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Nebraska Counties

County Beginnings

Rich History Is Embedded in County Government

It has been documented that 27 years after Nebraska was admitted to the Union, county officials in this state gathered for their first statewide meeting. This would be the forerunner to the Annual Conference of the Nebraska Association of County Officials as we know it today.

County government in Nebraska actually pre-dates our statehood. In the mid 1850s and early 1860s members of the Territorial Legislature began establishing county boundaries. The creation of these counties began along the Missouri River and in the years that followed would progress in a westwardly fashion through the Nebraska Panhandle.

The early development of county government in Nebraska provides us with many noteworthy facts and interesting stories.

For example, while the boundaries of a county may have been created in the late 1850s or early 1860s, it actually may have been a number of years later before the county would be officially organized and its governmental body put in place. The laws of that time required counties to have a minimum of 200 inhabitants before an organizational election could be held. For some counties this requirement would be met almost immediately. For other counties it would take up to 45 years.

Another interesting fact is how many of today's counties were carved out of larger counties. As particular areas within a larger county would become more densely inhabited, setters in the area would petition for the separation and organization of a new county.

Then there are the stories of how counties derived their names. Sixty-nine of our 93 counties were named in honor of prominent individuals during that era. The remaining 24 counties would receive their respective names from animals, local landmarks, rivers, local soil conditions, Indian tribes, counties located in other states, and particularly interesting, from the dreams that early settlers had for the area in which they settled.

Finally, there are the historical accounts of the battles that erupted over the location of some county seats. These would sometimes become emotional and physical struggles as county residents understood the importance that such a designation would have on the future development of their settlements.

The heritage of Nebraska county government is truly rich and unique, and provides great insight into the early development of our state.