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Nemaha County, Kansas

Nemaha County, Kansas while not experiencing the violence prevalent in many places of Territorial Kansas’s Bleeding Kansas era, it was not shielded from the issue of slavery. This issue may have influenced the county seat and it’s moving from Richmond to Seneca.

Nemaha County, Kansas, established as one of the original counties in 1855, was named after the river, an Indian word meaning either “muddy water” or “no papoose.” Nemaha County was once home to Indians such as the Potawatomie and Fox tribes.

The spring of 1856 brought an Indian scare to the county. The settlers took Pottawatomie preparation as a sign of an impending attack upon them. The tribe, however had no intention of attacking the settlers and instead were preparing to attack the Pawnee, and the settler’s fears were unwarranted.

When the county was established, the county seat was Richmond. In 1858, a series of elections were held, in which Seneca became the new county seat. Free-state men were in the majority, and Richmond was a proslavery town which did not bode well with the free states. There was also at one time a rivalry between Richmond and Seneca. Seneca residents even went so far as to plant oats in the road to Richmond so that people would choose the road to Seneca.

Nemaha County men fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. 

In 1866, a grasshopper invasion caused troubles for the residents of the county. More attacks by the tiny pests, continued to cause trouble for them in 1868, 1873, and 1874. Farming continues to be important to the county, which is among the state’s leading soybean and winter wheat producers. Around the same time the first railroad entered the county and reached Seneca.

Nemaha County has several properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places. The Hand Dug City Water Well was built in 1895 and was Seneca’s main water source until 1937. Lake Nemaha Dam Guardrail was a project of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

Interesting figures with connections to Nemaha County include Jean Harlow, a Harlean Carpenter, who attended elementary school in the county in 1921-22, and Governor and Congressman Willis J. Bailey.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: April 4, 1858
County Seat: Seneca
Kansas Region: Northeast
Physiographic Region: Glaciated Region
Courthouse: June 9, 1955


1840 - John Charles Fremont travels through Nemaha county on an expedition
1855 - Nemaha County is established.
1858 - Elections over the county seat, in which Seneca eventually wins.
1930 - Lake Nemaha and the Lake Nemaha Dam Guardrail are constructed as part of New Deal Programs. 

More on Nemaha County


Entry: Nemaha 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.