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Filed under: prairie musings, Ellsworth, History, Drovers — Peg Britton @ 8:21 am


A blog reader was viewing this photo this morning and I thought I’d post it again.  I just love it as it brings back many wonderful memories of an historic  weekend when we had the Great American Cattle Drive as a fundraiser for the Drover Building, at the right.  Here is the original posting from the last weekend in Sept. 2007.

Below is the Drover Hall of Fame building that was the object of the fundraiser of the Great American Cattle Drive.  The building has been stabilized and the exterior restored.  Money is needed now for restoring the interior.  Compare the building in the two pictures.




Filed under: prairie musings, History — Peg Britton @ 2:48 pm

Twenty years ago the dream of a local art gallery came alive.  Julie Britton sent me the following information that I thought would be of interest to many.
The Ellsworth Area Gallery of Art
A Historical View

The possibility of establishing a local gallery of art in Ellsworth, Ks. was explored in a public meeting held at Citizens State Bank and Trust, Frontier room on Dec. 5, 1989.

The consensus of the members attending the meeting was to move ahead to provide a viable cultural art experience and avenue of art exhibit space for works of art by Ellsworth County artists and visiting artists. The support and cultivation of local friends of the arts as well as the identification of local artists plus the addition of a cultural avenue to attract visitors to the community through the offering of exhibits of unique rural works of art and multi-disciple theatre performances were all a factors in the decision to move forward.

The initial location of the gallery was the former Seitz building located in downtown Ellsworth, currently owned by the local bank and just recently used and vacated by the newly established Ellsworth Correctional facility executive personnel. The donation by CSB&T of the use of this prime downtown store space was instrumental in the establishment of a local art gallery

The mission statement of the original Ellsworth Area Arts Council Board of Directors was to be responsible for “Planning, coordinating, initiating and strengthening programs that will provide the citizens of Ellsworth County area with an enhanced cultural life by showcasing local and Kansas artists and to promote, through youth art exhibits, the continued encouragement to produce works of art and cultural expressions by young Ellsworth County artists.”

After the acquisition of an IRS private non profit 501 (c) 3, status the gallery moved ahead. The gallery opened in 1990.
The organization was originally led by Michelle Petermannn of Holyrood, president, and Ellsworth volunteers Susan Cunningham, vice president, Annette Bourne, secretary, Janet Carswell, treasurer and Julie Britton, ex-officio executive director designation due to her current service as commissioner for the Kansas Arts Commission. Many community volunteers served on the advisory board of directors during this summary of operations and many volunteers helped hang exhibits and contributed their time to many exhibits and performance openings.

