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the seat of Ellsworth County; population ~3,040
location of Ellsworth
Fort Ellsworth was established in 1864 to protect travelers on the Santa Fe and Smoky Hills trails; it was named for Lt. Allen Ellsworth of the 7th Iowa Cavalry. The town of Ellsworth was laid out about four miles northwest of the fort by William McGrath and Colonel Greenwood, and the plat was filed for record in Saline County, to which Ellsworth County was then attached for judicial and municipal purposes, on May 8, 1867. The railroad reached Fort Ellsworth that same year, and within three months the town of Ellsworth boasted a population of over 2,000.
The town was at first located on low ground near the Smoky Hill River. On June 8, 1867, that stream rose suddenly, and in a short time Ellsworth was in four feet of water, some of the frail frame houses being washed from their foundations. A new site was then surveyed a short distance northwest and on higher ground and those who had bought lots in the old town were given new ones in the "Addition." Scarcely had the new site been surveyed when the Indians began to commit depredations in the vicinity, and in July cholera broke out both in town and at Fort Harker (formerly Fort Ellsworth). Floods, Indian raids and cholera in such rapid succession were more than the people could stand, and in a short time the population of Ellsworth dwindled to less than 50.
The town of Ellsworth refused to die, however, and in the fall of 1867 Arthur Larkin built a second hotel, called the Larkin House. New business enterprises quickly sprang up, buildings of a better class were erected, and by the end of the year the population had rebounded. For some time Ellsworth enjoyed a large trade from the 1,500 soldiers stationed at Fort Harker, especially in liquors, and from the emigrant trains that passed through on their way westward. Ellsworth County was organized on August 24, 1867, with Ellsworth as the county seat. In 1868 Ellsworth was incorporated as a village, with J. H. Edwards as president of the council of five members.
Anticipating the shift in the cattle trade from Abilene, Ellsworth businessmen moved the Drovers Cottage, which could accomodate 175 guests and stable 50 carriages and 100 horses, to Ellsworth in 1872.
Like Abilene and other "cattle towns," Ellsworth had a reputation for being lawless and wild. Unlike most of those other towns, however, Ellsworth's reputation was "well earned." While lawmen were able to keep a check on most of the cowboys and other "ruffians" in Abilene, the "criminal element" in Ellsworth consistently outnumbered and outgunned the law in Ellsworth. Ellsworth maintained its wicked reputation until the shipping pens were finally closed in 1875. In its peak year of 1873, approximately 220,000 head of longhorn cattle were driven through the town.
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This page was last updated on August 27, 2017.