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Geary County, Kansas

Geary County, Kansas, once Davis County, was home to the first territorial legislature, located at Pawnee. Although Pawnee’s run as capitol and city was short, the legislature’s meeting place lasted and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Fort Riley is home to the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division or Big Red One. Here the Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth and 10th U.S. cavalries once served. The U.S. government’s first female war correspondent, Peggy Hull Deuell, started her journalism career here.

Geary County, in the north central part of the state, is in the Flint Hills where the gently sloping terrain feature the tallgrass prairie. This was among the original 33 counties established in 1855 by the territorial legislature, originally named Davis County for U. S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. During the Civil War, while most supported the Union, some people from the area fought for the Confederacy. The county was renamed in 1889, honoring Kansas territorial Governor John W. Geary.

Long before the county was established, this land was home to Kaw Indians who lived in villages along the Kansas River. The U.S. army established Camp Center in 1852 as a military presence near the confluence of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers to protect the frontier as it advanced west. In May 1853 it was renamed Fort Riley, in honor of Major General Bennet C. Riley, who led the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail. Spanning Geary and Riley counties, Fort Riley has long played an active role in the nation’s military efforts, as a training and supply headquarters. Soldiers from the fort helped protect workers building the Union Pacific Railway. The Seventh U.S. Cavalry, identified with George Armstrong Custer, was organized there in 1866. From 1867 to 1891 the Ninth and 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, two African American units, were stationed at the post. During World War I Camp Funston provided divisional cantonment training. During World War II the First Infantry Division was among the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. 

The first territorial legislature was held at the town of Pawnee in 1855, located near Fort Riley. The legislature, mostly proslavery, adjourned after a legislative session lasting just a few days, overriding the wishes of Governor Reeder and moved to Shawnee Mission near the Missouri border. At the same time an outbreak of cholera caused much loss of life to Fort Riley.

The first stagecoach departed westward from Junction City in 1862, along the Smoky Hills alternative path to Santa Fe. The Kansas Pacific Railway, in 1866, was the first to reach the county; more railroads followed over time.

The grasshopper invasion of 1874, which affected many counties in Kansas, devastated the county’s crops. Farming continues to be important in the county, which is among the top winter wheat producers.

Geary County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places include the First Territorial Capital State Historic Site and Fort Riley’s Main Post Area.

Individuals with connections to Geary County include George W. Martin of the Junction City Union Newspaper, known nationally for his editorials and later secretary of the Kansas Historical Society; Governor James M Harvey; Congressman John Davis, and Peggy Hull Deuell, the U.S. government’s first female war correspondent.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 7, 1889
County Seat: Junction City
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Flint Hills Uplands
State Parks: Milford State Park
Courthouse: 1899-1900


1852 - Fort Riley is established.
1855 - Davis County is established.
1855 - First Territorial Legislature is held at Pawnee
1860 - Junction City becomes the county seat.
1889 - Davis County is changed to Geary County 

More on Geary County


Entry: Geary 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.