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Smith County, Kansas

Smith County in the north central part of the state was once home to several Native American tribes. As settlers arrived tensions increased with the Indian people who lived and hunted on this land. The county also struggled to determine its county seat.

Smith County, Kansas, organized in 1872, was named after J. Nelson Smith, who fought and was killed in the Civil War. A point in the county, located near the town of Lebanon, is the geographical center of the United States.

Prior to Smith County’s establishment, a battle between several Indian tribes occurred in the county in 1853. Pawnee, Delaware, and Omaha tribes fought against the Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho and Apaches. Settlement to the east had caused some tribes to move farther and encroach on lands of other tribes.

Early in Smith County’s organized history, there was some disputes about the county seat. Cedarville became the county seat in the first election, but accusations of illegality caused more debate. When the sheriff, who had been convinced to take the county records away from Cedarville, arrived he was met by armed men. A meeting was held in which it was decided to hold another election. Smith Center won the election and remains the county seat today.  

Smith County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Home on the Range Cabin, built in 1875, which was the home to Dr. Brewster Higley. Higley, while not while he lived in the cabin, wrote the poem, which was later put to music by Dan Kelley, that is the song “Home on the Range.” In 1947, the song became the official state song of Kansas. The Martyn House, owned by World War II veteran James, and his wife Grace, Martyn, was a Lustron House. There was a housing crisis after World War II, and Lustron houses were produced between 1948-1950.

Smith county is home to J. S. McDowell. He enlisted in the Union army at the age of 21. He was held prisoner in Andersonville Prison for two years. In 1873 Captain McDowell settled in Smith Center and clerked in a store which he later purchased. He was a director of the First National Bank and was a mayor of the city. In 1899 he was appointed a regent of Kansas State University. In 1900 the mayor of Jackson, Georgia, placed a story in the New York Journal concerning a Civil War sword that had been presented to a J. S. McDowell for meritorious service in 1863. The sword had been picked up on a battlefield in Georgia by the mayor's family. Friends saw the story, told McDowell, he responded to the ad, and two weeks later the sword arrived, as did a letter from the former confederate officer that McDowell had surrendered the sword to on the battlefield at Chickamauga.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 26, 1867
Date Organized: February 1, 1872
County Seat: Smith Center
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: High Plains and Smoky Hills
Courthouse: 1918-1920


1852 - Indian battle between tribes over territoriality.
1867 - Smith County is established.
1872 - Smith County is organized. County seat disputes occur around this time. 

More on Smith County


Entry: Smith 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.