Readers may do so either by making comments here or by writing and publishing their own essays and then by leaving a link to those essays in a comment here.
  • This essay is also exploring a paradigm in which erosional landforms are interpreted as evidence left by immense glacial melt water floods. Implied in that interpretation is the immense floods were derived from a thick North American ice sheet that created a deep “hole” in the North American continent and also melted fast. The previously unexplored paradigm being tested in this and similar essays is a thick North American ice sheet, comparable in thickness to the present day Antarctic ice sheet, occupied approximately the North American region usually recognized to have been glaciated and through its weight and erosive actions created a “deep” North American “hole”, through its weight and deep erosion (and perhaps deposition) along major south-oriented melt water flow routes caused significant crustal warping and tectonic change, through its action of melting fast produced immense floods that flowed across the continent, and through its action of melting fast systematically opened up space in the ice sheet created “hole” so headward erosion of newly developed north-oriented drainage systems captured immense south-oriented melt water floods and diverted immense melt water floods north into space the ice sheet had once occupied.
  • If this previously unexplored paradigm is correct the geographic region explored by this essay should contain evidence of immense floods that were captured by headward erosion of new valley systems so as to cause the floods to flow in a different direction. Ability of this previously unexplored paradigm to explain South Dakota and Nebraska Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area general location map

Figure 1: Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area general location map (select and click on maps to enlarge). National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a general location map for the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area. South Dakota is the state occupying the figure 1 north half and Nebraska occupies the figure 1 south half. The Little White River begins near Batesland, South Dakota, just north of the state line, and flows in an easterly direction until turning north-northeast to flow to the east oriented White River, which flows to the southeast-oriented Missouri River. The White River-Little White River drainage divide area essay addresses evidence north and west of the Little White River and can be found under White River on the sidebar category list. The Niobrara River enters the figure 1 map area west of Marsland, Nebraska (located in the southwest quadrant) and flows northeast to near the state line near Eli, Nebraska and then turns southeast and then northeast to reach Valentine, Nebraska, which is the eastern end of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area addressed by this essay. The Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area essay addresses evidence east of the Valentine, Nebraska area and can be found under Niobrara River on the sidebar category list. The western end of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide evidence addressed here will be the drainage divide between north-northwest oriented Wounded Knee Creek, which flows to the White River, and southeast oriented Antelope Creek (unnamed in figure 1), which flows from Gordon, Nebraska to the Niobrara River. Landform origins in the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area are interpreted here in the context of an immense southeast-oriented flood, which flowed over most or all of the figure 1 area, and which was systematically captured by headward erosion of deep east and northeast-oriented valleys, which diverted the flood waters further and further northeast and north. Evidence presented here is not adequate to determine the flood water source, however by use of many different Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays (published on this website) the flood waters can be traced headward to a North American ice sheet location. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet located in a deep “hole” would explain the flood water source and also why flood waters were captured by headward erosion of deep east and northeast-oriented valleys to divert the flood water further and further northeast and north into space the melting ice sheet had once occupied.

Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area detailed location map

Figure 2: Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area detailed location map. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 2 provides a detailed location map for the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area. Bennett and Todd Counties are located in South Dakota and Sheridan and Cherry Counties are located in Nebraska. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located west and north of Bennett County in South Dakota. The Niobrara River flows northeast from the figure 2 southwest corner to the figure 2 center and then turns southeast and northeast to reach the Valentine, Nebraska area near the figure 2 west center edge. The Little White River drainage network originates south of Batesland, South Dakota (located just west of Bennett County) and flows east, north, and southeast before turning north-northeast to flow to the White River, which is located north of the figure 2 map area. The Niobrara River between the Gordon and Valentine, Nebraska area is flowing through a region covered today by sand dunes, which post date development of the regional drainage network. Only major streams flow through this dune area and for this reason evidence addressed in this essay focuses on orientations of major valleys including those of Niobrara River and Little White River and their tributaries. Major Niobrara River tributaries from east to west are Minnechaduza Creek, which flows to the Niobrara River near Valentine, Nebraska, Bear Creek and its Dry Creek tributary, which are near Merriman, Nebraska, Leander Creek, which is also located near Merriman, and Antelope Creek, which flows through Gordon, Nebraska. These tributaries and Niobrara River and Little White River valley southeast-oriented segments provide evidence the northeast and southeast-oriented Niobrara River valley and subsequently the Little White River valley eroded headward to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels as might be expected in a large southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex, which had developed over most or all of the figure 2 map area. Evidence presented here begins in the Valentine, Nebraska area and proceed west to the Wounded Knee Creek-Antelope Creek drainage divide in the Gordon, Nebraska area

