Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area landform origins north of Stoneville Flats, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming, USA

Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area northeast of Stoneville Flats discussed here is located in Montana’s southeast corner, where Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming meet. Although detailed topographic maps of this Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche 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 Missouri River-Belle Fourche 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 Powder 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 Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area landform origins northeast of Stoneville Flats in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Map interpretation methods can be used to unravel many of the geomorphic events leading up the present-day drainage routes and other landform features observed. While each detailed topographic map feature provides detailed evidence to be explained, the solution must be consistent with the explanations for adjacent area map evidence as well as for solutions to the big picture map evidence. I invite readers to improve upon my solutions or to propose alternate solutions that better explain the evidence and are consistent with adjacent map area evidence 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 floods of glacial melt water. 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 Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area landform evidence northeast of Stoneville Flats will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide north of Stoneville Flats

Figure 1: Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area north of Stoneville Flats. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a general location map for the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area discussed here. The Belle Fourche River begins in northeast Wyoming and flows northeast almost to the Montana border and then turns abruptly to flow in a southeast direction to South Dakota along the northeast Black Hills flank. North of the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River are the southeast-oriented headwaters of the Moreau River. The Little Missouri River begins in northeast Wyoming and flows in a northeast direction entering Montana near Alzada and continuing northeast into South Dakota near Camp Crook and then turns north. Stoneville Flats, not labeled on figure 1, is a through valley extending southeast from the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River near Alzada, Montana to the Belle Fourche River elbow of capture southeast of Alzada. The Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche drainage divide segment discussed here is northeast of the Stoneville Flats through valley and extends northeast to the Little Missouri River-Moreau River drainage divide.  A separate essay discusses Little Missouri River-Moreau River drainage divide landform evidence and can be found under Little Missouri River or Moreau River on the sidebar category list. Northwest of the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area north of Stoneville Flats is the Boxelder Creek-Little Missouri River drainage divide. Boxelder Creek is a major northeast-oriented Little Missouri River tributary and a separate essay discusses Boxelder Creek-Little Missouri River drainage divide area landform evidence (and is found under Little Missouri River on the sidebar category list). Other essays discuss the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area in Wyoming, the drainage divide between the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment and the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment, and also Little Powder River-Little Missouri drainage divide area landform evidence and can be found under appropriate river names on the sidebar category list. Note how the northeast-oriented Powder River and its north-oriented Little Powder River tributary flow northwest of the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage basins and as their valleys eroded headward would have been able to capture and behead any southeast-oriented flood flow moving toward the Little Missouri River and Belle Fourche River drainage basins.

Detailed location map of Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area north of Stoneville Flats

Figure 2: Detailed location map of Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area north of Stoneville Flats. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 2 provides a more detailed location map for the Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area discussed here. Harding County, South Dakota is located in the figure 2 northeast corner and is east of the Black Hills Meridian line, which also serves as the Montana-South Dakota state line. Butte County, South Dakota is located immediately south of Harding County. The Montana-Wyoming state line is located south of Alzada, Montana and extends east to the South Dakota state line. The Little Missouri River flows northeast through the figure 2 map area and passes near Alzada and Albion in Montana. The Belle Fourche River elbow of capture is located in northeast Wyoming. Southeast-oriented streams in the figure 2 southeast quadrant including North and South Indian Creeks, Owl Creek, Bull Creek, and Crow Creek flow to the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River. Note northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributaries aligned with the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment and the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. The northwest Little Missouri River tributaries include (unnamed on figure 2) Arkansas Creek flowing northwest from the Belle Fourche River elbow to the Little Missouri River near Alzada ,and Fivemile Creek, Horse Creek, and Elkhorn Creek. Also note barbed Little Missouri River tributaries flowing southeast from the Boxelder Creek-Little Missouri River drainage divide. This pronounced northwest-southeast oriented drainage alignment is present in the detailed maps below and is evidence the northeast oriented Little Missouri River valley was eroded headward to capture southeast-oriented flood flow moving along many different southeast-oriented flood flow routes. These multiple flood flow routes suggest the Little Missouri River valley headward erosion beheaded and captured a large-scale southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex moving flood water to the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. While evidence presented here is limited to the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide segment north of Stoneville Flats, evidence presented in other essays suggests the southeast-oriented floods were immense with the northeast and north-oriented Little Missouri River valley eroding headward from its present day mouth in North Dakota to its present day source in northeast Wyoming to capture and behead southeast-oriented flood flow routes along its entire present day length. Evidence presented here is not adequate to determine the flood water source, although flood waters can be traced headward (using evidence illustrated in other essays on this website) to a North American ice sheet location. Glacial meltwater from a rapidly melting continental ice sheet would be a logical flood water source.

