County Seal

County Info


  • Total 8,163 sq mi (21,140 km2)
  • Land 8,132 sq mi (21,060 km2)
  • Water 31 sq mi (80 km2)

Highest elevation[1]    8,755 ft (2,669 m)

Lowest elevation[1]    206 ft (63 m)

Population (April 1, 2010)[2]

  • Total 839,631
  • Estimate (2016)[3] 884,788
  • Density 100/sq mi (40/km2)


Spanish era

The area was claimed by the Spanish in 1769. In 1772 Commander Don Pedro Fages became the first European to enter it, from the south by way of the Grapevine Canyon.

Kern County was the site of the Battle of San Emigdio, in March 1824, between the Chumash Indians of Mission Santa Barbara who rebelled against the Mexican government’s taking over mission property and ejecting the natives. This battle with Mexican forces from Monterey under the command of Carlos Carrillo took place at the canyon where San Emigdio Creek flows down San Emigdio Mountain and the Blue Ridge south of Bakersfield near today’s Highway 166. It was a low-casualty encounter, with only four Indians killed, and no Mexicans; the surviving Indians were pacified and brought back to Santa Barbara in June 1824 after a pursuit and negotiation in which many were allowed to keep their arms for the return march over the mountains.[7]

American era

The Havilah Court building was restored in the 1970s and now serves as a museum. Photo circa 2007.

In the beginning, the area that became Kern County was dominated by mining in the mountains and in the desert. In 1855 an attempt to form a county in the area was made when the California legislature took the southeastern territory of Tulare County on the west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for Buena Vista County, but it was never officially organized prior to 1859, when the enabling legislation expired. The south of Tulare County was later organized as Kern County in 1866, with additions from Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. Its first county seat was in the mining town of Havilah, in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.[8]

The flatlands were considered inhospitable and impassable at the time due to swamps, lakes, tule reeds and diseases such as malaria. This changed when settlers started draining lands for farming and constructing canals, most dug by hand by hired Chinese laborers. Within 10 years the valley surpassed the mining areas as the economic center of the county, and the county seat was moved as a result from Havilah to Bakersfield in 1874.[citation needed]

The discovery well of the Kern River Oil Field was dug by hand in 1899.[9] Soon the towns of Oil City, Oil Center and Oildale came into existence.[9]