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Haskell County, Kansas

Haskell County is especially well suited to wheat and cattle production. The state highway department determined it was the most level county in Kansas. Like other areas of the region, Haskell County was severely impacted by drought during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Crop rotation and irrigation helped farmers recover and agriculture remained the major industry until oil and gas production expanded to the county in the 1940s.

Haskell County, Kansas, in the southwest part of the state, is in the High Plains region where Ogallala aquifer supplies water for these vast flatlands. Established in 1887, the county and named for Kansas Congressman Dudley Haskell. This was previously part of the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County and then Arapaho County.

The Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail passed through Haskell County. This shorter, faster alternative to the Mountain Route, presented other challenges. It crossed dry and rugged land that offered little water. It also passed through Plains Indians hunting lands.

Since the county lacked a railroad in early years, stage lines helped connect the towns of Ivanhoe, Santa Fe, and Loco. Santa Fe was named the first county seat. When the Santa Fe railroad reached the county in 1911 it bypassed the county seat. The town of Santa Fe was divided and moved to the two present sites of Sublette and Satanta. The other communities eventually became ghost towns; Sublette was named the county seat, for fur trapper William Sublette. 

Ranching has been an important industry in this region where cattle, hogs, and other types of livestock have flourished. Today the county has among the largest inventory of cattle and calves in the state. Farming continues to be important; the county is among the top corn and sorghum producers.

Haskell County is situated in a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species. Scientists wonder whether the migratory birds could have played a role in the spread of the Spanish Flu of 1918. In February 1918 people in the county became ill. The Santa Fe Monitor reported numerous accounts of pneumonia, sickness, and “lagrippe.” Men who lived in the county were called to duty at Camp Funston in Riley County. Days later, on March 4, 1918, the first soldier reported ill with influenza. Within two weeks 1,110 soldiers were admitted to the hospital. The disease began to spread worldwide, becoming a pandemic that was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing between 50 and 100 million people.

Haskell County, in the sand hills, was among those most impacted during the Dust Bowl. Farmers learned to adapt agricultural methods to minimize erosion. They began rotating crops to reduce erosion and help balance nutrients in the soil. Irrigation systems were established to help redistribute moisture to crops at key growth periods.

During World War II, a U.S. Navy ship was named U. S. S. Haskell, and commissioned September 9, 1944. The ship represented this county in Kansas as well as Haskell counties in two other states.

Oil and gas production from the Hugoton field expanded into the county in 1945 and brought 41 gas wells. By 2017 the county was second in oil production in the state.

Amanda I. Watkins, who owned a considerable amount of land, was named “World Wheat Queen” in 1926 and retained her title for 10 years. Gary Spani, born in Santanta, played college football at Kansas State University and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs and was elected to the team’s hall of fame in 2003.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 23, 1887
Date Organized: July 1, 1887
County Seat: Sublette
Kansas Region: Southwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains and Arkansas River Lowlands
Courthouse: August 11, 1978


1887 - Haskell County is established and organized.
1918 - Some of the first cases of the Spanish Flu are reported in Haskell County
1930 - Drought of the Dust Bowl era hits Haskell County hard.

More on Haskell County

Entry: Haskell 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.