Wilson artist and graphic designer, George Eschbaugh, of Wilson, avidly supported the gallery through exhibitions of his works of local painterly pastoral scenes of Ellsworth County rural. His generous donation of a professional promotional window sign invited visitors to the new Ellsworth gallery.
The gallery survived during this time through generous membership donations and through funding of grants to the gallery through the Kansas Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Exhibitors and Cultural Opportunities included:
•    A permanent display of works by the late Ellsworth artist, Charles B. Rogers
•    Oliver Bircher of Kanopolis, Exhibiting intricate mosaic woodworks of art
•    Marilyn Showalter of Holyrood, countryside Central Kansas paintings
•    Keith and Marsha Erickson, Ellsworth, weaving
•    Julie Britton, Ellsworth, hand-colored intaglio and assemblage
•    Pam Schmidt and Deneen Urbanek (Shively) Ellsworth, storytelling
•    Annual Summer art classes for youth in Holyrood, Ellsworth and Kanopolis
•    Adult art classes in sandstone sculpture and painting techniques
•    Ralph Bruning of Ellsworth, display of authentic ¼ scale Mitchell farm wagons, Abbot Downing Stage Coaches and howitzers and Native American artifacts (this exhibit was later accepted by the Kansas Museum of History, Topeka for a 3 month exhibit).
•    Thomas Warttig, Ellsworth, hand carved Michell Farm Wagon (include in Ks Historical Museum Exhibit)
•    Alfred Vodraska, Ellsworth, Czech inspired hand-made woodworks
•    L.D. Bates, Jr. Kanopolis, unusual antique items
•    Norma Meitler, Ellsworth, watercolor paintings and painted hand-carved birds.
•    Norman Meitler, Ellsworth, hand carved birds
•    Vernon Brejcha, formerly of Holyrood, currently Associate Professor of Design KU; glassblowing
•    Margaret (Mugs) Sheridan, Ellsworth, wheat weaving
•    Kepka Belton, Ellsworth, Czech Art
•    Ed (Doc) Ptacek, Ellsworth, photography
•    John Thaemert, Sylvan Grove, scratchboard creations and acrylic painting
•    Larry & Ellen Hanzlicek, Wilson, Czech woodworks and paintings
•    Gordon Sherman, etchings and monotypes
•    Kenneth Crease, Ellsworth Correctional Inmate, drawings of Ellsworth County buildings
•    Agnes Kepka, Ellsworth, hand-made paper sculptures
•    David Mehl, (formerly of Holyrood) live musical performance; organist
•    Ruth and Robert Rogers, Ellsworth, an overview of the work by the late Charles B. Rogers
•    Carol Tanton, Ellsworth, Etched Glass
•    Chris Leal, Ellsworth, Native American Artifacts
•    An Exhibit of the late Ellsworth ceramist, Jimmy Dryden of his Dryden pottery from local collections, over 100 pieces donated for viewing for this exhibit.
•    Ed Fulford, wood sculptor
•    David Schwartzel, Ellsworth, photography
•    Bob, Eva and Scott Grauer, Wilson, stained glass and photography
•    Gordon Mai, Wilson, photography and painting
•    Don Long and Jan Klug, Ellsworth, hand-painted woodworks
•    Eugenie Fein, North Carolina, graphic designer for Ellsworth Development “Pride of the Prairie” brochure; paintings
•    Bill Kirk, Ellsworth, paintings
•    Ernie Masden, Wilson, “Buffalo Bill Collection,” Indian artifacts and historical memorabilia.
•    Adolph Hanneman, Lincoln, wood sculpture
•    Delmar Vonada, Sylvan Grove, post rock construction
•    Ruth Staeber, Lorraine, bell collection
•    Brett Hanson, Ellsworth native, Black Hawk original pottery
•    K-4th grade Ellsworth original Halloween mask contest
•    T. David Lowe, Bethany College professor of music and art direction, violin performance with Jeanne Schroeder of Lorraine.
•    Agnes Kepka, Janet Carswell and Lois Wenz, area collectors of Christmas items
•    Marilyn Hutton, Holyrood, hand-made dolls
•    Debra Dolecek, Wilson, portraits
•    Inez Jandos, Kanopolis, hand-painted porcelain on china
•    Mr. & Mrs. Torrey Fox, animal fox collection
•    “Eisenhower the Artist”, collection of paintings by the late Dwight D. Eisenhower.
•    Barbara Jarvis, Sara Duffield, Jean Rietz, Bran Anderson, Harley Elliott and Richard and Richie Bergen, Salina, group show
•    Jonathon Dahlke, antique instruments
•    Joanne Harwick, Michael Florian Jilg, Darrell McGinnis, Kathleen Kuchar, Frank Nichols, Leland Powers and Zoran Stevanov, FHSU art faculty show.
•    Youth Art Exhibit, Ellsworth County Students
•    Richard and Richie Bergen, Salina, sculpture to include an miniature of “Ad Aspera per Aspera” and paintings
•    Harley Elliott, Salina, mixed media
•    Brand Anderson, Salina, ceramic
•    McPherson Group Artist Show featuring works by 14 artists of multi-disciplined works.
•    Swedish art by 14 Lindsborg artists, multidiscipline
•    Laurie Housemann-Whitehawk, Lawrence, Native American paintings.
•    Eddie Morrison , Lawrence, wood sculpture
•    Les Evans, Lawrence, Native American Masks
•    Chris Musgrave, Baldwin City, painting
•    Patti Massell, Culver, Traditional Sioux Sun Dance Dress
•    Mr. & Mrs. Floyd Kasiska, Ellsworth, private collection of artist Blackbear Bosin
•    Hubertine Mog, Ellsworth, watercolor paintings
•    Ross Hilgers, Hays, stoneware
•    Joyce Harlow, Lincoln, pastel drawings
•    Marge Lawson, Sylvan Grove, photographs
•    Richard Renner, Wichita,  Slapstick Circus performance, Ellsworth Elementary Gym
•    Susan Lime Overbey, Holyrood, pottery
•    The Wichita Children’s Theatre performance
•    Ken (K.W.) Raney, Ellsworth native,  book signing
•    Rhonda Keating, (formerly of Ellsworth) paintings
•    Myra Cassidy Barr (late mother of Nancy Stonebraker) paintings
•    Don Urbanek, historical artifacts
•    James D. Puner, assemblages

My count shows that 200 artists exhibited their works of art during this time. This list is not inclusive of all of the talented artists that drove to Ellsworth to contribute their works of art for viewing.

I am glad to see that art exhibitions in Ellsworth are continuing.

Julie Britton



Filed under: prairie musings, Ellsworth, History — Peg Britton @ 5:51 pm

The renovation of the historical Insurance Building may begin in the next 30 days.  The low bid for the project was offered by Medina Construction Company, Inc. of Salina. Their base bid was $289,950. In addition, Medina also submitted bids for the alternate jobs, which were approved by the Drover board:

  • Refinish and clean thecast iron and sheet metal, $5,709.
  • Remove  and reconstruction of metal caps, $33,123
  • Reconstruct and tuckpoint masonry, $108,128
  • Restoration of the oriel, $25,910
  • Replacement of the windows and doors, $82,025
  • Repacement of 14 limestone window sills, $22,760

The total amount of the base project and alternate jobs is $567,585.

Mark Roehrman, chairman of the Drover board, said it was an exciting time for the board and the vast number of supporters to be able to see that something is going to happen within the next month or so.  Before construction can actually take place, the board will make application for tax credits.  The group that approves the tax credits also gave approval on the Heritage Trust Fund Grant.

The plans for the overall project also include a 200-250 seat community theater that will be addressed in the future.

The Drover board is soliciting donations for this project and contributions in any amount would be greatly appreciated.

Checks can be made to the Drovers National Hall of Fame and sent to president, Mark Roehrman, 210 N. Douglas, Ellsworth KS 67439.



Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 11:50 pm

by Jim Gray

Ellsworth was destined for a turbulent reputation from its very inception. Fort Ellsworth had been established at the very edge of the frontier in 1864. The Cheyenne had driven everyone off the trails leading to Denver City, Colorado Territory, and it was up to the military to reopen the trails. Fort Ellsworth lay at the point of division between the Fort Riley Military Road which led to the Santa Fe Trail and the Smoky Hill Trail, the most direct but also the most treacherous route to Denver City.

The Cheyenne would not go willingly. There were raids upon wagon trains, horses were stolen directly from Fort Ellsworth, and ill equipped soldiers were led on wild chases across the sea of grass known as the Great American Desert. In 1866, the fort was renamed Fort Harker and, in 1867, relocated one mile to the northeast.


Fort Harker would become the major supply post for the military campaigns to subdue the Plains Indians. In this atmosphere the idea of Ellsworth City was conceived. Of course, the idea was to make money from the soldiers and so the city was platted just beyond the Fort Harker Military Reserve. The railroad was nearing the city and the new town overflowed with frontiersmen of every kind. A man could dig a hole in the bluff that bordered the town, set up a table with some cards and a bottle of whiskey within its curtained door, and open for business. In no time, his little dugout would be overrun with soldiers, gamblers, bullwhackers, railroaders, Texas cowboys and the inevitable unruly women that made up the character of doing business in an “end of the line” town.

Only months in existence, Ellsworth was struck a series of near fatal blows. The Smoky Hill River raged out of its banks leaving the town standing in nearly four feet of water. Cholera struck at Fort Harker and spread to Ellsworth. Those who didn’t die fled in fear. Nearby Fort Harker was no deterrent to the Cheyenne who killed railroad workers just west of town, attacked bull trains on the trail to Santa Fe, and even stole horses from Ellsworth itself! A handful of people endured it all and began again on higher ground west of the original townsite.

The town was soon to prosper once again and a photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in September of 1867 shows a vibrant and active business district. Ellsworth continued its wicked ways. It was said that “Ellsworth has a man every morning for breakfast!” And that it did! Gunfire and revelry in the streets could be heard at all hours of the night or day. Outlaws rode in and took over the town only to be hung on the hangin’ tree when the vigilante committee tired of their shenanigans. Wild Bill Hickok ran for Sheriff in 1868, but there were many equal to the calling in frontier Ellsworth. Former cavalry man, E.W. Kingsbury, defeated him, and along with Chauncey Whitney kept the town from complete madness. Hickok and Redlegs sidekick, Jack Harvey rode the district as Deputy U.S. Marshals.

The tales of gunfights, hangings, and fortunes won and lost are legend. By 1872, the Texas cattle trade had abandoned Abilene. The wild Texas Longhorn trailed through the streets of Ellsworth to the Kansas Pacific Stockyards. The Cowboy reigned supreme, or at least, the gamblers let them think so. The Plaza was filled with men and women from around the world and reporters marveled at the diversity. Nearly every other business was a saloon even though the sign outside might read “Restaurant”. The railroad cut the extra wide street in half with businesses facing the tracks, a line on the south and a line on the north. On north main, The OLD RELIABLE HOUSE sold everything a cowboy could ever want or need. The Drovers Cottage was across the tracks and was headquarters for many Texans who could see the stockyards just out their window.

In 1873, Ellsworth geared up for the largest drive of Texas Longhorns to date. They expected trouble, and beefed up the police force to five men. Four of them were named either Jack or John, the other was Ed Hogue who also served as assistant Sheriff of Ellsworth County under Sheriff Chauncey Whitney. The Cowboys poked fun at the city lawmen referring to them as “four Jacks and a Joker”. Sheriff Whitney they liked. The season remained quiet; only one killing. One hot August Sunday Ellsworth erupted in gunplay that would in due time mark the beginning of the end of cattletown Ellsworth. City Marshal, “Happy Jack” Morco sided with a gambler against Texan Ben Thompson in a dispute over the winnings of a game. Ben was a notorious gunman with a reputation equal to Wild Bill’s. Ben and his drunken brother Billy had moved to the middle of the Plaza near the depot and called to the others to meet them in the open. The city law was out of control and unable to intercede peaceably in the matter, and so Ellsworth County Sheriff, Chauncey Whitney stepped into the street and called to the Thompsons. In short order he convinced them to take a drink with him and as they stepped into Joe Brennan’s Saloon, Happy Jack charged down the street guns drawn. Ben wheeled and fired his Henry rifle narrowly missing Morco, Billy stumbled and discharged his shotgun mortally wounding the Sheriff.

Ben and an army of Texans held off the town as Billy rode away. In the next few weeks ‘Hell was in Session in Ellsworth.” Happy Jack was fired. Ed Crawford, a new city marshal, pistol whipped a Texan to death. Vigilantes roamed the streets issuing “white affidavits” to Texans to “get out of town or else”. Happy Jack was gunned down in the streets when he failed to disarm, and a Texan killed Ed Crawford in the dim hallway of Lizzie Palmer’s Dancehall.