East end of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area

Figure 3: East end of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 3 illustrates the Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley and drainage divide northwest of Valentine, Nebraska. Spring Creek flows northwest to the north-northeast oriented Little White River. In the figure 3 northeast corner are northeast and northwest-oriented headwaters of Antelope Creek, which flows to the southeast oriented Keya Paha River. The north-northeast oriented Little White River flows through Crazy Horse Canyon in the figure 3 northwest corner. Minnechaduza Creek flows southeast from the figure 3 map area to join the Niobrara River. Southeast-oriented Bull Creek and Dry Creek are Minnechaduza Creek tributaries, with Dry Creek headwaters located near St. Francis, South Dakota, which is located on the rim of the Pine Ridge Escarpment. The Escarpment origin is described in the White River-Little White River drainage  divide essay and also in the White River-Keya Paha River drainage divide essay. Figure 3 evidence illustrates multiple valleys that carried water southeast from what is today the Little White River drainage basin to the  Niobrara River valley. These multiple valleys suggest they originated as components of southeast-oriented flood formed anastomosing channel complex that was beheaded by headward erosion of the deep north-northeast oriented Little White River valley. The southeast-oriented Dry Creek tributaries beginning along the Pine Ridge Escarpment rim are evidence flood waters once moved on a topographic surface north of the present day Escarpment rim at least as high as present day elevations south of the Escarpment rim (in other words, the region north of the present day Escarpment was eroded while and/or after the Minnechaduza Creek drainage basin features were being created). The northwest-southeast-oriented through valley linking northwest-oriented Spring Creek with southeast-oriented Minnechaduza Creek is also evidence large quantities of water once flowed from the Little White River drainage basin area to the Niobrara River valley.

Little White River-Minnechaduza Creek drainage divide area

Figure 4: Little White River-Minnechaduza Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 4 illustrates the region west of the figure 3 map area and includes overlap areas. Minnechaduza Creek flows east and northeast in the figure 4 southeast quadrant to enter the northwest-southeast oriented Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley illustrated in figure 3. The Little White River flows southeast from the figure 4 northwest corner and then turns northeast, with a southeast-oriented jog, and eventually north to enter the deep Crazy Horse Canyon located in the figure 4 northeast corner. Note the northwest-oriented Little White River tributary flowing to the Crazy Horse Canyon area (figure 4 northeast corner). Spring Creek flows northwest in the northwest-southeast oriented through valley to join the Little White River at its southeast-oriented jog. Southeast oriented Coffee Creek and Running Enemy Creek flow to the other end of the Little White River southeast-oriented jog. Small hills south of the Little White River and the northwest-southeast oriented through valley are probably sand dunes and probably post date development of the drainage network. Consequently they obscure some evidence that would help in this study. It is possible sand has partially filled the northwest-southeast oriented through valley and the original valley was much more closely aligned with the southeast-oriented Little White River than appears to be the case in figure 4. However, visible evidence demonstrates headward erosion of the deep Little White River valley captured a major southeast-oriented flow route and the northwest-oriented Spring Creek valley was eroded by reversed flow on the northwest end of the beheaded flow route. The Little White River elbow of capture was also created by this capture event as was the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide.

