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The name Coos originated from the name of the Native American tribe that had settled the area. "Coos" loosely translates to "lake" or "place of pines". Lewis and Clark noted Cook-koo-oose. Early maps and documents spelled it Kowes, Cowes, Coose, Koos, among others.

Although exploration and trapping in the area occurred as early as 1828, the first European-American settlement was established at Empire City in 1853 by members of the Coos Bay Company; this is now part of Coos Bay, Oregon.

Coos County was created by the Territorial Legislature from parts of Umpqua, and Jackson counties on December 22, 1853. Curry County, Oregon, was created from the southern part in 1855. The county seat was originally at Empire City. In 1895 the legislature permitted the citizens of the county to choose a new county seat. The 1896 vote resulted in moving the seat to Coquille.

The Territorial Legislature granted permission for the development of wagon roads from Coos Bay to Jacksonville, Oregon, in 1854, and to Roseburg, Oregon, in 1857.