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


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


Ellsworth County was organized in 1867, but, ante-dating this by ten years, attempts were made at settlement in portions of the territory now embraced within its borders. Some discrepancies exist as to the date of attempted first settlement, some placing it as early as 1857, and others not sooner than 1860. There is no disagreement, however, as to the names of the parties who attempted the first settlement of the county. It is conceded that P. M. Thompson, known by the early settlers, as "Smoky Hill Thompson," Joseph Lehman, D. H. Page, Adam Weadle and D. Cushman, were the first who attempted permanent settlement in the county. Upon this there is no difference of opinion, the discrepancy, as before stated, being as to the date. This settlement was made on Thompson Creek, which took its name from Thompson, the leader of the party mentioned, and who was the first to discover the creek.

The next attempt at settlement was made by Henry and Irwin Farris, S. D. Walker, C. L. and J. J. Prather. This party came in 1860 and located on Clear Creek. H. Wait and H. P. Spurgeon came to the county late in 1860, the former locating in the Thompson settlement, while the latter cast his lot with the Farris party. Up to August, 1861, there was not a white woman in the county, but in that month a man named T. D. Bennett, moved from Dickinson County with his family, and located in Thompson settlement, so that Bennett's wife was the first white woman that ever resided in the county.

These parties supported themselves, chiefly, by hunting; although some attempts at farming were made upon a small scale. At that time game of all kinds was abundant. Herds of buffalo roamed all over the country, and organized parties from other counties would come to enjoy the sport of the hunt, and also for the profit to be derived therefrom. Swarms of wild turkeys inhabited every stream and creek, and antelope grazed upon the hills and in the valleys in immense droves.

In the fall 1862, a man by the name of Lewis, with his family, located in the Thompson neighborhood, and to this man and his wife was born the first white child ever born in Ellsworth County, the birth taking place in February, 1863.

In the summer of that year, the Indian trouble, which had been anticipated for some time, commenced, the first attack of the savages being made upon the settlers on Cow Creek. By treachery the Indians lured Walker, one of the early settlers in the Farris settlement, into a snare, and instantly killed him. The white men replied to the fire of the Indians, and killed three of their number. Knowing that the Indians greatly outnumbered them, and fearing that they would renew the attack during the night they made their escape, and succeeded in reaching the stage station on the Smoky late in the afternoon. From this point word was sent to every settler in the county, to apprise them of the approaching danger. Page's ranch, located on the Smoky, at a point where the military road crossed the stream, was considered the best place from which resistance could be offered in case of an attack, and there the settlers all centered. Sentinels were posted, and a sharp lookout was maintained throughout the night, but the only attack they encountered was a false alarm, to the effect that hosts of Indians were coming over the hill to attack the ranch. The settlers held a consultation, and concluded that their lives were more dear to them than the amount they had at stake, and the next morning, after packing up all of their worldly goods that they could take with them, took their departure, and Ellsworth county relapsed into its primitive condition where the buffalo, deer, elk and antelope could roam without the foot of a white man trespassing upon their native domain.

As to how Ellsworth County received its name has often given rise to some doubt, and many have believed that it was named in honor of Col. E. E. Ellsworth, who was shot and killed by Jackson, in Alexandria, Va., in his attempt to pull down a Rebel flag at the commencement of the war. The belief that the county was so named is erroneous, as will be seen from a letter addressed to Mr. F. G. Adams who was at the date of the letter, Secretary of the State Historical Society, of which the following is a copy, the original of which is still on file in the office of the State Historical Society:

ELDEN, IOWA, February 20,1878.


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 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 then in command of that division. We were ordered out on an Indian expedition. I had 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.


Where this Lieutenant Ellsworth was stationed with his Company, and where he built the block-house or fort, was at Page's deserted ranch on the Smoky, about three-fourths of a mile southwest of where Fort Harker was afterwards located. Fort Ellsworth soon became known, not only in Kansas, but in other States, and hence, when the boundaries of the county were defined by the legislature in 1867, and the county was named, it was given the name of Ellsworth.

The second settlement of the county began in 1865, when Harry Anderson took a claim and located on Clear Creek. In 1866, Rev. Levi Sternberg came to the county, having been preceded by one of his sons, Dr. George Sternberg. Shortly after the elder Sternberg came, he was followed by another son, Frederick, who took a claim, and located on the Smoky. In the spring of the following year, two more of his sons, Charles and Edward, arrived, this family making quite a settlement in itself. In 1866, Fort Ellsworth was abandoned, and a large military post was established about three-fourths of a mile northeast of where it stood. Four large frame buildings were erected for barracks for the troops, two on each side of the square, while a third side was occupied by buildings erected, and a good-sized guard house, two stories high. A magnificent stone building was erected for a hospital, at a cost of $80,000. The military reservation upon which this post was located embraced sixteen sections of land, being four miles square.