Little Missouri River-North Indian Creek drainage divide area

Figure 3: Little Missouri River-North Indian Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 illustrates the northeastern end of the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area. The northeast-oriented Little Missouri River flows across the figure 3 northwest corner. Southeast-oriented North Indian Creek (figure 3 south center) is the northernmost named Belle Fourche River tributary shown. Crooked Creek (unnamed on figure 3) is a North Indian Creek tributary and drains the southeast-oriented valley immediately north of Indian Butte. All southeast-oriented (and other east-oriented) drainage north of Crooked Creek flows to the Moreau River. Note the northwest-southeast oriented through valleys linking the northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributary valleys with the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche and Moreau River tributaries. For example, northwest-oriented South Beaver Dam Creek is linked by a through valley with  southeast-oriented Crooked Creek headwaters and northwest-oriented Elkhorn Creek is linked by a through valley with headwaters of a southeast-oriented North Indian Creek tributary. These northwest-southeast oriented through valleys are additional evidence the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River valley eroded headward to capture and behead multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Flood water on the northwest ends of the beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes reversed flow direction and flowed northwest to the newly eroded Little Missouri River valley and in doing so created the northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributary valleys. Often these reversals of flood flow were able to capture southeast-oriented flood flow from yet to be beheaded flood flow routes further to the southeast. These captures provided additional water that further eroded the newly reversed northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributary valleys.

Little Missouri River-Frozen Horse Creek drainage divide area

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

Figure 4 illustrates a Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area southwest of the figure 3 map area. The Little Missouri River flows northeast across the figure 4 northwest corner. Evidence shown in figure 4 is similar to the figure 3 evidence. Little Missouri River tributaries flow in a northwest direction from the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide to reach the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River. Belle Fourche River tributaries flow in a southeast direction from the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide to reach the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment. Northwest-southeast oriented through valleys link headwaters of the northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributaries with headwaters of the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. For example, northwest-oriented Elkhorn Creek is linked by through valleys not only with southeast-oriented North Indian Creek, but also with southeast-oriented Bean Blossom Creek and northwest-oriented Horse Creek is linked by through valleys with southeast-oriented Bean Blossom Creek, Frozen Horse Creek, and South Indian Creek, among others. These multiple through valleys suggest prior to being beheaded by Little Missouri River valley headward erosion the southeast-oriented flood flow moving across the present day Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide was flowing in anastomosing channels, typical of flood created channel patterns. The Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide in the figure 4 map area was created when Little Missouri River valley headward erosion beheaded the southeast-oriented flood flow routes and flood water on the northwest ends of the beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to flow northwest to the newly eroded Little Missouri River valley.

