Jump to Navigation

Wallace County, Kansas

Early native peoples camped here in the High Plains during the hunting season where plentiful herds of bison roamed. Fort Wallace was established in 1865 to defend traffic on the Butterfield Overland Despatch (B.O.D.), a stagecoach service and mail route from Atchison to Denver, which passed through the hunting grounds of several Plains Indian tribes. It helped secure construction of the Union Pacific railroad, which arrived in 1868.

Stone circles were found at a site in Wallace County that provide information about early life on the plains. These stone circles marked where tipis were placed while native peoples hunted in the area. Stones were used to weigh down the bottom edges of the tipis. When the native peoples left, they took the tipi poles and animal hide covers but left the stones behind. Sometimes they returned to the same spot in subsequent hunting seasons, resulting in shallow depressions where the tipis were located. These types of archeological remains are rare in Kansas. the Goose Creek Tipi Ring Site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Coal-Oil Canyon (14LO401), identified in 1955 as early hunting grounds, spans from Wallace County to the adjacent Logan County. The rugged bluffs and hills made of shale and chalk were formed as part of the inland sea. Today they are covered with native buffalo grass, yucca, and sage. The south fork of the Smoky Hill River is often dry; occasional hard rains that wash through the gullies.

Mount Sunflower is the state’s highest natural point, at an elevation of just higher than 4,000 feet. The point is situation amid a gradual incline in the natural elevation of the High Plains landscape. 

Wallace County, Kansas, was named for General William H. L. Wallace who was killed in the Civil War. The county was established and organized, then discontinued around 1879. It was reorganized around 1889. The state attorney general believed it had not actually been dissolved and that there was no need for reorganization, but the Kansas Supreme Court eventually ruled against him. A county seat election was held in 1889, but Sharon Springs, the temporary county seat, refused to hold a vote. Sharon Springs remains the county seat today.

General Tecumseh Sherman authorized Fort Wallace, which opened in 1865. The fort was originally called Camp Pond Creek and guarded the stage route. Relocated and renamed Fort Wallace in 1866, the mission expanded to protect railroad construction.

In 1867 Lieutenant Lyman Kidder and 10 members of the Seventh Cavalry stationed at Fort Wallace encountered Lakota and Cheyenne forces in what is now Sherman County. All of the U.S. troops were killed in the skirmish. As tensions increased with the Plains tribes in the area there were more encounters than most at frontier forts. More funds were provided to add further fortification and eventually there were 40 buildings made of native stone and wood. The fort averaged 75 soldiers, with a maximum of 350. Individuals associated with Fort Wallace include George Armstrong Custer, George Forsyth, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickock. The fort struggled to maintain supplies like food, with its location in the west. Soldiers also faced illnesses like dysentery and cholera. The fort closed in 1882, and the military reservation became available for settlement in 1888.

In 1874 the German family was traveling through the area headed west when they encountered Cheyennes. Five members of the family were killed, four girls survived. They were taken to different places but eventually were found and reunited.

The Union Pacific railroad arrived in the county in 1868. Construction continued westward through the county for two years connecting Wallace, Sharon Springs, Monotony (Weskan), and over the Kansas/Colorado line in 1870.

Education was important to the county. Between 1885 and 1894 there were 42 school districts to educate the young children of the area. Some of these one-room schoolhouses remain today.

Wallace County Courthouse - Sharon Springs KS, 67758President Theodore Roosevelt traveled 14,000 miles in eight weeks by train in 1903. On this whistle stop tour he visited 25 states, 150 towns, and gave more than 200 speeches. In Sharon Springs in Wallace County, Roosevelt was said to have a corking good time. He slept late before attending the church service, sermon, and choir, which he greatly enjoyed. He shared a hymnal with two little girls. He enjoyed a three-hour horseback ride. Pearl Gorsuch presented the president with a badger to offer the Roosevelt children. He seems to be hungry, the president said. Take him to the car and feed him. I would not dare to go home to my boys without that badger.

A large cloud of dust and loud rumbling in 1926 announced the appearance of a sinkhole in the county. The noise continued as the sinkhole expanded from 50 feet wide to 300 feet wide and 450 feet long, the depth was never known. Water, earth, and rock eventually filled in the Smoky Basin Cave-In sinkhole.

Warm weather in the early 1930s caused the jackrabbit population to increase in western Kansas. By 1935 there were an estimated 8 million rabbits in 30 western Kansas counties, including Wallace. The migratory animals ate green plants to their roots. Farmers already struggling with drought during the Dust Bowl fought to protect their gardens and field crops. Communities sponsored jackrabbit drives on Sunday afternoons to attempt to control the population.

Among Wallace County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places is the Pond Creek Stage Station, built in 1865 as a stop on the stage line. Located west of present-day Wallace, it served as the tender’s quarters and an eating station on the Smoky Hill route. The station earned a reputation for its food. Bullet holes are still visible in the station from early attacks. The station closed after the completion of the Union Pacific railroad. It is the only surviving stage station of the B.O.D.

Individuals of note from Wallace County include Peter Robidoux who had a large well-stocked store in Wallace beginning in 1868 that suppled most of the staples to the early settlers. Robidoux bought and traded buffalo hides by the carload. The Clark-Robidoux House, built in 1880, was purchased by Robidoux in 1909 and served as his residence is listed in the National Register.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 11, 1868
Date Organized: January 5, 1889 (Second Organization)
County Seat: Sharon Springs
Kansas Region: Northwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains
Scenic Byway: Land & Sky
Time Zone: Among state's few counties in Mountain Time
Courthouse: 1914-1915


Circa 1865 - Fort Wallace is established as a military post
1868 - Wallace County is established
1874 - German family killed in attack, four children were captured by the Cheyenne
1882 - Fort Wallace is closed
1888 - Military reservation opened to settlement
1889 - Wallace County undergoes second organization
March 9, 1926 - A sinkhole appeared 

More on Wallace County


Entry: Wallace 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.