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10/29/2004

Wicked Ellsworth

Ellsworth was established in one of the most violent times of American history. The great Civil War had just drawn to a close in 1865. With a slight pause following the war, a massive wave of folks began to flow across the country in 1867. That year, Ellsworth was founded on the banks of the Smoky Hill River, just a few miles west of Fort Harker.  
 
General Hancock moved to reduce the threat of Cheyenne and other prairie tribes to make way for a railroad across Kansas and to open up lands for settlement. Hancock’s actions only brought about a bloody war. 
 
During Ellsworth’s first months the town was subject to the constant threat of Indian attack. A great flood filled the streets to a depth of four feet followed by an epidemic of cholera that nearly desolated the population.  
 
The few that stayed moved the townsite to higher ground and started over. The men that walked Ellsworth’s streets lived on the edge from moment to moment. The women were of the lowest kind. Drunken orgies continued non-stop around the clock in an atmosphere that held little value to life itself. By the Fall of ’67 the Prosecuting Attorney, “Rake Jake” Runkle would say that 93 men had been killed in and around Ellsworth in 93 days. “Shall we have a man for breakfast?” was an ordinary morning greeting on the street.  
 
Our early years saw outlaws ride into town and take over. The businessmen went about their daily work until the outlaws became too much of a distraction. The two ringleaders were awakened from their sleep by vigilantes. The next morning they were each found dancing at the end of a rope from the big cottonwood tree on the south bank of the Smoky Hill River.  
 
Not that outlaws weren’t tolerated. As long as they didn’t bother anyone else in Ellsworth they could well be known as solid citizens of the community. The second, or perhaps main occupation of a number of those citizens was “horse thief”. Some say the old classic gunfight in the street never really happened, but here in Ellsworth a saloon keeper and a bull whacker faced off on the open Plaza emptying pistols into each other as 100 people looked on. The saloon keeper won the fight only to be lynched by vigilantes a few weeks later.  
 
They said that “one sip of Ellsworth whiskey made a man want to burn his wife’s dress”. Wild Bill Hickok and Captain Jack Harvey worked the area as deputy U.S. Marshals, but Wild Bill found that his reputation as a gunman wasn’t enough to get him elected sheriff of Ellsworth County. He soon moved on Hays City. 
 
Wild and wicked Ellsworth became a legend within months of being founded. Of the little that we know about those early years, Ellsworth deserved the reputation as the Wickedest Town in the West. Many others would acquire the epithet few could live up to it.  
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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