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Kearny County, Kansas

During the years of 1821 to 1870, the section of the Santa Fe Trail running through Kearny County was active with travelers headed to Santa Fe. The county provided the last chance for the travelers to choose the final route they would take to Santa Fe, the safer Mountain route, or the quicker Cimarron route.

Kearny County, Kansas, spelled “Kearney” at one time, was organized in 1888. It is named after Mexican-American War veteran and Union Civil War General Philip Kearny. He was killed in a battle in 1862. Kearny County was once part of the land that was the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County.

The Santa Fe Trail went through Kearny County. Indian Mound, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a tool in guiding individuals to Chouteau’s Island. Chouteau’s Island was named when August P. Chouteau and the group he was with clashed with the Pawnee Indians in 1816. It was around the area of the Indian mound that travelers of the Santa Fe Trail had their last chance to decide the final route they would take to Santa Fe. They could continue on and take the safer, but longer, common route with access water Mountain route, or they could take the shorter, but more dangerous Cimarron route. The Santa Fe Trail- Kearney County Segment (Charlie’s Ruts) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

File:Kearny County, Kansas courthouse from SE 1.JPG - Wikimedia CommonsAs the Santa Fe Railroad come into the county, John O’Loughlin came to Kearny county, and along with starting a trading post, helped with the establishment of Lakin, which is now the county seat.

During the 1880’s and 1890’s irrigation was a big cause being discussed and acted upon. The first one hundred miles of an irrigation ditch was constructed in the northern part of the county. This early attempt at irrigation was a major event in the agriculture development of the area.

The 1930’s, or Dust Bowl, brought the hardship of dust storms during the Dust Bowl. The western part of Kansas suffered hard.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 20, 1873
Date Organized: March 27, 1888
County Seat: Lakin
Kansas Region: Southwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains and Arkansas River Lowlands
Courthouse: September 30, 1939


1816 - August P. Chouteau fights the Pawnee result in the naming of Chauteau’s Island.
1821 - 1870-The portion of the Santa Fe Trail to run through the county is used.
1873 - Kearny County is established
1888 - Kearny County is organized
1880 - 1890 - Irrigation is a big cause in Kearny County and neighboring counties 

More on Kearny County


Entry: Kearny 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: February 2024

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