Fort Ellsworth was established in 1864 south and a little west of the present town of Kanopolis. The Seventh Cavalry was ordered to protect “the more removed frontier settlements and the construction area of the Kansas Pacific Railroad from Indian attacks.” In 1866, Ft. Ellsworth was moved to the present site of Kanopolis, renamed Fort Harker, and was occupied by troops of the regular army. This garrison provided escorts for surveying parties and mail coaches, but its usefulness ended in 1873 when the railroad was completed to Denver.
The city of Ellsworth, named after Lt. Allen Ellsworth, was established on May 8, 1867, on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River. It was rumored that this would be the western terminal of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and the shipping point for the southwest. When it was completely destroyed by flood in June of 1867, the city had a population of over two thousand. After the flood the townspeople decided to move the city upstream two miles. Shortly after the move Ellsworth had a cholera outbreak and the population was reduced to less than fifty persons. In October 1867, people began to return and Ellsworth became a permanent settlement. The boundaries of the county were defined by the Kansas Legislature in 1867, the county was named Ellsworth County, and Ellsworth became the county seat.
Ellsworth was full of vice during its days as a frontier town (1867-1871). Gun battles were common, hangings frequent, and gambling and drinking was indulged in all hours of the night. With the coming of the cattle trade from 1871 to 1875, Ellsworth became the “rip roaring, toughest” cowtown in the west and the population again increased to over two thousand. On both sides of the railroad tracks, every other business was a saloon. Nauchville, the tough part of town, was located a half mile east on the river bottom. This tent city was a conglomeration of brothels, saloons, and gambling joints with its own race track.
In 1871, a total of 35,000 head of cattle were shipped from Ellsworth. This increased to 150,000 in 1873. By 1872, the stockyards were the largest in the state and over two hundred cars of cattle could be filled a day. With the shifting of the cattle trade from Abilene in 1873, many noted characters of the Old West stayed in Ellsworth: Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Dock Holliday, Ben and Billy Thompson and Bat Masterson.
By 1874, Ellsworth was no longer an important cattle center, shipping only 18,500 head. A new market had opened in Wichita, a hundred miles to the south. Ellsworth had to turn to new sources of income and the main source was agriculture.
The City of Ellsworth, which is the county seat, now has a population of approximately 2,700. Kanopolis is four miles east with another 750 people. Ellsworth County has a total population of approximately 6,500. Located thirty-five miles west of Salina, Ellsworth is centrally located twelve miles south of I-70 and 33 miles west of I-35. Passing through the town are US Highways 156, 140 (old highway 40), and 14.
Ellsworth has a precision valve manufacturing firm (Cashco, Inc.) the Ellsworth Correctional Facility, a retirement community (Good Samaritan Village), an excellent school system, nine churches, three parks, a golf course, a completely remodeled swimming pool with water slide, and numerous small businesses. Our downtown contains mostly 19th century buildings and we are fast becoming known as a place to have a unique “19th century shopping experience.” We sincerely hope that you will enjoy our community as much as we do.