Most Texans went home to the “girl they left behind” and family dear. Few if ever spoke of the things they saw and did at the “end of the trail”. But, the mementos were there. In Ellsworth they had often purchased the first “store bought” clothes they had ever worn. With saddlebags packed with gifts from the north they triumphantly rode home. And though Ellsworth would close its shipping pens in 1875, the story would be told again and again of “Abilene, the first, Dodge City, the last, but Ellsworth the wickedest”.


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 11:44 pm

The city of Ellsworth came into existence in 1867 when a survey was made by William McGrath and Colonel Greenwood. H.J. Latshaw selected and laid out the town site on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River in sections 28 and 29. The plot and the certificate were filed for record May 8, 1867, in Saline County.

The Kansas Pacific Railroad was building west from Kansas City and reached Abilene in March 1867. Excitement ran high. It was rumored that Ellsworth would be the western terminal of the Kansas Pacific and the shipping point for the immense business to the Southwest. People came by the hundreds: merchants, lawyers, doctors, gamblers, gunmen, laborers and thieves. Stores, restaurants, hotels, saloons and gambling houses were erected of every conceivable material at hand. E.W. Kingsbury built the first structure, a store and hotel. J. L. Bell sold tin-ware and stoves; Coffin and Harker, Lockstone and Phelps and O. Bell sold groceries and provision. Andres Schmidt sold boots and shoes; and Grieger and Co., a commission house. The town was booming. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people had come to Ellsworth.

In June, 1867, disaster struck the town. The Smoky Hill flooded and four feet of water stood in the street. The poorly built structures collapsed and stocks of goods were swept downstream. The entire town was completely ruined. The townspeople decided to move to a new site and selected section 20, two miles to the northwest.

Shortly after this change was made, cholera broke out and threatened to wipe out the town. People left by the hundreds and the population dwindled to less than 50. By October, the people began to return and Ellsworth became a permanent settlement.

New Ellsworth was laid out in July, 1867, at the same time the Kansas Pacific reached the new site. The town was built on both sides of the track. Two streets, North Main and South Main, consisted of three blocks of buildings facing the tracks.


As a frontier town, during the years of 1867 to 1871, Ellsworth was full of vice. Gun battles were common, hangings were frequent and gambling and drinking were indulged at all hours of the night. Frank A. Root said in part, “There were about 100 business houses in town, many carrying on their trade in tents. All business appeared to be transacted on the high pressure scale. It seems as if nearly every other house in town was a drinking place, while gambling and dance halls and other questionable results were uncommonly numerous.”

The town was headquarters for all southwest freight traffic. Many bull and mule trains came bringing in a class of men who were not always of the best reputation.

Some effort at organization took place in August 1867, when the first election was held and county officials were chosen. E.W. Kingsbury was elected sheriff. A bridge company was organized for the purpose of building a bridge across the Smoky; the post office was established July 17, 1867 and the railroad company built the first depot in August, south of the tracks and north of what is now the Tucker Hotel (build by Arthur Larkin in 1874). Ellsworth was incorporated as a village in 1868. With the coming of the cattle trade in 1871-75, Ellsworth became the “rip-roaringest, toughest” Cowtown in the west. The population doubled. A city government was organized and Ellsworth because a third class city. W. Husema was elected mayor, with Leo Herzig, George Seitz, W. Phelps and Frank Graham serving as councilmen and C.B Whitney as marshal. Ordinances were passed regulating the duties and pay of peace officers, use of deadly weapons and restriction of drunks. With this growth more builds were erected to accommodate the trade.

The location of buildings commencing at the west end of South Main shows the Drovers Cottage, which was moved to Ellsworth from Abilene in sections. It was a three-story hotel of 80 rooms and was operated by J.W. and Louisa Gore and M.B. George. It burned in the early 1880s and a pottery factory was built on the site. This location was a block west of the present Helwick Motor Co. Continuing east were Jack New’s saloon, John Kelly’s American House, Nick Lentz’s saloon, Jerome Beebe’s merchandise, Joseph Brennan’s saloon, Whitney and Kendall’s furniture store and others.

On the north side, going east from Douglas Avenue, was the Seitz Drug Store (building still remains) which was advertised as the oldest established drug store in Kansas (1868). Next was a livery stable, a post office, a gambling place and Arthur Larkin’s dry goods and clothing store. At the corner of Lincoln and Main, the Grand Central Hotel (present White House Hotel) was built by Arthur Larkin. Many noted characters of the Old West stayed there while in Ellsworth: Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Ben and Billy Thompson, Rowdy Joe Rowe and many others.

East of the Grand Central was the Ellsworth Reporter office. The first jail was a small building on the site of the present O’Donnell Hardware Co. and the first church, the Episcopal Church on the present site of Sheriff’s Drug Store, was built by the pastor himself. The courthouse and a new jail were located two blocks east of Douglas on the north side. The stockyards were in the west end of town and covered several acres. Two hundred cars of cattle could be loaded in a day. By 1872, the stockyards were the largest in the state.


Nauchville, the tough part of town, was located a half-mile east of town on the river bottom. Most of the evil afflicting the town had its start here, a conglomeration of brothels saloons and gambling joints. A race track featured horseracing and the rough element had a “high old time with plenty of wine, women and song.”

In 1871, a total of 35,000 head of cattle was shipped from Ellsworth. This increased to 150,000 in 1873. The people of Ellsworth made every effort to build this trade and carried on an extensive advertising campaign. Highly publicized were the railroad facilities, cattle yards and hotel accommodations. The town was full of strangers hunting for homes. Rents rose to 15 and 20 dollars per month. Twelve hotels, including tent houses and restaurants, where people were fed and housed, were filled to capacity.

