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Homesteading in Ellsworth County

The following essay was handwritten by Mrs. Inez Essick in or around 1911. The original handwritten papers are located in the Ellsworth County vertical file in the Special Collections room of Forsyth Library. Patty Nicholas, head of Special Collections, translated the essay into typed text in January 2006. Mrs. Essick's handwriting was illegible at times, so some places in this text have blanks. There were some names that the translator was unable to decipher, so the spelling of some of the names may not be right. The grammar may not be as punctual, either, as the translator typed the notes, as is, in most cases. There were some commas added in places where Mrs. Essick did not have them. If you have any questions or corrections, please contact the Special Collections room.

A Short History of Ellsworth County
Inez L. Wymare Essick

Dedicated to the Old Settlers of Ellsworth County, and to the Sixth District of the Kansas Federation of Women’s Clubs,
whose kindly interest in the history of the Sixth District has prompted the writing of this sketch.

Chapter 1

The earliest historical reference to the area of Ellsworth County seems to be that mentioned in Volume X of the Kansas State Historical Society Collections which says that Coronado marched through the area of Ellsworth about the year of 1541. He reached the Smoky Hill river, and, to quote directly, “On the way much satisfaction was expressed in viewing the fine soil and excellent nature products abounding along the water courses, though they arrived in the dry season.”

The excellent map in Volume IX of the Kansas Historical Society Collections shows that Zebulon M. Pike crossed the northwest corner of what was later Ellsworth County in his expedition of 1806.

In 1845, Colonel John C. Fremont on his third expedition made at the expense of the government, crossed near the site of Kanopolis. Fremont’s Rock marks the place where the local tradition says that the company camped for a time and Colonel Fremont stood on this rock to make a speech encouraging his weary followers.

The first attempt at settling the county was made by the War Department in 1854, when a military road was laid out from Fort Riley to Fort Zarah on the Arkansas River, where it joined the Santa Fe Trail. This road, which is sometimes called the Santa Fe Stage road, crossed the Chetolah or Smoky Hill River, by a wooden bridge near the place now called Hodgedoir Grove, a mile and a half southwest of Kanopolis.

The area included in Ellsworth County was formerly a favorite hunting ground of the Indians. In an address “The Saline River Country in 1859” delivered before the State Historical Society by Mr. James R. Mead, tells that the Pawnees in habited the country and still claimed it in 1859. During this year and later, they had a regular route of travel on their hunting trips and expeditions for stealing horses from other tribes, which took them across the northeast corner of Ellsworth County. Other tribes were the Cheyennes, the Otoe and during the winters of ’59, ’60 and ’61 the Kaw Indians.

In 1860 another road through the area of the county, called the Smoky Hill Trail, was established from Leavenworth along the Smoky Hill to Denver. This road crossed Oak Creek near where Mr. D. B. Louge residence, Oak Hill, stood later, and near the crossing was a favorite camping place of the freighters.

The first settlers were Messrs P.V. and Irwin Faris who settled on the land later included in Clear Creek township, and Messrs. D. H. Page and Joseph Lehuman, who had a hunting ranch on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River where the Fort Riley to Larned road crossed that stream. These men were bachelors engage exclusively in hunting and doing a little trading. They occupied their ranch from 1860 to 1863 when they abandoned it on account of Indian troubles.

Fort Ellsworth was built on their deserted ranch on the Smoky Hill. The original site of the fort was on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River at the crossing of the old Santa Fe Stage road, and was for a long time the shipping point of freight for New Mexico. It was named by General Curtis in honor of the officer who constructed it, Allen Ellsworth, in connection with whose it is interesting to note a letter received by Secretary Adams of the Kansas State Historical Society, which is as follows:
Elder, Iowa, February 20, 1878,
F. G. Adams, Sir – Some time ago I received a letter from you asking for information concerning the history of Fort Ellsworth. You are correct as to the Adjutant’s report. I was mustered in as Second Lieutenant, Company H, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, July 13, 1863 at Davenport, Iowa. I was in the service in Kansas and I am the man who established Fort Ellsworth, in June of 1864. I was stationed there with about forty men, and built that block house. General Curtis gave it its name in July of the same year when he came up to the Fort. He was there in command of that division. We were ordered out on an Indian expedition. I led about twenty men and a company of the Fifteenth Kansas was with us. At Fort Larned, while on dress parade, General Curtis read the name of Fort Ellsworth.
Allen Ellsworth

