Hayes County was created by an act of the Legislature on Feb. 19, 1877 and named for President Rutherford B. Hayes. It was not until the latter part of 1884, however, that the county officially organized. The following year, Hayes Center was founded with the intent of it being the county seat.
The early history of Hayes County, like so many others in Southwest Nebraska, centers around the cattle herds that were driven from Texas to Ogallala. Pre-dating that were the days when the Pawnee and Sioux tribes roamed the grasslands in this area and hunted buffalo. It was the buffalo that resulted in one of the most significant events in the history of what today is Hayes County.
In October 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant revealed that Grand Duke Alexis of Russia would be making a tour of the United States. One of the Duke's desires was to shoot a buffalo during his visit. Arrangements were quickly made for the Duke and his party of hunt on the central plains in the Nebraska Territory. Leading the hunt would be Gen. George Custer and Gen. Phil Sheridan. Buffalo Bill Cody, at age 25, would serve as the guide.
Cody asked Sioux Chief Spotted Tail to help round up a buffalo herd. In exchange for his assistance, Spotted Tail would receive 1,000 pounds of tobacco.
An elaborate camp was set up one mile west of Red Willow Creek, just inside what today is the eastern boundary of the county. It included two hospital tents for royal meals, ten wall tents for guests and generals, and a dormitory tent for orderlies and Russian servants.
The hunt took place in January 1872. The scouts and the Sioux found a herd of buffalo near Medicine Creek. After Duke Alexis emptied two pistols, Cody gave him a .50 caliber Springfield rifle. On his first shot, the Duke dropped a buffalo bull. Russian servants immediately brought out a basket of champagne to celebrate. Before the hunt ended, the Duke shot a total of eight buffalo.