City fathers decided that they could not root out lawlessness; therefore they were going to make all of the vicious vocations contribute to the maintenance of law and order. The entire sum of municipal expense was paid from licenses and fees. The Topeka Commonwealth, July 1, 1873, says in part: “The city realizes $300 per month from prostitution fines alone. The city authorities consider that as long as mankind is depraved and Texas cattle herders exist, there will be a demand and necessity for prostitutes, and that as long as prostitutes are bound to dwell in Ellsworth it is better for the respectable portion of society to hold prostitutes under restraint of law.”

With the shifting of the cattle trade from Abilene in 1873, much of the sinister element arrived. Among them were Ben and Billy Thompson, Cad Pierce and Neil Cain, two handsome “wild” boys, and John Sterling, a gambler with considerable money who always won whether his bet was a good one or not.

The city police force consisted of a marshal and four deputies who were appointed by the mayor with the approval of the council. “Brocky Jack” Norton was marshal. Ed Hogue, John DeLong, Jon Marco and John Brauhan were employed as policemen. Vincent B. Osborne was police judge and most of his work came during the cattle season. Two months later, in the summer of 1873, he passed judgment in more than 60 cases in his courtroom over Larkin’s Dry Goods Store.

Prominent among the cases before his court were those of Billy Thompson, arrested twice that summer, the first time by Ed Hogue, when he paid a fine of $25 and costs; the second time by “Happy Jack” Morco on the charge that on June 30 he “did then and there unlawfully and feloniously carry on his person a deadly weapon commonly called a revolver and was unlawfully disturbing the peace and did unlawfully assault on John Morco.”

The case which is number 142 in the old police court docket was tried July 1. Five witnesses were subpoenaed. Among those were Sheriff Whitney for the prosecution and Henry Inman for the defense. Billy pleased guilty. Judge Osborne fined him $10 and costs amounting to $15. The fine was paid, Billy was released and a fee of $2.50 was paid to “Happy Jack” in accordance with the ruling that when someone was arrested and successfully prosecuted, the policeman making the arrest received that amount.


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 10:50 pm

April 12, 1888

The Ellsworth Reporter

Ellsworth is romantically situated on a beautiful undulating prairie, increasing in altitude from either side of the Smoky Hill River, to a series of elevated ridges which the possession of by handsome residences, has converted into an attractive, picturesque, peculiarly health-inspiring boulevard; a feature rarely met with in the generally level citys of the “plain,” so common to Kansas.

Ellsworth, rising but gradually from the rich alluvial and naturally timbered river-bottom, has its avenues, streets, and residence-grounds more than ordinarily susceptible to forest-growth; its citizens therefore, from the “new birth” of the city—the period some 10 or 12 years ago, when it was freed from the blighting thralldom of “The Texas cattle trade” -have been diligent in beautifying their thoroughfares and homes with arborescent forms, until now it has earned and deserved its enviable title of “The Forest City”.


Filed under: History, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 10:45 pm

Ellsworth County, Kansas
by Larry & Carolyn Mix

General Orders No. 22 issued on November 17, 1866, by General Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Division of the Missouri, directed the Name of Fort Ellsworth be changed to Fort Harker, in honor of General Charles Garrison Harker. Harker was born in New Jersey on December 2, 1835. General Harker died on June 27, 1864, from wounds received in an abortive offensive action during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain.

By December of 1866, a site for the new post of Fort Harker had been selected approximately one mile northeast of the old Fort Ellsworth. The Fort Ellsworth post office was discontinued on December 3, 1866. It was moved to the new site and reopened as the Fort Harker post office. Vincent B. Osborne, the post sutler, served as the first post master of this new post office.

Records of the new post indicate that construction of the new fort may have started as many as five months earlier in July of 1866. However, the presence of a master carpenter, a master mason, five carpenters, and fourteen masons at the fort in September 1866 strongly suggests actual construction was underway.

In an article in the Army and Navy Journal additional evidence that construction was under way at the new site of Fort Harker in the winter of 1866/67 can be found.

There have been no drills here the past Winter, the soldiers being all occupied in building quarters. Isn’t it a mistake on the part of the Government to require enlisted men to work as common laborers, with no opportunity to perfect themselves in drill? An officer cannot have proper discipline in his command under such circumstances. The men, too labor somehow under silent protest, desertions are more then frequent. February 16, 1867.

The large numbers of civilian construction workers no longer appeared on the post returns after June of 1867. This is a good indication that the majority of the fort structures were completed by the early summer. However the surgeon’s records continued to list numbers of civilian employees at sick call through January of 1868.

On December 21, 1866, an order that an inspection of the new post and troops at Fort Harker was to be conducted. Post returns indicate that a Colonel Elmer Otis, 1st U.S. Cavalry, was at the post from January 4 to 12 1867. the inspection was completed on January 10, 1867. The Special Inspector Otis focused on all aspects of the fort including the site selected, construction activities, building finished, in progress, and planned, living conditions, competence and appearance of officers and enlisted men, Quartermaster and Commissary departments, book and record keeping, quality and care of livestock, the post sutler, and other topics.