Southeast end of the Bear Creek valley

Figure 5: Southeast end of the Bear Creek valley. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 5 illustrates the southeast end of the southeast-oriented Bear Creek valley where Bear Creek flows to the northeast-oriented Niobrara River southwest of the figures 3 and 4 areas and there is no overlap. The northeast-oriented Niobrara River flows from the figure 5 south center edge through the figure 5 southeast quadrant to the figure 5 east edge. Bear Creek flows southeast from the figure 5 northwest corner then northeast before turning southeast to join the Niobrara River east of Connely Flat in the figure 5 southeast quadrant. Dry Creek is the east-oriented Bear Creek tributary, which joins Bear Creek near Merriman, Nebraska. South of Dry Creek is southeast-oriented Leander Creek, which also flows to the Niobrara River. Most of the figure 5 region appears to be covered with sand dunes that probably post date formation of the drainage network and only major drainage routes have remained open. However, from the visible evidence  tributaries to the northeast-oriented Niobrara River valley are southeast-oriented. This southeast orientation is consistent with the interpretation the northeast-oriented Niobrara River valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood channels, such as might be expected in a large southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Note how the Niobrara River turns southeast at the point where the southeast-oriented Bear Creek valley joins it. Refer back to figures 1 and 2 and forward to figure 9 to see how the Niobrara River makes similar turns at points where other southeast-oriented tributaries join it (e.g. east of Valentine, Nebraska, where southeast-oriented Minnechaduza Creek joins the Niobrara River, there is a turn to the southeast and in figure 9 where southeast-oriented Hay Creek joins the Niobrara River there is another somewhat less obvious turn to the southeast). This evidence suggests the Niobrara River valley was being eroded headward along southeast-oriented flood flow routes and tributary valleys then eroded southwest to capture additional southeast-oriented flood flow routes further to the southwest.

Little White River-Bear Creek drainage divide area

Figure 6: Little White River-Bear Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 6 illustrates the region north and west of the figure 5 map area and includes a small overlap area. Bear Creek headwaters flow southeast from the figure 6 south center area and Heckel Creek flows southeast toward the figure 6 southeast corner. Heckel Creek appears to be a Bear Creek tributary. The Little White River flows northeast across the figure 6 northeast quadrant and then turns southeast before turning northeast to flow to the figure 6 northeast quadrant. Also in the figure 6 northeast quadrant is northeast-oriented Lake Creek, which is a Little White River tributary. Note southeast-oriented tributaries flowing to the northeast-oriented Little White River valley segments. The southeast-oriented Little White River tributaries originate near the Pine Ridge Escarpment rim, which is located north of the figure 6 map area. The southeast-oriented Little White River tributaries are evidence headward erosion of the Little White River valley did capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes and southeast-oriented Bear Creek and Heckel Creek provide evidence headward erosion of the Little White River valley did behead multiple southeast-oriented flow routes. While sand dunes appear to obscure much evidence, visible figure 6 and 5 evidence suggests the northeast-oriented Little White River valley in the figure 6 northwest quadrant eroded southwest across southeast-oriented flood flow routes that were eroding the Bear Creek and Heckel Creek valleys.

Obscured drainage routes northwest of Niobrara River

Figure 7: Obscured drainage routes northwest of Niobrara River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 7 illustrates the region immediately west of the figure 5 map area. Dry Creek meanders east around what appear to be sand dunes in the figure 7 northeast corner. Leander Creek headwaters are located in the northeast quadrant south of the Dry Creek route. Southeast-oriented Antelope Creek is located in the figure 7 southwest corner, southeast-oriented Hay Creek flows to the figure 7 south center (south of Bayonne, South Dakota), and the northeast-oriented Niobrara River is located in the figure 7 southeast corner. Again sand dunes obscure much evidence, although it is possible the sand from which the dunes were created was a flood deposit. Topographic map evidence, especially for the small areas illustrated in this knoll is not adequate to determine the sand source or how or why the sand was deposited in this region. However, it seems reasonable to assume an immense flood of the type described in this and other essays would deposit sediments at locations where flood waters might be temporarily ponded. There can be no question from other essays that the southeast-oriented flood waters deeply eroded the landscape to the northwest of this Nebraska sand dune area. Flood waters came from northwest of the present day Pine Ridge Escarpment, meaning flood waters originally flowed on a topographic surface now almost completely removed. Other essays have described the removal of that once existent topographic surface from mush of western South and North Dakota and also southeastern Montana and northeast Wyoming. At one time flood waters responsible for that erosion flowed across what is now the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide region. Those flood waters probably carried significant sediment, and if for some reason the flood waters had been temporarily ponded in this region at least some of that sediment should have been deposited.