At that time General Hancock was in command of the Division of the Mississippi, and named the post Fort Harker. The first year after the post was established, the cholera broke out, and caused fearful fatality among the troops and government employes (sic). This was a terrible calamity to strike the county in the first year of its existence, and nearly every settler that could get away sought refuge from the scourge.

The first marriage ceremony performed in the county was by Henry New, on the 2d (sic) day of April, 1868, when, in his official capacity of Justice of the Peace, he united in the bonds of matrimony, George W. Hughes and Miss Rusha Maxson.

The year 1873 witnessed the departure of the military from Fort Harker. This was the distributing point for all military posts further west, and was one of the most important military stations west of the Missouri River. The advent and extension of the Kansas Pacific Railway put an end to its usefulness, and in the fall of 1873 it was abandoned, and the reservation won which it stood was thrown open to settlement. The roofs of some of the buildings were taken off and sent to Leavenworth, and the remainder of the buildings were sold in the spring of 1882 to a man named Johnson. The officers quarters and some of the barracks still stand intact, as also the stone guardhouse and wooden stables, but in a short time all these will disappear, as the material is being sold as rapidly as purchasers can be found, and in a few years nothing will be left to indicate where once stood the great military post of Fort Harker.

For several years immigration to the county was exceedingly slow, but yet scarcely a season passed without bringing more or less new settlers. A great portion of those who came up to 1876 were foreigners, and consisted chiefly of Swedes, Bohemians and Germans. The Swedes settled chiefly in the southeastern portion of the county, and the Bohemians in the western portion, while the Germans distributed them selves more generally over the county, a great many of them, however, locating in the southern portion. In 1877 a large immigration of Bohemians set in, who located chiefly east, west and south of Wilson.

While among the new settlers the foreign element greatly predominated, quite a good many came from States further east and north. In the spring of 1878 a very large settlement arrived in the county from Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Samuel Killian. They came in a body and numbered over two hundred souls. This settlement located around Wilson, some of them going over into Russell County. Since that time immigration has been gradual, and although a good many have come to the county, the population during the last two years if it has not decreased, has not increased. By comparing the population of the county in 1882, as returned by the respective township assessors, with that given by the United States census for 1880, there has been a considerable falling off. As returned by the assessors, the population in 1882 was 7,347, whereas, in 1880, the United States census shows it to have been 8,485. This falling off, if such really has been the case, can be traced to causes other than any inherent in the soil or climate. The county is noted for its superior advantages for stock-raising, and during the last two years, stock men have come in and bought up large tracts of land, in many cases buying out the settlers who moved out of the county.

A few instances will serve to show how the opening up of these large ranches affects population. The "Elkhorn Ranch," owned by H. C. Adams, contains 4,000 acres, on which at present he has 5,000 head of sheep. The ranch is well supplied with sheds and good buildings. The "Eden Ranch" on the Smoky, owned by Mr. Collins, contains 9,000 acres, all under fence and is well stocked with cattle. "Idaville Ranch," on Bluff Creek and the Smoky, owned by Capt. Millett, contains 18,000 acres, all under fence. At present there are between 4,000 and 5,000 head of cattle on the ranch. "White Bluff's Ranch," on the Smoky, owned by Richardson & Bates, contains 3,000 acres, on which there are 3,000 head of cattle. "Black Walnut Ranch," on Thompson Creek, contains 5,500 acres, and is owned by H. B. Clark. At present it is stocked with 7,000 head of sheep and 250 head of cattle. "Monte Cenario Ranch," on Mulberry and Alum creeks, contains 7,000 acres, and is owned by Mr. Wellington. This ranch is stocked with sheep, on which, at present, there are 9,000 head. The place I very highly improved. It is all under fence, and $16,000 were expended in the erection of sheds and buildings, the residence alone costing $8,000. These six ranches represent one-tenth the entire area of the county, and in order to get such large tracts of land in one body, a good many settlers had to be bought out. Besides these, there are several smaller ranches, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 acres. The immense amount of stock on these ranches adds greatly to the wealth of the county, but such extensive bodies of land being in the hands of a few individuals, precludes population, and to the establishment of these gigantic stock farms is to be attributed whatever difference there may be between the population of 1882 and that of 1880.

