William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]


But little information concerning the early history of the county could be obtained from the records, as they were very imperfectly kept. When the first election was ordered and held in the county, there is nothing in the record to indicate, nor is the appointment by the Governor of the first County Commissioners an authenticated fact of record, although it is pretty well established that the first County Commissioners were J. E. Walker, Dennis Ryan, and William Rose. The first County Clerk was J. W. Connor, and the first Sheriff was Thomas Ganlon, and the first Justice of the Peace in the county was M. E. Joyce, who had been appointed to the office by the governor early in 1867.

In 1864 or 1865, a military post was established in Ellis County, on Big Creek, about fourteen miles southeast of where Hays City now stands. This post was known as Fort Fletcher, and had quarters for several companies of troops. The post was located on the low-lying land along the margin of the creek, and was utterly destroyed by the flood that occurred in the spring of 1867, by which several colored soldiers lost their lives. Fort Fletcher was then abandoned and immediately thereafter Fort Hays was established on its present site by Gen. Pope. Up to that time the county was without settlement, but the location of Fort Hays, and the near approach of the Kansas Pacific Railway to that point, attracted a good many settlers to that locality, and then followed the founding of Hays City. Some early attempts to cultivate the prairie in the vicinity of Hays City were made, but they proved failures, and nothing further in this line was essayed until the summer of 1871, when Thomas Arrowsmith, J. H. Edwards and Louis Watson made some attempts at experimental farming adjacent to the town of Ellis, but the success they met with was far from encouraging. Aside from a few wood-claims that had been taken in the county, but very little of the land was taken, and in 1872 ten or twelve homestead and pre-emption claims were all that had been settled upon in the county. In that year a small colony form Ohio located at what is now known as Walker Station in the eastern portion of the county, but the object of the colony seems to have been to found a town rather than become engaged in agricultural pursuits. The town, however, has had a very slow growth, and though it has passed its first decade it does not contain more than half a dozen houses and one store, and is merely a station on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railway.

Following this colony, two others, very limited in number, arrived the following year, one from New York, that settled in and about Ellis, and one from Pennsylvania, that located at Hays City. It was in that same year that George Grant arrived from England and purchased of the Railway Company 50,000 acres of land in the eastern portion of the county, for the purpose of colonizing it with English agriculturists, and stocking it with improved imported sheep and cattle. This was the greatest accession the county had received, and during the next two or three years some two or three hundred Englishmen, many of them with their families, arrived in the county and located on the Grant purchase. Large numbers of fine sheep and cattle were brought from England and the colony started out under very promising auspices. A town was started on the line of railway, a few miles west of Walker, to which was given the name of Victoria, and by which it is still known. A very fine stone depot was built, and a handsome stone church known as St. George's Chapel. The latter was erected by the colonists and by subscriptions collected in England. A very fine elevator was also built and the place gave promise of growing to be quite a town. A store was put up and in a short time the place had about twenty-five houses and one hundred and fifty people. Experience, however, soon taught the colonists that Ellis County was not an agricultural country, and meeting with nothing but failure and disappointment in their efforts at farming, they became discouraged and began to return to England, and now, of all those who came, but very few remain. In 1879, the originator of the scheme, George Grant, died, and his remains are interred in front of St. George's Chapel at Victoria, while the colony he sought to found has about ceased to exist.

In 1875, and the two years following, large numbers of Russians came into the county and located in colonies. There are, in all, about twelve hundred Russians in the county, located in five separate settlements. Two of these colonies are located on the Smoky, close to the south line of the county, one on Big Creek, about a mile south of the military reservation, one just north of the Kansas Pacific Railway, about half a mile from Victoria, and one on Victoria Creek, about five miles farther north. Most of these Russians took claims upon their arrival, which they immediately commenced to improve. They also built villages to which they gave names after some place in their native country. The village to the north is named Schoenchen and contains about 150 people; the one on Big Creek is named Catherine and has about 200 people; the two on the Smoky are named respectively, Munjor and Peifer (sic) the former having a population of about 300, and the latter of about 150. The most important of the Russian villages is that just north of Victoria, which is named Herzog, and which contains a population of about 400. This latter has the appearance of being quite a town, and in building it some attention has been paid to regularity in laying off the streets. Many of the buildings are very comfortable frame houses, but the majority of them are made of sod, and so constructed as to afford the inmates a considerable degree of comfort. The other villages are similarly built, with the exception that regularity in laying off streets has been disregarded.

