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Saline County, Kansas

Saline County, Kansas, experienced troubles from bush wackers during its first decade of organization. During World War II, the presence of a POW camp and an Army airfield played a part in the war effort.

Saline County, Kansas, organized around 1859, was named after the Saline River. Zebulon Pike traveled through the county around 1806. People coming through the area increased in the late 1850s due to those headed for Pike’s Peak and the gold rush there. Kansas Wesleyan University, established in 1886, and St. John’s Military School, established in 1887, are still located in the county.

In 1862 Salina ranchers feared attach from the Plains Indians living and hunting in the area. They built a stockade to defend themselves. Later that year, bushwackers attacked the town. They did not harm people but destroyed and stole property. They requested help from Fort Riley but the bushwackers were gone before could arrive soldiers.

Between 1872 and 1874 cattle industry activity increased in Salina and some wondered if it would become a cowtown. Wheat and flour milling became important industries in Salina County, as well as other farming operations including the cultivation of alfalfa.

The railroad arrived in the county in 1867. Saline County was affected by the grasshopper invasion of 1874-1875.

A Swedish population came to Saline and McPherson counties. Today, Lindsborg, a Swedish town, is located in McPherson County.

A German prisoner-of-war camp called Camp Phillips was established in the county during World War II. Life as a POW in Kansas allowed enlisted men to work in the fields or in factories and be paid. Officers were not allowed to work but they had options as well. They could serve as a supervisor, or take classes through the University of Kansas. 

 Also established during World War II was Smoky Hill Army Airfield. The name was eventually changed to Smoky Hill Air Force Base and then Schilling Air Force Base. The base was part of World War II and the Korean Conflict, and was not deactivated until the mid-1960s. Now it is home to the Salina Regional Airport, among other things of industrial, military, and educational purposes. Educational purposes include Kansas State University-Salina, and Salina TECH.

Saline County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the H.D. Lee Company Complex. Lee was a businessman who, among his many business endeavors, had a wholesale grocery business in Salina. It was around this time that industry was seeing the effects of not only changes in transportation but of the change to more mass production of productions, and then eventually the beginning of mail order businesses. Lee would go on to start his own clothing manufacturing endeavors and came up with denim coveralls which were called “Unionalls.” He received a large amount of business because of World War I. The Fox-Watson Theater built in the early 1930s was designed by the Boller Brothers, architects known for their work on theaters. Coronado Heights is a park around the border of Saline and McPherson Counties. Coronado traveled to McPherson County. He went to the area of McPherson’s Lindsborg, and despite the name of the park it is unknown if he actually made it farther north into Saline County, but the park is commemorative nonetheless. The Whiteford (Price) Archeological Site is a National Historic Landmark, and is believed to be the location of a small village dating to around 1000-1350 CE.

There are interesting individuals with connections to Saline County. Mary Ann (Mother) Bickerdyke, a field nurse in the Civil War, contributed much to the county by bringing in over 300 families to the area. Glen Martin, who in 1908, performed the first aircraft flight that took off under its own power, was a native of the county. He also designed the first parachute, the first bomber, and designed a prototype of the first super airplane. He was founder of Martin Aircraft in California. Tom Braniff, the founder of Braniff airlines, was also from the county. Steve Hawley, a NASA astronaut, is from Salina. John Carlin, Governor of Kansas from 1979 to 1987, is a native of Smolan. Joseph W. Bristow was a United States Senator. William Phillips and Lewis Hanback were Congressmen. Rousseau Burch served as a Justice and a Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. Mary Ball Bickerdyke was known as a skilled botanical physician who treated injured soldiers at the front during the Civil War. After the war she became an attorney and in 1867 moved to Salina, Kansas, and worked to secure pensions for veterans.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 15, 1860
County Seat: Salina
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills and Flint hills Uplands
Courthouse: December 14, 1969


1540 - Coronado travels through Kansas reaching most likely at least the southern border of Saline County.
1859 - Saline County established.
1860 - Saline County is organized.
1862 - Saline County experiences Indian threats.
1868 - Swedes migrate to Saline and McPherson Counties.
1872 - 1874- Salina is a cattle town, although nothing like that of Abilene in Dickinson County.
1940 - During World War II both Camp Phillips and Smoky Hill Army Air Field (Later named Schilling Air Force Base) were built in Saline County. 

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Entry: Saline 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.