In October, 1881, the entire community was startled by the news of one of the most cold blooded murders ever perpetrated in Ellsworth or any other county. The terrible tragedy was enacted in the southeast part of the county, Andrew Weir and his son, Bennie, being the victims, and Lewis A. Rose and wife the murderers. Rose and Weir lived upon adjoining farms, and some enmity arose between them over the division of some crop, in which both were interested. This feud had existed for some time, until one day Weir went to the house of Rose, when an altercation of words arose, and as Weir started out to go home, Rose followed and shot him dead. Weir was a widower and lived alone with his son Bennie, a little lad about twelve years old. The boy thinking the father was staying away unusually long, started over to Rose's to see if he was there, and when Rose and his wife saw the lad coming, they consulted together and concluded that it was necessary to their own safety to kill the boy. When the lad reached the house and inquired for his father, Rose took him to the barn, and there knocked out the innocent boy's brains with a club and threw him into a manger. After dispatching little Bennie, Rose went out to a field and dug a hole, in which he buried father and son, and having covered them over with earth he harrowed the field so as to escape detection. The neighbors, however, began to miss Weir and his boy, and suspicions of foul play began to be bruited in the vicinity. Finally a search was instituted, which led to a discovery of Weir and his son in the place where Rose had buried them. Rose and his wife were arrested, tried and convicted, he for murder, and she as accessory to the crime.

The trial took place in May, 1882, and both Rose and his wife are now in the penitentiary, she serving a term of eighteen months, and he serving the preliminary year, at the end of which his case is subject to the decision of the governor, whether his further punishment shall be death by hanging or imprisonment for life.

Scarcely had the people recovered from the shock occasioned by this terrible murder, when they were startled by another. This occurred in November, 1882, on the farm owned by Rev. Levi Sternberg, about five miles east of Ellsworth. The farm was worded by one of Doctor Sternberg's sons, named Fred, who had in his employ a hired man named Hughes. The forenoon of the day on which the murder was committed, young Sternberg and Hughes were out in the field gathering corn, at which they worked until noon, when they went to the house for dinner. What occurred between them, if anything, will, probably, never be known, but as they were returning to the field after dinner, and just as they had crossed the bed of the Smoky, Sternberg drew a revolver and shot Hughes, causing him to fall from the wagon, and while lying on the ground, Sternberg jumped down from the wagon and shot him again, although he was dead at the time, as it was proven at the coroner's inquest that it was the first shot that killed him. Sternberg immediately surrendered himself, and is now in jail awaiting trial, and no excuse can be offered for the commission of the deed, except that Sternberg was insane, which, people believe, must have been the case.

The opening of 1883 found Ellsworth County in a prosperous condition. The bountiful crops of 1882, not only bettered the condition of the agricultural classes, but was of immense benefit to all those engaged in mercantile pursuits. There are sixty-six schoolhouses in the county and six churches, and several church organizations, besides several other societies, benevolent, literary and sociable. The financial condition of the county is good. The assessed valuation of the county is $1,500,000, and the real valuation, $5,000,000. The county bonded indebtedness is $34,000, and it has no floating debt. County warrants are at par, and are paid by the County Treasurer upon presentation, which would indicate that the county government has been honestly and economically conducted.

Only one railroad traverses the county, the Kansas Pacific, which enters from the east at Rock Spring, and follows a due west course until it reaches Ellsworth, when, following the course of the Smoky Hill, it takes a northwestern direction and leaves the county at Wilson, three miles south of the northwest corner. The principal stations on the road are Ellsworth and Wilson. The road was built through the county in 1868.


After its limits had been defined, and the county named by the Legislature, as elsewhere detailed, Governor Crawford, appointed J. H. Edwards, V. B. Osborn and Ira Clark to be Commissioners of the county, E. W. Kingsbury to be Sheriff, and M. O. Hall, Clerk. The Commissioners met for the first time at Ellsworth on July 9, 1867. The following is a copy of the record entry of their first meeting:

