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Cain City | Ellsworth | Holyrood | Lorraine | Wilson | Essick Piece on Ellsworth County

Homesteading in Ellsworth County


The new town site was laid out on the western edge of Fort Harker in 1867. It was on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River. The plat was filed on May 8, 1867, in Saline County, to which Ellsworth County was attached for judicial purposes. The railroad was going to build to Ellsworth, so many people moved to the area in the spring of 1867. Several businesses were built, as were some houses, and the population has been estimated to be around 1,000.

The Smoky Hill overflowed its banks on June 13 & 14, causing a flood with four feet of standing water on the town's main street. The houses and businesses were destroyed, but that did not deter the townspeople. They moved the town site two miles to the northwest. Lots were laid out early in July just as the rails were being laid. The railroad sent its first cars thorough the town site on July 5, and the post office was established on July 17.

Ellsworth also dealt with a cholera epidemic that same year. One of its first victims was the wife of Dr. George Sternberg.

Along the rail lines as they were being built, tent cities popped up, shut down and moved on down the line. Many of the occupants were not of the respectable kind; some were gamblers, others were there to cause trouble. One such city was set up in Ellsworth, and eventually in Hays City, Coyote, Sheridan and Kit Carson.

Ellsworth became incorporated in 1868 and citizens in the surrounding area were dealing with Indian attacks which eventually ended in 1869, and the citizens of Ellsworth were also dealing with frontier violence. The availability of the railroad was the impetus in Ellsworth becoming a cow town in 1871. The cattle trade moved to Ellsworth at this time, and with it came saloons and brothels and gambling joints along with the characters who populated these "businesses". By 1874, there was a new market for the cattle - Wichita - which saved a week's time in getting the cattle to the railroad. Both the Kansas Pacific Railroad and the citizens of Ellsworth did not want to lose the cattle trade, but by 1875, Ellsworth was no longer an important cattle market. The citizens then turned to agriculture and began advertising the county as a prime area for setting up homesteads. Soon settlers were moving to Ellsworth County and founded other towns in the county.


"A History of Ellsworth County, Kansas". Compiled by Francis L. Wilson. Ellsworth, KS: Ellsworth County Historical Society, 1982.

Choitz, John F. "A History of Ellsworth County: 1854-1885." Masters Thesis, Fort Hays Kansas State College. 1967


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