Herzog is regarded at the capital of this Russia Minor, and there is established the chief patriarch and priests. The place has a very fine stone Catholic Church, which was erected by Sir Walter Maxwell, who took considerable interest in the English Colony under George Grant. The Russians also erected a large stone monastery, 45x120 feet, to which another wing similar in dimensions is now being added. These Russian villages are occupied, chiefly, in the winter season, as the people reside upon their farms during the other seasons of the year, and only retire to the villages when the weather will not permit them to work on their farms.

The early history of Ellis County is confined chiefly to Hays City, as no attempt at settlement of the county was made until several years after its organization. The early settlement of the county was characterized by those incidents which are usually peculiar to frontier life, in which the revolver generally plays such a conspicuous part. The first three Sheriffs of the county met with violent deaths. The manner of Ganlon's death, the first Sheriff of the county, is not authenticated, but that he met his death at the hands of some desperadoes has been so strongly proven as not to admit of a doubt. How Lanahan, the second Sheriff of the county, came by his death will be recorded at length in the history of Hays City. The third Sheriff, Alexander Ramsy, a brave and courageous officer, was killed in attempting to arrest two horse-thieves. In the summer of 1875, Ramsy went in pursuit of two horse-thieves and overtook them at Stockton, in Rooks County. Upon calling them to surrender, they drew their revolvers, whereupon Ramsy fired, killing one of them instantly. Almost simultaneously with his shot, the thieves fired, the fire from one of their revolvers taking effect in the abdomen of Ramsy, inflicting a wound from which he died within a few hours. A witness of the affair, on seeing Ramsy wounded, drew his revolver and fired, wounding the other thief in the neck, the ball passing through his jaw. He was then captured, tried at Stockton, and while the jury was out deliberating upon a verdict he escaped.

Many other incidents not quite so tragical in character, but which illustrate frontier life occurred, and the manner in which justice was administered is worth of mention. M. E. Joyce, as already stated, was the first Justice of the Peace in the county and had his office at Hays City. In the winter of 1867-68, one man who had killed another came in, confessed his crime, and surrendered himself to the Justice mentioned. A day was set for the hearing and the man was allowed to go, upon his promise to appear and answer. The day came and a large crowd was assembled in the office of the Justice when the man who had surrendered himself entered. The case was called and upon the defendant's answering, the Justice asked him if he was "guilty or not guilty." To the surprise of the Justice and everyone else, the man answered "guilty," whereupon the Justice adjusted his spectacles on his nose, looked at the man a moment, and then said, "You are a d--d fool, and I will discharge you for want of evidence."

In another case tried before this same Justice, the party against whom he rendered judgment desired to give notice that he would take an appeal from his decision, when the Justice gave him to understand that no appeal could be taken, as his was the highest court in Kansas.

The first case tried in the District Court in the county was "Ruggles & Ryan vs. Ranahan," and the presiding Judge was Hon. Judge Humphrey. A great deal of interest was manifested in the case by the people, although the matter at issue was only a question of debt. The Judge decided in favor of the defendant, and this so enraged one class of the people that they made preparations to handle the Judge roughly, and to escape being mobbed he was obliged to flee to the fort and seek the protection of the troops.

The first couple married in Ellis County was Peter Tondell and Elizabeth Duncan in 1868, and the first child born in the county was John Bauer, his birth occurring on January 29, 1868.

The first instrument recorded in the county as appears by the books in the office of the Register of Deeds, was a deed from Hiram L. Cowdry to O. B. Taylor, conveying Lot 23, in Block 5, of Hays City, the consideration being $300. The instrument was dated March 3, 1871.

Ellis County is not an agricultural country as has been shown by experience. Thinking it was such, thousands of people have located within its borders from time to time, only to learn, after years of effort, that they had made a mistake, and left it for other fields. Proof of this is found in the falling away of the population within the two years from 1880 to 1882. In the former year, according to the United States Census, the population of the county was 6,179, while according to the census taken by the Township Assessors in 1882, the population was only 4,699. While not an agricultural county, it has its advantages, however, and for stock-raising purposes is very desirable. Cattle and sheep-raising can be followed both to advantage and profit, as the rich buffalo-grass with which the surface of the county is matted, is amply sufficient to carry them through the winter without feed of any other kind. The almost utter impossibility of raising corn for feeding purposes precludes the raising of hogs for profit, although in seasons when there is a reasonably fair rainfall, which is very seldom, cereals of all kinds can be raised in abundance. Stockmen, however, find it an excellent county for their business, and both cattle and sheep-ranches are becoming more numerous each year. Financially, the county is in very good condition. It has an excellent court house, and its debt is very trifling, and all orders drawn on the County Treasurer are paid to their full face value upon presentation.