In the summer of 1866, a large military post was constructed about a mile northeast of the old one. The new fort was named by General Hancock, who at that time commanded the Military Division of the Mississippi, in honor of Captain Charles G. Harker of the Ninth U. S. Infantry, Major-General of Volunteers, killed in battle during the war of the rebellion. Early in 1867, Fort Harker was occupied by government troops and Fort Ellsworth was demolished. Fort Harker became the most important military fort between the Missouri and the mountains, being the distributing depot for all the army supplies required in the western country and was the starting point of all expeditions against the Indians in 1868-9. Its importance ended with the completion of the Kansas Pacific railroad to Denver, and it was abandoned in the autumn of 1873. Until 1885, the deserted buildings were in charge of Sergeant Kelly and four or five soldiers.

In 1875 the location of Fort Harker on the rolling prairie in the geographical center of Ellsworth County, of Kansas and of America attracted the attention of some Ohio millionaires who decided to found an important city. They formed the Kanopolis Land Company and obtained control of the government military reservation of Fort Harker, a tract of about four square miles.

It is said that the wealth of the promoters of the Kanopolis Land Company exceeded thirty million dollars. They came from Ohio and the president of the company was Ross Mitchell of Springfield. J. S. Crowell of the publishing firm of Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick, also of Springfield was secretary. J. Warren Kiefer, ex-speaker of the national House of Representatives, was the company attorney. Other members of the Kanopolis Land Company were F. M. Bookwalter of James Leffel and Company of Springfield; the treasurer, J. H. Thomas of J. H. Thomas and Sons of Springfield; F. Holford, a capitalist of Springfield; M. D. Harter, treasurer of the Aultman and Taylor Company of Mansfield; J. D. Harter, president of the Aultman and Taylor Company and of the First National Bank of Canton; S. C. Thompson, a New York capitalist; and W. R. Thompson, a capitalist of Cincinnati.

The company was capitalized for one half million dollars. It is said that about $100,000.00 was paid in bonuses to advance Kanopolis enterprises and to bring manufacturing plants. They spent $15,000.00 on a three-story brick hotel, described as “the finest hostelry between Kansas City and Denver” which was still used in 1911. The company contributed $30,000.00 in railroad bonuses.

Individual members of the Kanopolis Land Company spent $25,000.00 in building residences in the new town. A business house erected at that time by J. S. Crowell of Springfield is still standing in 1911; owned by G. A. Hunt.

In the tract of four square miles was platted a town of thousands of late. Four blocks were reserved for “state house grounds”. Another block was reserved for “county buildings”.

In this connection, it is interesting to find the prospective city the subject of a poem recently printed in the Kanopolis Journal, written by Dr. T. K. Griffith of Kanopolis.

“Beautiful city, dotting a plains,
Near by a river, ________ so grand,
Thy heart pulsates with that artery great,
The Kansas Pacific traversing the state.

“Beautiful city, decking the plains
With thy bright flowers and golden grains
Thy grove of trees each excursionist sees
And grants to fair Wilson well ______ praise

“These are my queries, what brought thee here,
Courting a fortune, brave pioneers?
On the wide plains, almost bereft of rain,
What gave the courage to come and remain?

“What the attractions, what ever the ______
Which greeted thy crossing here on the plains?
Planting a home, building a town,
Ever heroic success is thy crown.

“A land that was grand fair as Hope’s dreams,
Fertile and beautiful, Fremont had seen,
He told of good health and rich _____ of wealth,
Then each settler came to see for himself.

“Some wild buffalo, panting for rain,
Saw once approaching a roaring train
Whistled it a best, was it a demon they guessed,
As they left in affright to roam farther west?