Well to make a long report short, Otis found very little that impressed him about the new Fort Harker. Everything from the site location, construction of the post, additional laborers needed, no hospital had been built, no guard house, no warehouses, living conditions of the few officers at the new post, cleanliness and sanitary conditions of the enlisted barracks were generally poor, the quarters of the 3rd U.S. Infantry company were described as unclean, with floors dirty and wet, slop and dirt thrown about the quarters indiscriminately. Poor police or sanitation was a problem that Inspector Otis noted for the post in general.

The inspector noted that under the management of General Alfred Gibbs, 7th U.S. Cavalry, who arrived at the fort on January 5, the situation appeared to be improving. Otis believed Gibbs would do the best possible for the comfort of the Troops. Later on things seemed to improve for the better. Otis generally was favorably impressed with the commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers serving at Fort Harker. Otis, inspection report of January 10, 1867.

The move into the new post was made as soon as the buildings were ready. Many men and officers continued to live at old Fort Ellsworth while working at the new fort, “until their new quarters were ready for occupation.”

Soon the quarters were finished, and we emerged from our dug-outs and log huts into our respective homes. We soon were settled and felt as if living in palace compared to our former abodes. But not for long did we enjoy our comforts. In June of 1867 the buildings remaining at the old Fort Ellsworth were ordered torn down.

The Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, was completed to Fort Harker on July 10, establishing rail communication with the East. The railroad ran through the military reservation approximately three hundred yards north of the parade ground. The depot was situated one third mile northeast of the post. Quartermaster’s and Commissary departments was established at the post, and two large storehouses were erected close to the railroad track for their use. From these depots, during the greater part of the years 1867/68, all the posts on the Arkansas and many in Colorado and New Mexico were supplied.

The Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division continued to build to the west from Fort Harker to Fort Wallace during the summer of 1867. The Indians of the area increased their resistance to this encroachment. But nothing was to compare with the problem that was about to rear it’s head at Fort Harker.

As the busy season of routine patrols, escort duty, and Indian attacks were getting underway, a different kind of problem arose at Fort Harker, this being Asiatic Cholera! The disease appeared at the fort soon after the arrival of four companies of the 38th U.S. Infantry in June of 1867. It was suggested that they may have brought the disease with them from Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis where cholera had broken out during their stay, but conditions at Fort Harker also may have been to blame. The first case at Fort Harker occurred on June 28. A civilian who was employed by the beef contractor, and lived on the Smoky Hill River about a mile from the fort, was stricken and died. Later that same day Private George Groom, a black soldier from Company H, 38th U.S. Infantry, in route to New Mexico, was sent to the post hospital, where he died the next day. Cholera soon spread to other troops stationed at the fort, the quartermaster’s employees, civilians traveling through, and settlers in the vicinity.

Post returns from Fort Harker for the summer of 1867 make several references to the cholera epidemic. Captain John N. Craig made the following comment about the progress of the disease in the July post return, “Epidemic cholera which has prevailed at this post through the month is decreasing.” The Post Quarter Master reported that 58 citizens were buried during the month. In the August post return, Captain C. C. Parsons reported that “a strict Sanitary Police” had been enforced during the month, the result being fewer cases of cholera reported.

During late June through December of 1867, 392 cases with 24 deaths were reported among the white troops at Fort Harker and 500 cases with 22 deaths among the black troops at this post. Many of these soldiers were encamped at or near the fort but were not part of the command assigned to Fort Harker. At least 36 additional black troopers from the 38th U.S. Infantry died after leaving Fort Harker on assignment.

After a relatively quiet winter, the soldiers made preparations during the spring and early summer of 1868 for a continuation of encounters with hostile Indian parties. During the fall of 1868, General Sheridan removed his headquarters from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Harker. Major Inman claimed that plans for Sheridan’s campaign during the winter of 1868/69 against allied hostile tribes were designed in the officers quarters at Fort Harker, with contributions from Sheridan, General Forsyth, Colonel Andrew J. McGonnigal, and Major Inman. Rumors spread during 1869 that General Custer would be assigned to Fort Harker to command two companies of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. Instead however, on August 25 Brevet Colonel Joseph G. Tilford was sent to Fort Harker. General Miles was in command of Fort Harker at this time. Troops D and K, 7th U.S. Cavalry, wintered at Fort Harker, but without Custer. These two cavalry troops left Fort Harker on February 22, 1870, to confront roaming hostile bands of Indians.

Between May 3 and 15, 1870, Custer and four troops, F, I, L, and M of the 7th U.S. Cavalry left Fort Leavenworth and arrived at Fort Harker. After receiving and forwarding reports of Indian attacks on a train near Willow Springs and Lake Stanton, Custer and his troops continued west to Fort Hays, Kansas. Major General John Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri, placed General Custer in charge of protecting the Kansas frontier during the summer of 1870. He instructed the commanding officers at Fort Harker and Fort Hays to provide Custer with troops as needed, and he also placed 7th U.S. Cavalry forces under Brevet Lieutenant Colonel J. G. Tilford under Custer’s command.

In June 1871 the post commander ordered a board to “examine and report upon the condition of the two sets of log Company Quarters here.” Surgeon Fryer was the board’s senior member. The report of the board indicated that the log barracks were unsafe and unfit for occupancy. The board’s report was forwarded to Department Headquarters, with positive results. By October work was underway repairing the log barracks. Roofs were repaired and new floors were laid.