There were in Ellis County in 1882, according to the annual report furnished by the County Superintendent to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, thirty-nine organized school districts. There were however, only twenty-two school buildings in the county, containing in all twenty-eight rooms, showing that seventeen of the districts had no school buildings. How it is thus, is not shown. That the organized districts should so far exceed the number of school-buildings, may suggest an inquiry which cannot be answered from the records. It may be accounted for by the fact that many of the districts are very sparsely settled, and the few people residing in them, do not feel disposed to be taxed for schoolhouse purposes so long as they can send their children to school in the adjoining district. The school population of the county in 1882, between the ages of five and twenty-one years, was 2,623, divided as to sex into 1,376 males and 1,247 females. Of this number there were enrolled in the public schools 1,061, of which number 532 were males and 529 females, and the average daily attendance was 738. The number of teachers employed was 32, of whom 7 were males and 25 females. The average salary per month paid teachers was, males $44, and females $26. While the difference in the rates paid between the sexes is quite striking, it is not nearly as great as it was in 1881. In the latter year the average saltary (sic) per monh (sic) paid males teachers, was $38.85, while all the females received, was $18.43. Of the thirty-nine organized school districts in they county, but twenty of them sustained public school for three months in the year, while fifteen failed to sustain school even for three months. The average number of mills levied in the county for school purposes in 1882, was 15.50, and the estimated value of all school property was $31,500. In 1882, there were issued school bonds to the amount of $7,285, and the total school bonded indebtedness of the county was $25,800, or $5,700 less than the estimated value.

On August 1, 1881, the commencement of the school year, there was a balance in the hands of the District Treasurer of $2,306.69, and the amount received during the year from district taxes, was $4,724.88, and from State and county funds $1,724.73; from sale of school bonds $7285, and from all other sources $391.99, making a total of $16,433.29 received for all school purposes. The total amount paid out during the year for all school purposes was $14,332.96, leaving a balance in the hands of the District Treasurer on August 1, 1882, of $2,100.33.

The only establishments in the county of a manufacturing character, are flouring-mills, of which there are four, one on the Saline River, about twenty miles nearly due north from Hays City. This was the first mill built in the county, and was erected by Jacob Meiers in 1876. The mill is built of stone, and is run by water-power. It is valued at $15,000.

The next mill built in the county was that of M. Yost, about three fourths of a mile west of Hays City. It is a frame constructed mill, and was erected in 1879, at a cost of $20,000. It is operated by steam-power and makes flour by both grinding process and roller system.

The third mill is that erected at Hays City, by Jacob Meiers, in 1881. It is a substantially constructed stone mill, with four run of stone, and operated by steam-power. This mill is fitted up with the most improved machinery, and was built at a cost of $30,000.

The fourth mill is that erected at Victoria, by Brungardt, and completed in January 1883. It is a small frame-structure, fitted up and furnished in excellent style, is operated by steam-power, and was put up at a cost of $15,000.


In regard to population, the growth of the county as been exceedingly slow, and the latest returns show that it is more on the decrease than increase. For the first two or three years after the limits of the county were defined by the Legislature in 1867, the population increased quite rapidly, and in 1870 had reached 1,336. During the five years following it decreased to 940, being 396 less in 1875 than it was in 1870. The greater portion of this falling off took place after the grasshopper raid in 1874. Those who left must have been of the original settlers, as during the five years for which the decrease is reported, the county received several accessions in the shape of colonies. During the three years following 1875, the population had increased again to 2,437. From 1878 to 1880, very large accessions were made to the population, as according to the United States Census for the latter year the population was 6,179, showing a gain of nearly 4,000 in two years. This increase, however, did not continue, as during the two following years quite an exodus from the county took place, by which the county lost in population nearly as much as it had gained during the three years preceding. The Census of 1882, as furnished by the various Township Assessors, sets the population down at 4,699, showing that the population in 1882 was 1,480 less than it was in 1880.