Little White River-Dry Creek drainage divide area

Figure 8: Little White River-Dry Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 8 illustrates the region north and a little bit west of the figure 7 map area and does include an overlap area. Southeast-oriented Bear Creek flows from Robinson Lake to the figure 8 east edge (southeast corner). Stinking Water Creek flows northwest, north and then east in the figure 8 northwest corner to a northeast-oriented segment which flows to the southeast-oriented Little White River in the figure 8 northeast corner. Stinking Water Creek is the western most of the Little White River tributaries. The northwest and north-oriented Stinking Water Creek valley segments probably were initiated by reversed flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes, perhaps to the Dry Creek or Leander Creek valleys seen in figures 5 and 7. The southeast-oriented flood flow routes would have been beheaded by headward erosion of the east and northeast-oriented Stinking Water Creek valley segment eroding southwest and west from the southeast-oriented Little White River valley. Evidence previously seen in figure 6 includes the southeast-oriented Bear Creek headwaters, which suggest southeast-oriented flood flow to what was then an actively eroding Bear Creek valley was beheaded by headward erosion of the Little White River-Stinking Water Creek valley. The southeast-oriented tributaries to the Little White River-Stinking Water Creek valley are further evidence supporting this interpretation.

Antelope Creek valley southeast end near Gordon, Nebraska

Figure 9:Antelope Creek valley southeast end near Gordon, Nebraska. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 9 illustrates the Niobrara River valley region just west of the Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide region and overlaps with figure 7. The northeast-oriented Niobrara River flows from the figure 9 south center edge across the figure 9 southeast corner and makes a jog to the southeast downstream from the Hay Creek mouth. Antelope Creek flows southeast from the figure 9 northwest corner through Gordon, Nebraska to the Niobrara River. East of Antelope Creek is southeast-oriented Hay Creek, which also flows to the Niobrara River. Multiple unnamed southeast-oriented Hay Creek, Antelope Creek, and Niobrara River tributaries can also be seen. Much of the figure 9 region is apparently west of the sand dune region and drainage features are again visible and can be used to interpret landscape origins. The multiple southeast-oriented tributary valleys suggest the northeast-oriented Niobrara River valley eroded southwest across this figure 9 region to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes, such as might be present in a southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. The southeast-oriented Niobrara River valley jog downstream from Hay Creek probably is evidence the Niobrara River valley eroded along the Hay Creek alignment before a tributary valley eroded southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood water using the Antelope Creek alignment. Southeast-oriented flood flow to the Hay Creek valley was beheaded before southeast-oriented flood flow to Antelope Creek valley (and to southeast-oriented Niobrara River tributary valleys further to the southwest) was beheaded and consequently what had started as a northeast-oriented tributary valley to the southeast-oriented Niobrara River-Hay Creek valley became the primary valley eroding west to capture southeast-oriented flood flow.

Wounded Knee Creek-Antelope Creek drainage divide area

Figure 10: Wounded Knee Creek-Antelope Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 10 illustrates the region north and west of the figure 9 map area and includes an overlap area. North-northeast and north-northwest oriented Wounded Knee Creek flows from the figure 10 southwest corner to the figure 10 northwest quadrant and north edge. Wounded Knee Creek flows north-northwest from the figure 10 map area to join the northeast and east-oriented White River. Northwest-oriented Spring Creek flows to Wounded Knee Creek near Denby Lake. North-northwest and north oriented headwaters of Stinking Water Creek flow north in the figure 10 north center between the highway and the county line. Stinking Water Creek as previously mentioned is the western most Little White River tributary. Southeast-oriented drainage in the figure 10 south center flows to Antelope Creek and Hay Creek and then to the Niobrara River. The Wounded Knee Creek-Antelope Creek drainage divide was created when the north-northwest and north-northeast oriented Wounded Creek valley eroded south to capture southeast-oriented flood flow that was eroding the Antelope Creek and Hay Creek drainage basins northwest from what was then the newly eroded Niobrara River valley. Note the multiple southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented Wounded Knee Creek tributaries. Those tributaries are evidence the Wounded Knee Creek valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. The northwest-oriented tributary valleys (like the north-northwest oriented Stinking Water Creek valley) were probably eroded by reversals of flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. The Wounded Knee Creek-Antelope Creek drainage divide probably is representative of drainage divides obscured by sand dunes further to the east where southeast-oriented valleys eroded by southeast-oriented flood flow routes that crossed that region cannot be easily identified.

Additional information and sources of maps studied

This essay has provided only a sample of the detailed topographic map evidence supporting the flood erosion interpretation. Many additional illustrations could be provided. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of available data. Maps used in this study were created and published by the United States Geologic Survey and can be obtained directly from the United States Geological Survey and/or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories which are located throughout the United States and elsewhere. Illustrations used here were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital map data. TOPO software and map data can be obtained from the National Geographic Society and/or dealers offering National Geographic Society digital map data.

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