Little Missouri River-Owl Creek drainage divide area

Figure 5: Little Missouri River-Owl Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 5 continues the journey southwest along the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide and illustrates an area southwest of the figure 4 map area. Again the Little Missouri River is flowing northeast across the figure 5 northwest corner. Figure 5 evidence includes the northwest-southeast drainage alignment of Little Missouri River and Belle Fourche River tributaries and multiple through valleys linking headwaters of those tributaries. For example, note how southeast-oriented South Indian Creek headwaters are not only linked by a through valley with northwest-oriented Horse Creek (as described in figure 4 above), but by a through valley with northwest-oriented Ninemile Creek. Also, note how southeast-oriented Owl Creek is linked by through valleys with northwest-oriented Ninemile Creek, Sevenmile Creek, and Fivemile Creek. In addition to the types of evidence discussed with previous figures note how the southeast-oriented Owl Creek drainage basin is located in a large southeast-oriented escarpment-surrounded basin, or abandoned headcut. The southeast-oriented Owl Creek abandoned headcut was eroded northwest along what must have been a more concentrated southeast-oriented flood flow route. Headward erosion of such headcuts along and across major flood flow routes was responsible for deeply eroding the regional landscape. Evidence presented here does not provide a good measure of how much the regional landscape was lowered, although a strong case could be made flood waters once flowed over a topographic surface at least as high as the highest points along the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide today. Headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Owl Creek abandoned headcut ended when the Little Missouri River valley beheaded and captured the southeast-oriented flood flow that had been eroding the headcut northwest. Once the northeast and north-oriented Little Missouri River captured the southeast-oriented flood waters, the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide was created and the regional landscape has changed little since.

Detail map of Owl Creek headwaters area

Figure 6: Detail map of Owl Creek headwaters area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 6 provides a detailed map of the southeast-oriented Owl Creek escarpment-surrounded basin or abandoned headcut northwest end. Southeast-oriented Owl Creek headwaters are located in a southeast-oriented valley eroded into the southeast-oriented headcut face. Such valleys do not always exist in similar flood eroded headcuts, but suggest at this abandoned headcut southeast-oriented flood flow became more concentrated shortly before the southeast-oriented flood flow was beheaded. Note how northwest-oriented Sevenmile Creek flows on the higher topographic surface parallel to the southwest Owl Creek basin valley wall. Headward erosion of headcuts like this abandoned headcut were responsible for deeply eroding the region and many such abandoned headcuts, some much larger than this Owl Creek headcut, can be found by scanning detailed topographic map mosaics. Up flood from every abandoned headcut is evidence flood flow that had been eroding the headcut headward was captured and diverted in another direction. Not all headcuts that eroded across the region were abandoned. In some cases headcuts eroded headward along what are today  major river valleys. For example, headward erosion of the northeast and north-oriented Little Missouri River valley headcut to capture southeast-oriented flood water routes was similar to headward erosion of the Owl Creek headcut, although the larger and deeper northeast and north-oriented Little Missouri River valley headcut was able to erode across flood flow routes, while the southeast-oriented Owl Creek headcut eroded headward along a flood flow route. Today most evidence of the Little Missouri River valley headcut walls is gone, especially in this region. However, at the time the Little Missouri River valley eroded headward into the region southeast-oriented headcuts and the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River valley headcut were eroding simultaneously into a higher level topographic surface than exists today. Headward erosion of multiple such headcuts lowered the regional landscape to the produce the topographic surface we see today.

Fivemile Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide area

Figure 7: Fivemile Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 7 continues the southeast journey along the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide and illustrates a region southwest of the figure 5 map area. Figure 7 also provides a bigger picture view of the Owl Creek abandoned headcut. Note how in the figure 7 north center the unnamed headwaters of northwest-oriented Sevenmile Creek flow northwest from a through valley cut across the Owl Creek headcut rim. Sevenmile Creek headwaters are linked by a through valley with headwaters of southeast-oriented South Fork Owl Creek. Further west northwest-oriented Fivemile Creek flows to the Little Missouri River from another through valley cut in the abandoned headcut’s rim. The Fivemile Creek headwaters are linked by that second through valley with headwaters of southeast-oriented Bull Creek and also with southeast-oriented Crow Creek. Figure 7 also shows the relationship of the Owl Creek headcut to Stoneville Flats and the Belle Fourche River elbow of capture south and southeast of Stoneville Flats. The Little Missouri River flows east and north near Alzada in the figure 7 northwest quadrant. Figure 7 evidence shows the northeast and north-oriented Little Missouri River valley eroded headward to capture and behead multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes and includes the northwest-southeast drainage alignment, through valleys linking southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries with northwest-oriented Little Missouri River tributaries, the southeast-oriented Owl Creek abandoned headcut face or escarpment, and the existence of the present day Little Missouri River-Belle River drainage divide. Once headward erosion of the Little Missouri River valley had captured southeast-oriented flood flow routes across the region, rapid erosion southeast of the Little Missouri River valley ceased, although for a time the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley segment carried flood water to the present day elbow of capture where the flood water flowed both northwest to the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River valley and southeast along what is today the Belle Fourche River southeast-oriented segment.

