Reader Steve Spivey contacted Twelve Mile Circle and floated an idea about U.S. counties named for presidents. He’d traveled through Taylor County in Georgia and recalled a Taylor County in Florida. Could they be related? Well yes, they were named for the 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor. That led him to wonder which president might be the most recent leader to have a county named in his honor. In one of 12MC’s odder coincidences — and we’ve had several over the years — I had been considering almost exactly the same thought at the same time. We’d both discovered Wikipedia’s wonderful List of U.S. counties named after U.S. Presidents and noticed Harding County, New Mexico named for 29th U.S. President Warren G. Harding in 1921. Were there others named after 1921 for earlier presidents though?
I’m almost ashamed to admit that our conversation took place all the way back in October 2014. Only now did I finally get around to the tedious task of cataloging every county named for a president, recording each one on a spreadsheet and figuring out the answer. It wasn’t the absolutely most difficult effort ever undertaken by 12MC although it came close. I’m sure I’ve gone through more trouble finding a single simple answer before even if not recently. After all that effort I learned… the last county named for a U.S. president, any president, was Harding County, New Mexico in 1921. So now we know.
Harding County, New Mexico
Mosquero's Main Street Businesses by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
Harding County might be the perfect jurisdiction bearing that description. The county was established and named for Harding on the date of his presidential inauguration, March 4, 1921. He was dead two years later, felled suddenly by a cerebral hemorrhage while on an official trip to San Francisco (see my Presidential Death Locations). Harding’s brief administration was marked by scandals, cronyism and general ineffectiveness. Historians have ranked him consistently as one of the worst U.S. presidents of all time.
I don’t mean to imply that Harding County is a terrible place like its terrible namesake. Rather, I figured if one were to name a county for Harding it might be best to choose an overlooked, out-of-the way place where it would minimize embarrassment. Only 695 people lived in Harding County during the 2010 Census, the smallest county population in New Mexico. That made it one of the counties with more land than people (2,126 square miles). It’s county seat at Mosquero (map) tallied only 120 residents. Many more people used to live in Harding County, upwards of 5,000 on its abundant cattle ranches, however most residents left in the 1930’s when the Dust Bowl environmental disaster struck. The county never recovered.
Then I took looked at the next presidential counties on the list. They were both established in Montana in 1919.
Garfield County, Montana
T Rex by Stu Rapley, on Flickr (cc)
James Garfield left his name on several counties throughout the United States. He was president for less than a year, serving from March through September 1881. He was shot by an assassin and suffered horribly for several weeks before succumbing to a fatal infection. I guess people felt sorry for him because he had a lot more counties named for him than many of his contemporaries. The last one was Garfield County, Montana named almost 40 years after his death.
The first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil was found in the Hell Creek Formation (map) near the town of Jordan in 1902. The specimen is now part of a composite on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. That fossil-rich area later became part of Garfield County upon its establishment. Hell Creek quickly became known for its abundant Cretaceous period dinosaur fossils. Paleontologists still hunt there today and continue to uncover remarkable specimens. Otherwise Garfield probably wouldn’t attract much notice because it’s another example of a county with more land (4,847 sq mi) than people (population 1,206).
Roosevelt County, Montana
Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede by billrdio, on Flickr (cc)
Theodore Roosevelt spent a lot of time on the frontier and had something of a Wild West reputation. He deserved to have some counties out that way named in his honor. New Mexico and Montana obliged. The Roosevelt County in Montana pertained to this analysis, having been established in 1919, the same year that Roosevelt died. I’m sure Teddy would have been gratified to know that the biggest event in Roosevelt County was the Wolf Point’s Wild Horse Stampede, begun even before it became a separate county:
Wolf Point’s famous "Wild Horse" Stampede, referred to also as the "granddaddy" of Montana rodeo has been held the second weekend in July since 1915, making it Montana’s oldest rodeo. Professional rodeo cowboys say it’s the best, and consistently, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association ranks it number one in cowboy winnings, rodeo stock, hospitality and organization. It’s the Montana rodeo other seeks to emulate.
The event is held in Wolf Point (map), the county seat.
The Rest of the Twentieth Century
Fifteen more counties established in the Twentieth Century were also named for U.S. presidents.
- Grant County, North Dakota 1916
- Jackson County, South Dakota 1915
- Jefferson County, Oregon 1914
- Jefferson County, Idaho 1913
- Madison County, Idaho 1913
- Arthur County, Nebraska 1913
- Adams County, Idaho 1911
- Lincoln County, Wyoming 1911
- Jackson County, Colorado 1909
- Lincoln County, Montana 1909
- Grant County, Washington 1909
- Jefferson County, Oklahoma 1907
- Washington County, Oklahoma 1907
- Roosevelt County, New Mexico 1903
- McKinley County, New Mexico 1901
They are an unusual breed considering that there were 203 presidential counties.