Cheyenne County, Kansas

Arikaree Breaks, Cheyenne County, Kansas

Arikaree Breaks, Cheyenne County, Kansas, courtesy City of St. Francis


Cheyenne County, Kansas, the most northwestern county in the state, was named for the Cheyenne Indians. The county has an altitude of over 3,000 feet and encompasses 1,020 square miles. Its county seat is St. Francis.

Though Kansas Territory was organized in 1854 and Kansas became the 34th U.S. state in 1861, the western area remained organized for almost two decades. In March 1873, Cheyenne County and several other western counties were created from the unorganized territory.

Republican River, Kansas

Republican River, Kansas courtesy Wikipedia

A survey of the public lands in the county was made in 1874 and in 1876 the first cattle ranch — the “T” ranch — was established about nine miles above a trading post called Wano on the Republican River. Wano, the first settlement in the county, Wano, was located about one and one half miles northeast of where St. Francis is today.

At that time, the country was full of Indians and buffalo hunters. The first actual settlers came to the county in 1879, when the Day brothers located on Big Timber Creek. The next year, A. M. Brenaman, L. R. Heaton, and a man named Bateham came with their families. Jacob Buck also settled in the county, near Wano, in the spring of 1880. By August of that year, there were enough settlers to justify the establishment of a post office at Wano, with A. M. Brenaman as postmaster. The first mail was carried from Atwood, the county seat of Rawlins County, in October.

Graham & Brenaman opened the first store in September 1880, in a sod house, with a small stock of goods needed for a frontier settlement. School district No. 1 was organized in December 1881 and a school was opened on January 10, 1882, in a building donated by F. J. Graham, with ten students in attendance.

In 1885 Kansas passed a herd law whereby the large cattle ranchers could no longer let their cattle run on the open range. By that time, a number of easterners had become interested in the northwestern part of the state and settled in the area. It was during this time the town of Bird City was established and named for Benjamin Bird, a manager of the Northwest Cattle Company, whose headquarters were 20 miles to the north.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

By 1887, grade surveys were completed for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad to come through. A site was chosen just to the south of  Wano to become the station. However, there was some difficulty in obtaining a good title at the townsite of Wano and a new townsite was surveyed and plotted in November 1887. It was resolved to move Wano in December 1887 to where the railroad would be located. Within no time, three buildings were moved. The bank and post office soon followed. As Wano had been incorporated and had a full corps of officials, their last ordinance passed was to prohibit the leaving of any cellar or opening on the old townsite in such a condition that animals or travelers by night might fall into it. The post office name was officially changed to St. Francis on April 18, 1888, and the last building moved from Wano on May 2, 1888. That year, some $50,000 was spent on improvements in the way of buildings. By an election held on February 26, 1889, St. Francis was made the county seat.

St. Francis was incorporated as a city of the third class in April 1903

Early day Bird City, Kansas

Early day Bird City, Kansas

By 1910, the population of Cheyenne County was 4,248, at which time the population of the county was heavily invested in farm products including livestock and crops such as wheat, corn, barley, hay, and broom corn. At that time, Bird City was called home to about 190 people and St. Francis had a population of 492.

In the next decades, the county remained invested in agriculture and its population peaked in 1940 with 6,221 people. In the next years, as technology advanced and fewer people needed to operate farms, the population gradually declined.

Today, the county is called home to an estimated 2,660, with about 1,294 living in St. Francis, 434 living in Bird City, and the rest located in the small unincorporated community of Wheeler, and in rural country homes, farms, and ranches. 

Cheyenne County is called home to a number of attractions including:

Arikaree Breaks & Cheyenne Memorial courtesy Kansas Travel

Arikaree Breaks & Cheyenne Memorial courtesy Kansas Travel

Arikaree Breaks – Located on the extreme northern edge of Cheyenne County, this “badlands” region of extremely rough terrain, with its deep ravines and gullies, is a marked contrast to the plains generally associated with the area. The breaks were formed by wind-deposited sand, silt, and clay particles called loess that was blown into the area around 10,000 years ago. The breaks are 36 miles long and approximately two to three miles wide and extend into Rawlins county on the east and several miles into Colorado to the west. There are few trees in the rough terrain. However, the pasture land has many yucca or soap weed as they are called by the natives. There are also two species of sage that grow in the breaks that grow no other place in Kansas and 16 native plants that are listed as “rare” in Kansas. The hills are covered with native grasses, excellent for cattle and wildlife. There are several public roads through the breaks, giving visitors some outstanding viewing sites of this rugged wonder. Visitors are asked to please respect the landowners by remaining on the public roads. The breaks are located along Parks Road, CR-BB, CR-15 & CR-117 north of St. Francis, Kansas

Cherry Creek Encampment – This is a memorial to the Cheyenne Indians who survived the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. It is located one mile west of St. Francis on Hwy 27, and one mile north.

Cheyenne County History Museum
US Highway 36, PO Box 611
St. Francis, KS 67756

St. Francis Motorcycle Museum
110 East Washington
St. Francis, KS 67756

Keller’s Pond & River Walk – Located on the northwest edge of St. Francis, Keller’s Pond is a great place to have a picnic lunch, go for a walk, or catch some fish. The recreation site also includes a walking trail completely around both east and west ponds.

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated July 2020.

Cheyenne County Courthouse in St. Francis, Kansas courtesy Wikipedia.

Cheyenne County Courthouse in St. Francis, Kansas courtesy Wikipedia.

Also See:

Historic Sites

Kansas Destinations

Lakes & Waterways

Kansas Photo Galleries

Scenic Byways


Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
City of St. Francis

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