In anticipation of Fort Harker’ closing, Surgeon Fryer was relieved as Post Surgeon on March 27, 1872, by Acting Assistant Surgeon C. C. Arms. Fryer, who had been at the post for several years, was sent to Fort Union with the 15th U.S. Infantry. Orders for the abandonment of the post were received at Fort harker on April 28, 1872. With the exception of some items to be sold, Medical Department property was sent to Fort Hays, and Medical records were sent to the Office of the Surgeon General. Most of Companies D, E, and F of the 5th U.S. Infantry had already left the fort on April 26. A small detachment of Infantry, consisting of one commissioned officer, a sergeant, and five enlisted men, was left to garrison the post. Company C of the 5th U.S. Cavalry left Fort Harker on May 7. Post returns for June/September 1872 were filed by 1st Lieutenant E. L Randall, who commanded a detachment of five-six enlisted men remaining at the post. Surgeon J. W. Brewer made his last monthly entry in October, indicating that he left the post on October 5, 1872.

Much of what is known about the layout and appearance of Fort Harker comes from just a few sources. Military plans, daily reports, and other records provide a good indication of the types, number, and locations of the buildings, corrals, privies, wells, springs, and trash dumps. The best single description of Fort Harker was written by post surgeon Dr. Blencoe E. Fryer. His handwritten report, bearing the date of May 1870, is some what longer and more detailed than the printed version that appears in a repost on Barracks and Hospitals with Descriptions of Military Posts, from the U. S. Surgeon General’s Office dated December 5, 1870.

At Fort Harker more of the distinguished generals of the war have slept or been entertained than any other post in the U.S. Some of the well known were; Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Terry, Howard, Schofield, Marcy, Grierson, Custer, A. J. Smith, Sully (son of the celebrated American Artist who painted Queen Victoria in her youth) and others have camped there. It’s commanders were Custer, Gibbs, Sully, A.J. Smith and Miles.

Today four of the original stone buildings from the fort era are being restored to be used by the Ellsworth County Historical Society as part of their museum complex.

The museum for Fort Ellsworth/Harker in the town of Kanopolis, Kansas is located in the old “Guardhouse” from Fort Harker days.

East of the Guardhouse Museum about two block there are two of the junior officers quarters on the north side of the street.

The commanding officer’s quarters sits on the south side of the street at this location. These are small reminders of what was once a large military complex and for a brief time, in the 1860’s, one of the busiest military posts on the Kansas frontier. No great battles are associated with Fort Harker, and no major incidents occurred there. It performed its mission well, including supply depot, command headquarters, and active military post.

An in depth study by Leo E. Oliva on Fort Harker can be found in his book “Fort Harker, Defending the Journey West” The book can be ordered through the “Last Chance Store” along with many other great book by this author.

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
St. John, Kansas © “Forever”


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 10:00 pm


Ellsworth County, Kansas
by Larry & Carolyn Mix

From the year of 1744, when the French established Fort de Cavagnial on the bluffs of the Missouri River. Kansas has been the home to numerous military forts or posts. This article will cover two of them, Fort Ellsworth, 1864/66, and Fort Harker, 1866/72.

During the late 1850’s D. H. Page and Joseph Lemon established a trading ranche and mail station on the northeast side of the Smoky Hill River at a point where the military road linking Fort Riley to the Santa Fe Trail crossed the river and near the future site of Fort Ellsworth in now Ellsworth County, Kansas. This military road was laid out in 1850s. Three building were shown in this location on the General Land Office survey with a label of U.S. Mail Station. In addition to operating the mail station and trading ranche, Page and Lemon were hunters and traders. In May of 1864, an Indian massacre in the vicinity of their ranche caused them to give up the venture in the trading ranche. About this time the trade ranche was abandoned.

In June 1864, “Fort Ellsworth, Kansas” was established at the site of the Page Ranche. The fort was one of several that served to protect the area of Central Kansas and the Santa Fe Trail. According to an 1870 military report, both Fort Ellsworth and the later military post Fort Harker were established to furnish a point from which operations could be carried on against the Indians, who were very troublesome during this time in Kansas History.

An archeological dig at the Fort Ellsworth site in progress 1999.

At Fort Ellsworth construction began in June of 1864, under the orders from General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri. Major T. I. McKenny, Inspector General of the Department of Kansas, initiated construction of the blockhouse. The job of completing the blockhouse and post was left to 2nd Lieutenant Allen Ellsworth of Company H, 7th Iowa Cavalry. The first building on the site of the new post was completed in June of 1864. In July of that same year general Curtic assigned the fort its name, in honor of Lieutenant Ellsworth, during a dress parade at Fort Larned, Kansas. Not much information such as drawings, sketches or photographs have been found of this new Fort Ellsworth. Although there is one sketch entitled Sutler store, made by George Snyder in 1866 may in reality be a representation of the Sutler store at Old Fort Ellsworth. The post sutler at the fort was Robert Miller, possibly the only individual on the post to also live and work at Fort Harker.

A description of Fort Ellsworth exists in a few military records, letters, diaries, and journals. A traveler by the name of John Morrill, who traveled through the fort in September 23, 1865, wrote to his wife and gave this description.

