Dawson County’s True Namesake

For a while, people assumed Dawson county was named after the first postmaster of Lincoln. As it turns out, the true namesake never even stepped foot in Nebraska.

Image: Postcard depicting the Dawson County Courthouse, circa 1950.

Dawson County, formed in 1871, was long thought to be named for a Nebraska pioneer, Jacob Dawson, first postmaster of Lancaster (now Lincoln). However, further research has indicated that the honor belongs to Pennsylvania congressman John L. Dawson. The Council Bluffs (Iowa) Bugle of January 18, 1860, praised Dawson as “a gentleman of fine intellect and tried patriotism.”

Born February 7, 1813, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, Dawson moved with his parents to Brownsville in early youth. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1835 and began practice in Brownsville. He was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-second and Thirty-third congresses (1851-55). Dawson was the author of a homestead bill in 1854, although it did not then pass. In 1855 he declined appointment by President Franklin Pierce as territorial governor of Kansas. Dawson was also elected to the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth Congresses (1863-67). He died September 18, 1870.

The Bugle of January 18, 1860, said:

We are pleased to note the passage by the Territorial Legislature of Nebraska and approval of an act locating the county of Dawson. This county is situated a few miles west of Fort Kearney on the Platte River, and is one of the finest in this flourishing Territory.

It receives the name from the hon. John L. Dawson, of Fayette county, Pa., a gentleman of fine intellect and tried patriotism. It is proper in a republic, in a Democracy where the voice of the people is law, where the erection of splendid edifices and monuments are consistent with republican simplicity, that the names of those who have contributed to the glory and well-being of the people, should be identified in some manner with the history of the country, and by familiar usage made remembrances to us and our children, merits and virtues worthy to be emulated. Thus as the temples and statues of Athens immortalized the names of Pericles and Phidias, so the counties and towns of our Confederacy are made to perpetuate the name of our distinguished men.

Among those who are deserving of this commemoration, by the people of the West, none stands more prominent than Mr. Dawson. His persistent and able efforts for the last few years, both in and out of Congress, to secure the National Homestead Law, and his warm advocacy of all measures tending to promote the prosperity of our Territories and new States, should be brought before our people until the number of his friends is legion, and his name familiar as a household word. May Dawson County rapidly improve in wealth and importance, and her citizens never forget, in the performance of their political duties the straight forward and patriotic course of him whose name is continually before them.

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