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SAUNDERS COUNTY is named for Alvin Saunders, governor of Nebraska Territory during the tumultuous years of 1861-1867. Born to a Kentucky family that later moved to Illinois, Saunders continued west to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1836 at age nineteen. He went into business, studied the law, and became involved in politics. In 1860 he chaired the Iowa delegation to the Republican national convention and successfully worked for Abraham Lincoln’s nomination for president.
On March 26, 1861, President Lincoln appointed Saunders as territorial governor, a position he held until Nebraska’s statehood. Saunders was elected to the United States Senate a decade later and served one term.
He actively promoted the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, whose success he proudly witnessed before his death in 1899.
Originally named for John Calhoun, the surveyor general of Kansas and Nebraska, the territorial legislature changed the county’s name to Saunders on January 8, 1862. The first general election of county officers was not held until October 8, 1866.
Governor Alvin Saunders faced issues relating to the Civil War, Indian conflicts on the plains, the organization of the first transcontinental railroad, and the establishment of a new capital.