The county is named for Col. William Crawford a Revolutionary War soldier killed in 1782 while fighting Native Americans in Ohio. It was created by the Michigan Legislature in 1840 as Shawono County, then renamed Crawford County in 1843. The county was administered by a succession of other Michigan counties prior to the organization of county government in 1879.
Crawford County consists of six townships along with the City of Grayling. Although it has over 360,000 acres within the county, over 75% of the area is publicly owned by the State of Michigan, United States Forest Service or the Department of Military Affairs.