Tucked away in the southwest corner of Nebraska is the Village of Wauneta, located in southeast Chase County just west of the Hayes County line and one mile into the Mountain Time Zone.
Wauneta is situated along Highway 6 and the Frenchman River, just a quick 30 minute drive from the Colorado and Kansas state lines. This thriving farming community with a bustling business district offers wide open spaces for miles, located “Halfway Between Here and There” some 265 miles east of Denver and 363 miles west of Omaha. Interstate 80 can be accessed north of Wauneta some 65 miles away in Ogallala and I-70 accessed 90 miles to the south in Goodland, Kansas.
Rich in frontier history, the town of Wauneta was established along the Frenchman River near a small waterfall. The dugout home where the “Frenchman” for whom the river was named, was located east of Wauneta as was a known Native American village.
Originally formed by the proclamation of Governor Dawes on April 12, 1886, Wauneta came alive to become one of the three voting districts in newly established Chase County. Prior to becoming officially chartered, Wauneta had been inhabited by a colorful cast of hardy souls. Trappers and Native Americans had long taken advantage of the abundant wildlife and fresh water the Frenchman River provided prior to the arrival of settlers from the eastern U.S.
As history tells us, Wauneta was first settled as a cattle camp by the George and Sarah Rowley family in 1877. While exploring the area on a Fourth of July outing in 1876, Sarah and her riding party came across the Frenchman Falls where Sarah declared this should be the spot where her family would make their home. A large soddy was built next to the river, with great herds of cattle passing nearby as drovers pushed the herds north from Texas to Ogallala. It is said that during those untamed years of the 1870s before town had yet formed in Chase County, young cowboys would travel by horseback to the Rowley soddy, one of the few spots to offer the comforts of the homes they had left behind.Shortly after it was built, the Rowley soddy was equipped with a piano and it is said that area cowboys would travel by horseback over 30 miles just to hear Sarah play and sing. One of their favorite songs was the Spanish love song “Juanita.” The Rowley soddy also served as post office, with George Rowley serving as postmaster to tend to mail delivered by horseback from Culbertson. When it came time to name the settlement/post office the popular choice was Juanita, but there was already a town in Nebraska named Juniata in Adams County so to save confusion it was suggested to use the spelling of Wauneta instead. Over the next few years the town and the county grew exponentially as homesteaders moved into western Nebraska to lay claim to the land..