"Ellsworth, July 9, 1867, Board met; present: J. H. Edwards, V. B. Osborn, and Ira Clark, who had been appointed Commissioners by Gov. Crawford; E. W. Kingsbury, Sheriff; M. O. Hall, Clerk. After being duly sworn in it was ordered that an election be held on August 10, 1867, for township and county officers, to serve till next general election, one polling place to be at Ellsworth, another at the house of Mr. Merriman, on Elkhorn creek, also one on Thompson Creek, at the house of Mr. Clark, and one at Clear Creek, at the house of Mr. Farris."
In pursuance of this order, an election was held on the 10th of August, 1867, at which the following-named persons were elected to the respective offices:

Commissioners, V. B. Osborn, W. J. Ewing and J. H. Blake; Sheriff, E. W. Kingsbury; Clerk, M. O. Hall; Probate Judge, J. C. Hill; Register of Deeds, Thomas Delacour; Treasurer, M. Newton; County Attorney, J. H. Ruukle; Superintendent of Public Instruction., C. C. Duncan; surveyor, J. C. Ayers; Coroner, M. Joyce; and Assessor, J. E. New. These were the first regularly elected officers in the county. This perfected the organization of the county, prior to which it had been attached to Saline County for municipal purposes. The next meeting of the Board was held August 24, 1867, of which the record shows the following entry:

"Rented upper part of H. R. Johnson's house on the following condition, to-wit: The county rents it for three months from August 19, 1867, with the privilege till May 1, 1868. If the county only retain possession for the three months, Mr. Johnson is to put in a partition across the room as the Commissioners may direct, and the county is to pay $100 per month in advance after first payment, which will be paid on the 10th of September. If the county keeps it till May 1, 1868, they are only to pay $85 per month for whole term of lease, and Johnson is to plaster or cell it when called upon.

V. B. Osborn}
W. J. Ewing} Commissioners."
J. H. Blake.}

In the early part of 1871, the question of building a court-house began to be agitated, and after having been discussed pro and con for nearly a year, the question of voting bonds to the amount of $12,000 for that purpose was submitted to the people by the Commissioners. The greatest interest was not centered in the court house itself, but as to what particular place in the town of Ellsworth it would be located. Some wanted it one place and some another, and for a time the contest waxed warm. The vote on the question of issuing the bonds took place on April 20, 1872, and the fact that the proposition was carried by only twenty-one majority will show how strongly the proposition was contested. The bond question having been settled in favor of their issuance, all interest became centered in the question as to where the court house should be erected. Some wanted it here and some wanted it there, and petitions and counter-petitions were presented to the Board on the subject. The question was finally settled by the Commissioners on June 7, 1872, by the passage of the following resolution:

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Board that it is better to locate the court house in a business part of the city, and that when said building is not sufficient for a court house it will sell for money enough to build a larger building, and whereas, Mr. Arthur Larkin having by his warranty deed, donated two lots to the county for such purposes, therefore it is ordered by this Board, that the court house shall be erected on Main street on lots, number one and two, in block number eighteen, in the town of Ellsworth, formerly known in the plats as the first addition to the said town, and that the County Clerk be instructed to accept the warranty deed of Mr. Larkin for said lots, and immediately place the same in the County Register's office for record."

It was thought that this action of the Board would end the contest, and steps were taken looking to the immediate erection of the building, but just about this time, J. W. Phelps and others, sued out a writ of injunction restraining the Commissioners from issuing the bonds. After some litigation the injunction suit was dismissed and the bonds were issued on July 30, 1872. The writ having been dissolved, the Commissioners instructed the County Attorney to institute suit against J. W. Phelps, Perry Hodgen and others, to recover damages to the amount of $1,500, sustained by their wrongful suing out of the injunction. How this terminated the records saith not, but the following year the court house was built. The first instrument recorded in the county, as shown by the records, is a bill of sale made by L. C. Palmer to D. Thomas Smith, conveying to him sixty-six yoke of working cattle, fifteen wagons, and yoke chains, sheets, camp outfit and all appurtenances belonging to a train belonging to him at Ellsworth. The consideration was $5,460, and was to be paid in ninety days, and if so paid, then the instrument was to be null and void. Dated August 12, 1867. The county officers for 1883 are as follows: H. F. Hoesman, J. F. Baker, Frederick Deissroth, Commissioners; A. H. Evans, Probate Judge; R. R. Lyons, County Clerk; A. R. Hepperly, Clerk of the District Court; J. A. Wiggins, Treasurer; G. E. Alden, Register of Deeds; S. Hamilton, Sheriff; L. H. Sewer, County Attorney; J. A. Hopkins, Superintendent of Public Instruction; F. W. Rossiter, Surveyor; E. R. Lang, Coroner.

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