“Heard the wise red men, the Great Spirit cry,
Was He telling to them their tribe must die?
Ugh! T’was pale faced men, coming again
Heap, heap, scream wagons; big Smokey Hill train!

“Antelopes gazed o’er bluff and slope,
Sorely amazed by noise and smoke,
Terrified them, by the engine and men,
Troubled, wandered, there watched them again.

“Then men filled with hope staked off the ground,
And with faith in the future built up the town.
High be thy ____! Mayest thou ever remain
A loved house (?) of the free, a guess (?) of the plains.

“This beautiful city, ________ the plains
With these bright flowers and golden grain,
Patiently waits for the ships of the state
For two capitals here; we are _______ our gate.

Indeed the promoters of the Kanopolis Land Company seemed to expect the state and national capitals. They advertised extensively. Printing presses in Kanopolis and elsewhere were kept busy turning out this advertising matter in the winter and spring of 1886. Among other things were large yellow maps of Kansas with great flamboyant circles. In the center of the smallest circle, in glaring type is the name, Kanopolis. Conspicuous poster announces “Kanopolis, the future great city of Kansas”, “The Center of Ellsworth County, the Center of Kansas and the Center of the United States”. Illustrations show steamboats unloading at the wharves along the Smoky Hill water front. Circulars described the climate of Kanopolis as “the most delightful in the world”. Special messages are addressed to “Capitalists”, “Merchants” and “Manufacturers”. “Town lots are already changing hands at an advance of fifty to one hundred and fifty percent over their cost sixty and ____ days ago”. “Several railroads are building towards Kanopolis”.

Prospective investors were warned that all warranty deeds “reserve to said company the free and exclusive right to use the streets, avenues and alleys for street railroads, water works, water pipes, gas works, gas pipes, street lamps, electric works, electric and other lights, electric poles and wires, and telegraph and telephone poles, lines and wires”.

The flattering prospects of Kanopolis were numerous in the Eastern papers. The Ohio State Journal predicts that Kanopolis “in the year 1900 will contain 50,000 souls.” Another Ohio newspaper saw every reason why Kanopolis should become a great city and excel in size and importance such cities as Rochester, N.Y., Columbus or Toledo, Ohio, and others. “In short, Kanopolis is in the right location to become the next great city of the West, and it may even rival Kansas City before another decade rolls around.” The Louisville Courier-Journal thinks “There is every evidence that Kanopolis will be an important manufacturing city and railroad center at an early date.” Postal clerks were quoted as to how the mails to Kanopolis had increased; staid business men of Cincinnati submitted to interviews, telling how they were going to roll out and seek the new city; professional men who had never seen Kanopolis or Kansas explained in detail the splendid openings for _______ of their class.

Their advertising matter was scattered broad cast and soon the prospective town was the topic of conversation in the Middle West and even in foreign countries. In short, Kanopolis was one of the best advertised towns in the world.

On May 12, 1886, the first auction of town lots was held. There were hundreds of people on the ground, from many states, and those who could not come sent their orders by mail. The prices for lots ranged from three hundred to a thousand dollars. The records in one of the old ledgers of the Kanopolis Land Company shows that people who were unable to get the ready cash to by lots in Kanopolis, traded their farms and other property for lots in the prospective town. The ledger is spotted with notations “exchanged for other property”.

Several small factories were obtained by the aid of the ______ of the land company. Some of these operated for two or three years. There were a pottery works and brick plant owned and operated by Judge S. A. Day; a woolen mill belonging to H. S. Ehreufeldt; a flour mill run by the Whaley brothers, an iron foundry operated by Mr. Dolby; a brewery; a soap works and a carriage factory. Three religious sects, the Lutherans, the Presbyterian and the Methodist owned church buildings.

In 1887, the Kanopolis Land Company built a railroad from Kanopolis south to Genesco, and called it the Kanopolis and Kansas Central. In the same year, it was sold to the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.

