Buffalo County is one of only two counties in Nebraska that derived its name from an animal. Years before this area along the Platte River would become a county, large herds of buffalo grazed the river valley and the rolling plains to the north. When it came time to organize the county, it seemed fitting to name it after the animal that once roamed the area freely.
The boundaries of Buffalo County were established by the Territorial Legislature in 1855. The county was officially organized in 1864, three years before Nebraska was admitted in the Union.
Two transportation lines can be credited with the early development of the area -- the Mormon Trail and the Union Pacific Railroad.
The first settlers in this area were said to be Mormons who had headed west along the trail in 1858. But a fierce war between the Cheyenne and Sioux tribes forced these early settlers to temporarily abandon the area. When the fighting subsided, the settlers gradually returned. In time, more and more settlers came to the area because of the rich Platte River Valley and the fertile soil that could be found in the surrounding hills.
With the coming of the railroad in the 1860s, Buffalo County would continue to develop. One of the stations that sprang up was Kearney, the county seat. Originally named Fort Childs, it was later renamed Kearney Junction and finally shortened to Kearney. Moses H. Sydenham, one of the early pioneers in the county, founded a newspaper in this young settlement and used the publication to promote his idea that Kearney, with its central location, should become the capital of the United States.
Hardships such as hot, dry weather and severe blizzards were not uncommon for the early residents of the county. But the most serious challenge faced by those who worked the land was the damage done by waves of grasshoppers that swarmed over the area in the mid 1870s.
More than 115 years later, Buffalo County is a thriving agricultural and industrial area. It also pays an important role in the state's higher education system, with the University of Nebraska at Kearney located in the county seat.
The Buffalo County Courthouse
Virtually every county in Nebraska has had a county seat "fight". Gibbon was designated as the original county seat of Buffalo County, and a courthouse was constructed at that location. In 1874, after considerable agitation for the relocation of the county seat, an election was held, and a majority was cast for the relocation of the county seat at Kearney. The incident which followed the results of that election is often referred to as "stealing the courthouse records." With the results of the election already in, the County Clerk, Joseph Scott, and his deputy, F.G. Keens, loaded the county records in a farm wagon, considerably after normal business hours and arrived in Kearney about 2:00 a.m. Mr. Keens stood guard over the records for the rest of the night. The Union Pacific Railroad donated a site for a new courthouse, and built a frame building which was not occupied until January of 1886. This building served as the Buffalo County Courthouse until a new county courthouse was built and completed in 1890. The frame courthouse was then moved to a new location on First Avenue and served first as a WCTU hospital and later as a home for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.