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Nebraska Counties Explorer

Keith County

Cities, Towns, and Villages

County Seat: Ogallala



Courthouse Address and Hours:
511 North Spruce Street
Ogallala, Nebraska 69153
M-F 8:00 am - 4:00 pm

Chairperson: Joan Ervin

Senator: Steve Erdman

Board Meetings: Wednesday

Population: 8,279
View Additional Census Data


Keith County is probably best known today for being the home of Lake McConaughy and the Kingsley Dam. But in the early days, the area that would become Keith County was best known for cattle and cowboys.

The Oregon, Overland and Mormon Trails all played an important role in bringing early travelers through the area. Prior to that the area was seen only by trappers and the Pawnee and Sioux tribes. But with the trails and then the westward advancement of the Union Pacific Railroad, the area along the North and South Platte Rivers began to develop.

When organized on May 3, 1873, Keith County was named in honor of M.C. Keith of North Platte, who owned one of the largest ranches at that time in Western Nebraska. He was also the grandfather of Keith Neville, governor of Nebraska from 1917 to 1919. Ogallala was named as the county seat.

When the railroad passed through the area in the 1860s, the famous Texas-Ogallala Trail was forged to bring longhorn cattle to the shipping yards in Ogallala. From there they were transported to Midwestern markets or to Wyoming and Montana. With the cattle and cowboys came trouble. Ogallala's hotels and saloons served as sites for western cattlemen and Texas cattle kings to bargain over prices. History indicates that the gold flowed freely across the tables, the liquor across the bars, and occasionally blood across the floors. Ogallala became the site of the famous Boot Hill cemetery in 1875. For years it served as a burial place for settlers, transients and others who took part in the growth of Ogallala.

The Kingsley Dam on the North Platte River was constructed after the turn of the century to provide irrigation water for farmers in the central part of the state and hydro-electric power. For many years it was the world's second largest earthen dam. The lake that resulted, affectionately known as "Big Mac," is 25 miles long, has a shore line of about 100 miles, and provides a variety of recreational activities for tens of thousands of people each year.