The manufacturing plants failed to make good and the number of inhabitants was not large. But in the latter eighties and early nineties, the members of the Kanopolis Land Company determined to make their town the county seat of Ellsworth County. They offered a free site and proposed to erect county buildings at a cost not to exceed $50,000.00. Counter proposals were made by Ellsworth, which had been the county seat since the organization of the county in 1867, offering $25,000.00 for rebuilding the court house. But, Ellsworth town people worked hard to keep the county seat and by vote of the county, the court house was built at Ellsworth.

In 1888, a large two-story brick school house was built which afforded ample room for the graded school – a primary room, an intermediate room and four other rooms. There were three teachers until in 1910 when added population had added grades and a three year high school course. Among those who have been principals of the Kanopolis School are A. M. Woodmansee, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Luce, Miss Minnie Helm, Mr. James Bikerdike, Miss Elsie Hoshous and Mr. C. D. Davis.

On September 28th, 1889, the people of Kanopolis voted bonds to sell a salt shaft as the prospectors of the Kanopolis Land Company has discovered a vein of salt “two hundred and fifty feet thick”. The Royal Salt Company, composed of eastern capitalists, put in a shaft to mine salt in 1890. This event caused a great rejoicing among the two hundred and seventy-two inhabitants of Kanopolis as it was supposed that barrel and sack factories and a soda ash plant would follow. The stone hospital of Fort Harker ____ was torn down and the material used in building the Royal Salt Shaft. It was during the same year that the first number of the Kanopolis Kansas was published by Dr. T. K. Griffith who edited it for several years.

During 1891 and ’92, the Royal Salt Works attracted Italian immigrants who made up in numbers for the loss of native inhabitants. Many business buildings stood empty.

In the winter of 1893, the “bogus” Populist house of representatives at Topeka passed a bill locating the state capital at Kanopolis. A newspaper clipping tells about it.
Topeka, Kansas. February 23, 1893. – The Dunsmore house yesterday afternoon removed the state capital to Kanopolis in exactly two minutes. The resolution was offered by Mr. Hair, the contestant member from Kiowa, at 4:29 p.m. and at 4:31 it had received the sanctions of the House, although some members who were opposed to it afterwards protested saying the resolution was railroaded through with ardent haste. The resolution recites that the capital is now located near the eastern border; that western counties have been disenfranchised by Republican rule for the purpose of holding the capital at Topeka; that the conduct of the citizens of Topeka during the late legislative war was in defiance of the wishes of the people of the state, and that Kanopolis has offered to duplicate the present statehouse without expense to the state, and declares that as soon as possible steps will be taken to remove the capital to that city.
It is said that the real reason for the passage of the Kanopolis resolution by the house probably was the action of Sheriff Wilkerson of Shawnee County, who sided with the Republicans in the legislative war. This so angered the Populists that they sought the first opportunity to show their resentment.

When the “bogus” legislature died, of course, the Kanopolis capital removal bill died with it, and never had a legal status.

In 1893, the Kanopolis Land Company went into the hands of a receiver.

During the next ten years, from 1893 to 1903, there was little change in Kanopolis except for removal of old land marks. Most of the horse barns and soldiers barracks of the Fort had been sold and moved to adjoining farms; the ____ building, made in the days of the boom, became so frail that it had to be taken down to insure safety of the adjoining tower; all traces of the factories were removed and many business buildings stood empty. Indeed the patronage of the neighboring farmers and of the people connected with the salt plant was the only remaining raison d’etre of the town.

According to the government census of 1900 the number inhabitants was two hundred and forty; but after 1903, the population increased steadily.

Kanopolis had been without a newspaper for several years when, in 1907, Mr. Kirby Griffith started the Kanopolis Journal of which he was owner and editor. In 1908 the general prosperity of Kansas became evident in Kanopolis by the erection of a fine cement store building by Mr. W. F. Kline; the opening of the Kanopolis State Bank in a new cement block building with Mr. Russell Beyton as cashier; the erection of many cottages in the salt town district; and the organization of the Chrystal Salt Company which under the direction of Mr. James Cowie, Sr., erected another salt shaft which was constructed by Mr. August Feistal.

