Waking The Dead
Ellsworth, Kansas is a great place for someone like me. The early history of Ellsworth is filled with stories that no writer of film or novel could come up with. The characters that passed through Ellsworth read like a Whos Who of the Old West, at least for the late 1860s to mid 1870s. Lets see, there was Wild Bill Hickok, Bill Cody (who was soon to be known as Buffalo Bill), Custer, and all of the famous men of the Seventh Cavalry, Billy Dixon, Bill Tilghman, Dutch Henry Born, Jim Curry, Rowdy Joe Lowe, Ben & Billy Thompson, the men of Forsyths Scouts who fought the famous battle with the Cheyenne at Beecher Island. The drovers out of Texas may not be household words but they were the men that created the romantic notion that a fella could forge his future by pointing a herd of cattle at the north star and selling them at the Kansas railheads.
All that is what makes Ellsworth one of THE GREAT western towns. And for the most part, Ellsworths greatest days were while it was on the frontier. Even so, today Ellsworth is smack dab in the middle of one of the finest grazing lands in the world and our hills are covered with cattle.
Every once in a while, history hits hard and nearly 40 years after Ellsworths frontier days the town awoke to a shocking murder. Last night at the High School Performance Art Center, Kelly and Tammy Rundle presented a film that chronicles the ax murders of Villisca, Iowa in 1912. They note that a similar murder took place in Ellsworth on October 15, 1911.
A family was found brutally bludgeoned to death in their beds. Will and Polly Showman were found in their bed with their 2-year old daughter, Fenton. Next to them in the tiny two-room house were 7-year old Lester and 4-year old Fern. All had their heads crushed by the blunt end of an ax.
Bloodhounds tracked the killer to the railroad tracks and lost the scent. It was surmised that the killer was a transient that escaped by rail. No one was ever prosecuted.
The Rundles suggest that a serial killer may have been responsible not only for the Villisca and Ellsworth murders, but for similar murders in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Columbia, Missouri. That may be a possibility, but Georgia Smith of the Hodgden House Historical Museum in Ellsworth has uncovered an interesting document from a detective agency of the time that suggests that the murderer was known to the family.
So there you have it a mystery over 90 years old has come to life on the streets of Ellsworth in 2004. Who could have done the deed and could it have been Ellsworth neighbors that continued long after to participate in the daily events of this prairie community? Who knows?