The material growth of the county, while it does not show any unusual degree of advancement in the aggregate, yet, when compared with the population, is very far from being unfavorable. Whatever progress has been made in the county towards increasing its material wealth, has, virtually, been made since 1875, because what few attempts had been made prior to that time at agricultural farming, had been, chiefly, experimental, except in 1874 when farming was entered upon quite extensively, but the bright promises created by the spring of that year were dashed by the grasshoppers, and hundreds of people left the county. The condition of the county in 1875, will be better understood by the fact that in that year the total area of field crops in the county was only 1,391 acres, of which about one-third was devoted to different kinds of grass. The following year the acreage increased by only 400 acres, but by 1878 it had reached to 10,754. For the next three years the increase in the acreage of field crops averaged over one hundred per cent per annum, as shown by the statistical record of 1882. According to the same record, the number of acres included in farms was 97,823 the assessed value of which was $361,023, which valuation represents about one-third of the real value. During the year ending March 31, 1882, there were thirty-eight farm dwellings erected in the county, valued at $6,225. The field crops of 1881 were distributed as follows: --Winter wheat, 16,993 acres; rye, 1,223; spring wheat 521; corn, 11,138; barley, 60; oats, 836; buckwheat; 14, Irish potatoes, 195; sweet potatoes, 62, sorghum, 1,230; castor beans, 29; flax, 270; tobacco, 45; broom corn, 989; millet and hungarian, 3,734; pearl millet, 169; rice-corn, 1,374; grasses of various kinds, 1,423, making a total of 40,345. Tame grasses were not very extensively cultivated, there having been only 130 tons of tame hay cut, and 5,441 tons of prairie hay. But very little was done at gardening, there having been only $753 worth of garden products marketed that year. The income from eggs and poultry was much larger, it being $3,253. The cheese product of the county, for which the year ending in March 31, 1882, was 1,680 pounds, and that of butter was 54,799 pounds.

The increase in the live-stock of the county has not been very rapid, as compared with that of some other counties, but yet a gradual increase has taken place from year to year. The returns for 1882, give the number of horses in the county at 1,467; mules and asses, 194; milch (sic) cows, 1,650; other cattle, 5,176; sheep, 13,278, and swine, 1,496. The value of animals slaughtered, or sold for slaughter, was $9,518. The wool clip for the year was 16,747 pounds. Some efforts have been made at horticulture, but they have not met with that success so far as to render fruit raising a source of any income. In 1882 the trees in bearing in the county were: --Apple, 106; pear, 11; peach, 774; plum, 176, and cherry, 146. The number not in bearing was:--Apple, 2,129; pear, 91; peach, 7,469; plum, 717, and cherry, 759. The people who take an interest in the fruit culture and endeavor to make it a success, labor under considerable disadvantages, chief of which is the prevailing dryness of the season. Were it not for the absence of rain, horticulture would be a very profitable industry.

But very little of the county is under fence, the total number of rods of fence being 17,720, divided as follows:--Board-fence, 113 rods; rail, 40; stone, 491; hedge, 4,000, and wire, 13,076; or about sufficient to enclose 196 square miles, or an area equal to nearly one-fifth of the entire county. The agricultural implements in the county in 1882 were valued at $26,761.

Other attempts at material advancement have been made in the cultivation of artificial forestry, but the success that has attended such attempts has been of a rather doubtful and discouraging character. The number of acres in the county in 1882, devoted to artificial forestry, was 694, of which 108 acres were set out to walnut, 2 to maple, 56 to honey locust, 368 to cottonwood, and 160 to other varieties. Some three or four miles east of Hays City, and immediately south of the railroad track, one Martin Allen has a timber claim of eighty acres, on which there is a grove containing about twenty-five acres, the trees of which were set out about six years ago. Some of the trees have attained a height of ten, twelve and fifteen feet, and though the grove looks remarkably well when in foliage, yet a personal examination of it shows a large percentage of the trees to be dead, and parties who have given considerable study to the subject of arboriculture, express grave doubts as to the success of tree growing in the county without some climatic changes take place.

County Officers.--The officers chosen at the last election were as follows:--M. M. Fuller, C. W. Miller, M. M. Shores, Commissioners; M. M. Bannister, County Clerk; J. M. Stahley, District Clerk; John Schlyer, Treasurer; Eli Fox, Register of Deeds; B. F. Miller, Probate Judge; Charles Howard, Sheriff; J. C. Leahey, County Attorney; W. L. Fuller, Superintendent of Public Instruction; G. R. Wolfe, Surveyor; T. B. Yates, Coroner.

[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]