Skip to main content

Nebraska Counties Explorer

Dawes County

Cities, Towns, and Villages

County Seat: Chadron



Courthouse Address and Hours:
451 Main Street
Chadron, Nebraska 69337
M-F 8:30am-4:30pm

Chairperson: Valentin Rivera

Senator: Tom Brewer

Board Meetings: 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month

Population: 8,148
View Additional Census Data


Dawes County is noted for it beautiful pine forest ridges and for being home to the historic Fort Robinson, the "Outpost of the Plains" that was established by the United States Army in 1874. Today, Fort Robinson is one of Nebraska's most popular tourist and vacation attractions.

In the 1870s, the area that would become Dawes County was inhabited by two large divisions of the Sioux tribe. The Brules were located at the Spotted Tail agency on the White River, while the Ogalalas were at the Red Cloud agency just east of Fort Robinson. Toward the end of the 1870s and into the 1880s, cattlemen came to the area to lay out ranches.

Since the lands were unsurveyed and belonged to the public domain, the unwritten law of the land at the time was the first to establish a ranch on a certain creek or in a certain locale was entitled to sufficient range for his needs. The "range" boundaries were well defined and no one encroached upon the rights of his neighbor. Small ranches would have 500 head of cattle, while others were as large as 2,000 to 5,000 head. While the unwritten law of the land worked well, these ranchers had no legal rights to the land.

In 1882, the cattlemen received word that two railroads were going to extend their lines through the territory and that the government was about to survey the area with the intent of opening the lands for legal entry and settlement. With a new era on the horizon, open range ranching began to give way to the grain farming of the new homesteaders. By 1885, the cowboy era had virtually come to an end.

Dawes County was officially organized that same year, when it was split from Sioux County. It was named in honor of Gov. James. W. Dawes. The issue of locating a county seat was hotly contested between Chadron and Dawes City, which would become Whitney. Chadron became the seat of local government by a narrow margin in a special election. Two years later, in 1887, the county's original courthouse was build for approximately $35,000. The present courthouse was constructed in 1936.