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12/2/2004

Secrets

Ellsworth, Kansas, is one of those places that holds many secrets from the past. Our history is forever tied to the opening of the West from Captain Fremont’s expedition in 1844 to the military campaign against the Indians. The development of the first railroad through the Kansas plains brought the trail drivers with their wild Texas Longhorns and eventually led to greater settlement. It is an epic saga of legendary proportions. 
 
I’ve already mentioned the shooting of Sheriff Whitney in a previous commentary. The legend places Wyatt Earp in middle of things, but our Jan / Feb issue of the Kansas Cowboy goes a long way to dispel Earps involvement and gives credit to the actual hero of the day.  
 
Other Ellsworth legends that continue to excite history buffs are hidden from view in one way or another. Prairie Rose was reported to be one of our popular “fancy ladies”. The story goes that she was challenged to ride a bronco through the streets of Ellsworth in the nude as a western style Lady Godiva. She supposedly carried a rifle or pistols depending on the story ya hear. Anyone caught catching a glimpse was in danger of it being his last vision in life. Seems rather prudish for a woman of her nature. While the story is well known, no contemporary accounts have been found to substantiate the tale. That being said, there is also some local evidence that leads us to believe the event actually did happen, but perhaps not exactly as has been told. Maybe someday we’ll be able to tell the “rest of the story”.  
 
Wild Bill Hickok has a reputation as a ladies man. Quite a number of women have been named as having had intimate relations with the great gunfighter. One that doesn’t seem to get recognized very much was Indian Annie or Anna Wilson. Wild Bill brought her to Ellsworth when he first arrived during the Indian campaign beginning in 1867. She was referred to as his wife and followed him to Hays City and Abilene where he abandoned her. She returned to Ellsworth and lived with their son and a daughter born of another relationship. We brought out many details of her life a couple of years ago in the Kansas Cowboy. A well known Hickok historian considers her a fiction, but my family and many other Ellsworth families knew her and the truth that she was the mother of Wild Bill’s son. Anna Wilson still holds secrets as to her origin. Her son died at a young age but descendents of her daughter are hoping to unveil her enigmatic past.  
 
Captain Jack Harvey was a deputy U. S. Marshal and good friend of Wild Bill. Harvey was a former Redleg during the infamous Kansas/Missouri border war of the great Civil War. His true-life exploits were the stuff of dime novels! He died of consumption in Ellsworth in 1868. We are not certain, but suppose he was buried here. So many of our earlier burials were unmarked.  
 
Sam Johns is buried in a marked grave. He ran a livery and dray service in Ellsworth. His obituary reports “He was born in New Haven, Huron county, Ohio, February 3rd, 1838, where he resided until the discovery of gold in Colorado in the later fifties when he came West to seek his fortune, and afterwards became connected with the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company and the Celebrated Pony Express to California. At the breaking out of the war of the rebellion Mr. Johns enlisted in Co. E, 1st Colorado Cavalry and served his country faithfully for four years when he was honorably discharged…” Sam Johns seemed to be everywhere the excitement was. He was also deputized to help capture famous Ellsworth horsethief Dutch Henry Born in 1874. Sam Johns’ story lies beneath the sod in the old cemetery.  
 
And speaking of Dutch Henry, he lived with his brother in a dugout north of town. The family never new the details of the brother’s death only that he froze to death in a severe winter storm in Kansas. Ellsworth holds tightly to its secrets, but that’s what keeps a curious historian going. What secret will be revealed today? 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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