Detailed map of Fivemile Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide

Figure 8: Detailed map of Fivemile Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 8 provides a detailed map view of the Fivemile Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide. Note northwest-southeast streamlining of landscape features. This streamlining is present in most of the other map areas illustrated here and is further evidence southeast-oriented flood waters moved over the region. Bull Creek begins in a small-scale escarpment-surrounded basin or abandoned headcut than the Owl Creek escarpment-surrounded basin illustrated in figures 5-7. Note an even smaller southeast-oriented abandoned headcut located immediately to the northeast of the Bull Creek abandoned headcut. The Fivemile Creek headwaters are today linked by a through valley to that smaller abandoned headcut suggesting the smaller headcut was eroded just before southeast-oriented flood flow on the Fivemile Creek route was beheaded and flood water on the northwest end of that beheaded flow route reversed flow direction to flow northwest. Note also in the figure 8 northwest corner an east and northeast-oriented Fivemile Creek tributary. That tributary valley was probably eroded by southeast-oriented flood flow on a yet to be beheaded flood flow route that had been captured by reversed flow on the newly beheaded Fivemile Creek flood flow route.

Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide at Stoneville Flats

Figure 9: Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide at Stoneville Flats. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 9 completes the journey southwest along the Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide to the Stoneville Flats area. South of the figure 9 map area the landscape changes and the Bear Lodge Mountains are located between the northeast oriented Belle Fourche River segment and the southeast-oriented Belle Fouche River segment and probably played a role in developing the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment (the Belle Fourche River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide evidence is discussed in a different essay). Stoneville Flats today is a major northwest-southeast oriented through valley linking the northeast and north oriented Little Missouri River valley with the Belle Fourche River elbow of capture a short distance to the southeast. Today Stoneville Flats is drained by northwest-oriented Arkansas Creek, which begins almost at the Belle Fourche River elbow of capture and then flows northwest to the north oriented Little Missouri River. The northwest-southeast oriented Stoneville Flats valley orientation originated with a major southeast-oriented flood flow route that was eroding the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley headcut northwest. That southeast-oriented flood flow route was beheaded and captured by north- and northeast-oriented Little Missouri River valley headward erosion and flow along the beheaded Stoneville Flats route was reversed to flow northwest, just as southeast-oriented flood flow had been reversed along the northwest ends of other beheaded flood flow routes further to the northeast. That reversed flood flow captured significant northeast-oriented flood flow that had been and/or was being captured by headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley, although some flood flow from the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley spilled over into what is today the Belle Fourche River southeast-oriented valley and eroded that valley headward. Shortly thereafter headward erosion of the deep Powder River valley and its tributary Little Powder River valley (see figure 1) captured all southeast-oriented flood flow to the region and once all southeast-oriented flood flow routes were beheaded rapid erosion ceased.

Detailed map of Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide at Stoneville Flats

Figure 10: Detailed map of Little Missouri-Belle Fourche River drainage divide at Stoneville Flats. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 10 provides a detailed map of the Little Missouri River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide at Stoneville Flats. Northwest-oriented Arkansas Creek at the north end of Stoneville Flats as shown in Figure 10 flows to the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River. The Belle Fourche River elbow of capture is located in the figure 10 south center. Note how flood waters from the southwest flowed northeast on the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment and then flowed northwest along the Stoneville Flats through valley to reach the northeast-oriented Little Missouri River valley. Note also how flood waters carved a narrower valley linking the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment with the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley segment. The Belle Fourche River today flows to the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River. Evidence presented here is not adequate to explain why the southeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment captured the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment, although prior to the capture northeast-oriented flood waters coming from the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River segment split, with most going northwest and the remainder going southeast. For reasons not apparent from evidence presented here the southeast route had an advantage and once flood flow ceased that southeast-oriented route survived.

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 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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