Jump to Navigation

Dickinson County, Kansas

Abilene, now the county seat of Dickinson County, Kansas, played a major role during the cattle drives. Here along the Union Pacific Railway a small village grew to become Abilene. Changes in laws meant that cattle could be driven into Kansas and loaded on trains headed east. Abilene thrived as a cowtown, which continued five years. Dickinson County is home to Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States.

Dickinson County, Kansas, established in 1857, is named for New York Senator Daniel S. Dickinson. Here on these lands lived several Indian tribes. The first white settlers arrived in 1855 but did not stay. Settlement was slow to move west far from the only supply stores in Kansas City and Leavenworth. More settlers arrived in 1856 and eventually settlers were able to organize the county in 1857.

Newport was the first county seat. Eventually that center of county government was moved to Abilene. Around 1870 residents held an election to choose between Detroit and Abilene, from which Abilene prevailed. Other towns were Carlton, Chapman, Enterprise, Manchester, Herington, Hope, Solomon, and Woodbine. 

Joseph McCoy selected a small village along the Union Pacific Railway, renamed it Abilene, and built cattle pens there in 1867. At the end of the Chisolm Trail numerous cattle were driven into Abilene and loaded into cattle cars. The cowboys, or drovers, relaxed at the end of the line where they received their pay for the drive. Here they spent their money and enjoyed the services offered in the town. Sometimes their relaxation disrupted the peace in the community. The community struggled with the increased disorderliness and turnover in lawmen. They might begin a job one day and quit the next. Tom Smith was successful in his job, but he was killed by two men in 1870. James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock held the position for several months in 1871. He was eventually fired after the accidental shooting of friend Mike Williams. When cattle drive laws pushed boundaries farther west, Abilene’s cattle years came to an end in 1871. 

Farming has long been an important industry in Dickinson County. The first county fair, where farm produce and livestock were celebrated, was held in 1870. Dickinson County today is among the state’s leading winter wheat producers.

A U.S. Navy ship was named U. S. S. Abilene, launched August 21, 1943, and commissioned October 28, 1944. The ship represented the Dickinson County city in Kansas.

Dickinson County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include the Berger House, an example of the post-World War II prefabricated Lustron houses. Herington Carnegie Public Library is one of the Carnegie libraries made possible the Carnegie Corporation’s grants. The Lander Parker Carousel was made by Charles W. Parker’s Amusement Company located in Abilene between 1898 and 1901. That business relocated to Leavenworth. The Eisenhower Home in Abilene was the childhood home of the 34th president of the United States. Eisenhower also served as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. U.S. Senator Joseph R. Burton and Charles Harger, editor and friend of Eisenhower, also have connections with Dickinson County.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 20, 1857 
Date Organized: February 20, 1857 
County Seat: Abilene
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills
Courthouse: 1956


1857 - County is established and organized on February 20
1867 - The first year Abilene is the main cowtown of Kansas
1871 - Last year Abilene is the main cowtown. After this year the cattle drives moves west and out of Abilene
1952 - 1960- Dwight D. Eisenhower, of Abilene, is 34th president of the United States

More on Dickinson County


Entry: Dickinson County, Kansas

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: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

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