In 1867, while in command of the troops protecting the crew surveying the route of the first trans-continental railroad, General John A. Rawlins (chief of staff of the U.S. Army) expressed a wish for a drink of good, cold water. A detachment of scouts explored the countryside as they rode west and approached the hills that stand guard over the present city, and they discovered a spring.
General Rawlins declared it was the most refreshing drink he had ever tasted and exclaimed, "If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water." General Grenville Dodge, commander of the survey party, immediately named it Rawlins Springs and the community that grew around it bore the same name. Later shortened to Rawlins, the town was incorporated in 1886 and was designated the seat of Carbon County.
Created in 1868 by Dakota legislature, the county's name was derived from extensive coal deposits found in the area. Originally covering the entire width of the Wyoming Territory, Carbon County was reduced in size by the creation of Johnson County in 1875 and Natrona County in 1888. Historically, it has been traversed by the Overland Trail, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and both the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Lincoln Highway. Interstate 80 is now the trail of choice for most travelers through the county, although several scenic backroads and byways offer pleasant alternatives.