In 1909 and ’10, a real boom was evidenced in the erection of nearly one hundred new buildings in eighteen months within the limits of Kanopolis town. Gas lamps were added to the streets. The guard house of Fort Harker days was repaired and used as a town hall. Current side walks replaced board walks on the principal streets. Three stone houses used as officers’ quarters were repaired and made into modern residences, the one occupied by Mr. James Courie, Jr., being especially handsome. The patronage of the farmers and the people attracted by the salt mines had increased the population to over six hundred in the census of 1910.

The salt mines of Kanopolis are remarkable. The vein is said to be four hundred feet thick and perhaps several miles in length and width. The shafts that lead down to this great salt deposit are eight hundred feet deep and land the runners in the center of the salt vein. The runners dig ___ a level with that joint at intervals, leaving a pillar to support the roof. The rooms thus ____ are about eleven feet high. Along the floor of the ____, tracks are built over which cars, hauled by _____, bring the great cakes of salt to the elevator which hoist them to the surface, where are crushing machines for preparing the salt for the different grades, after which it is put in barrels and cases for shipment.

The salt is free from any foreign substance, clear as crystal and hard as granite. Dynamite is used to blast off the big chunks. Often a second blast must be put in a chunk to reduce it to a convenient size for handling.

In 1911, a committee succeeded in getting a passenger train on the Missouri Pacific between Kanopolis and Geneseo, and in getting the midnight train for the Union Pacific to stop at Kanopolis, making six passenger trains daily stopping at Kanopolis.

According to the Kanopolis Journal, Kanopolis was an important shipping point. During one week in 1911 one hundred and thirty car loads of salt and several car loads of stock and grain were shipped. According to the same paper, many industries were carried on in Kanopolis. Two hotels, the brick hotel of boom times, now called the Pacific, and the St. Elmo, are constantly filled with boarders. There are two lumberyards, four elevators, four restaurants, four general stores, two hardware stores, a tin shop, a cement block plant, three companies that are shipping an excellent quality of sand, an ice plant, two blacksmith shops, a cream station, carpenter shops, barber shops, a bakery, a meat market, a livery barn, an auto livery, and a broom factory; also a weekly newspaper, two real estate agents, religious services held by the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations and the Christian Scientist Society, a permanently residing doctor and a lawyer. Kanopolis has a Stoddard reading club, church societies, and an organization of Sons of Veterans; while newspaper items frequently tell of Chautauqua lectures and concerts, band concerts and masquerade balls.

At the city elections in 1911, the following officers were elected: Mayor, C. A. Andrews; councilmen, A. M. Woodmansee, D. F. Ackerman, S. P. Klugeuruth, A. E. Sturgis and H. Livingston; police judge K. L. Griffith. Two hundred and forty two votes were cast and of that number, one hundred and one were cast by women.

Kanopolis has two inventors, The Reverend Mr. J. R. Tercy who has patented an interesting Artic Circle ____ and Dr. T. K. Griffith who for many years has aided _________ by selling the conqueror Diphtheria cure of his inventions.

In 1911, Kanopolis lost one of her most loyal friends in Mr. James Cowie, Sr., who died at the age of seventy years. Mr. Cowie was born in Scotland where he spent the first forty years of his life and learned many branches of the mining business. For a number of years he was manager of large ______ in the west of Scotland under British government. In 1880, he came with his family to America to live for ten years in Pennsylvania where he was in the coal mining business. In 1890, he came to Kanopolis and sank (?) the Royal salt shaft which proved so successful that Mr. Crowie became _______ as an expert miner in salt as well as in coal. During several years he was superintendent of the Royal Salt Company until about 1909 when he severed his connection with it and using his own money as a nucleus allied with other capitalists and sank (?) the Crystal Salt Shaft which combined with the Royal gave Kanopolis a high rank among the salt producing towns of Kansas.

Chapter 2

Footnote from May 21, 2012 - Earl Griffith, of Wichita, KS, called the Special Collections to give a correction. Dr. J. K. Griffith should be Dr. T. K. Griffith (Thomas Kirby). He was Earl Griffith's great grandfather. There were two instances on this page that this change was made.

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