You would laugh to see the Fort, here is a groupe of log shanties covered with dirt, most of the windows are made of boards hung on leather hinges & made to swing open & shut. There is two or three of them which have a half window sash & some of them have panes of glass in them. I suppose the aristocracy reside in them which have the glass. It is a military post. There are soldiers established here. There is but very few log shakes perhaps eight or ten in all & a cat could go in & out of them between the logs. There is a row of caves along the river bank in which the soldiers burrow in winter. You can look away & see nothing but high stony hills and valleys. Morrill also stated that “this country should be left to the Indians & Wild beasts & such is pretty much the case.”

On at least two occasions, Indians directly attacked Fort Ellsworth. A raiding party drove off about 50 horses belonging to the 7th Iowa Cavalry and five mules belonging to the Kansas Stage Company from the post on August 7, 1864. The second attack was mentioned in a June 17, 1865 report, but details of the attack were not recorded in the report.

General Orders No. 22 issued on November 17, 1866, by General Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Division of the Missouri, directed the name of Fort Ellsworth be changed to Fort Harker, in honor of General Charles Garrison Harker. General Harker died on June 27, 1864, from wounds received in an abortive offensive action during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain.

While the name of the post was no longer Fort Ellsworth, the garrison remained in place and continued to carry out its duties. During the course of the next few months major changes began to take place in the vicinity of the newly renamed post of Fort Harker.

In 1865 David A. Butterfield, opened the Smoky Hill route through Kansas as the most direct stage and freight road from Atchison to Denver. This new route would be far shorter than along the Platte River route to the north that was now being used by most of the freighters of the time. The Smoky Hill route was 592 miles in length or 61 miles shorter then the Platte River route. This route would cut off two or three days from the trip to Denver. Butterfield’s first wagon train along the Smoky Hill route, left Atchinson on June 25, 1865, with a total load of 150,000 pounds of goods. This wagon train was accompanied by a military escort of 250 men and several engineers. As they went they made improvements to the road and selected sites for stage way stations. Butterfield began running stages along the route after several way stations were built and stocked with the provisions that would be needed for the operation of the stage line. The first stage, with David Butterfield on board, left Atchison on September 11, and arrived in Denver twelve days later on September 23. The Butterfield Overland Dispatch initially was a success, offering tri-weekly express service between Atchison and Denver in only eight to twelve days.

The travelers on the BOD found the journey fairly easy until they reached Fort Ellsworth. This site served as a home station on the route, offering food for the travelers and fresh stock for the stage. At this point the route followed the north side of the Smoky Hill River.

Indians caused major problems for the stages and wagons of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch and other travelers along the Smoky Hill Route during the late 1860’s. Several stations were attacked and burned, stages were waylaid, and a number of drivers were killed. In 1866 the company was sold to Ben Holladay, who continued to operate the stage operation. Military troops stationed in the area spent much of their time riding on or alongside the stages as an escort. In August of 1866, the Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs assembled at Fort Harker for a council. Colonel Wynkoop represented the United States. The chiefs promised to restrain their young men from making further trouble.

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
St. John, Kansas
© “Forever”


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 9:46 pm

By Jim Gray

Since the first cowman trailed his herd of cattle off to market, cowboys have filled the imagination of folks the world over. The vision of a cow puncher riding up the trail, “his hat throwed back, and his spurs a jinglin ” will live forever in the annals of American legend and lore. Cattle herders have been known for thousands of years; common men doing a menial job that had to be done.

There was something different about the cowboys of middle to late 19th century America. Perhaps it was the times. The country was growing by leaps and bounds following the great Civil War. The whole world, it seemed, opened up to an adventurous and exciting panorama of destiny. Perhaps the difference was the destination itself. Nothing on earth had ever been quite like the Kansas cattle towns at the end of that long and dusty trail.

In 1867, an Illinois cattle buyer named Joseph McCoy established a cattle depot at Abilene, Kansas, and thus, a new era was begun for cattlemen driving their Texas Longhorns on the long trail to the northern markets. America was hungry for beef and war-weary Texans were more than ready to exchange cattle on the hoof for gold coins. So it was that the fabled cowboy found himself on the streets of Ellsworth, Kansas, in the years 1868 to 1875.

The Kansas Pacific Railway took advantage of their unchallenged position on the plains and actively promoted shipping cattle all along their line. Ellsworth immediately became known as a good location to graze cattle until they were ready to load on railcars. Abilene continued to dominate the market as McCoy made every effort to accommodate both seller and buyer. But, by 1871, wheat was taking the place of grass on the prairies surrounding Abilene. The market shifted south to Newton on the Santa Fe Railway and west to Ellsworth on the Kansas Pacific.

The cattle industry was also taking shape as a major segment of the national economy. Ellsworth was poised to take center stage as America watched with eager anticipation. The Kansas Pacific hired a Texan, Robert D. Hunter, to run the Ellsworth stockyards. The commission company of Hunter & Evans would later become one of the largest dealers in stock in the United States.

The streets of Ellsworth teemed with the famous and the soon to be famous. Colonel J. J. Myers was one of the grand old men of the cattle business. He had been through what would become Ellsworth County in 1844 with “The Pathfinder”, Captain John C. Fremont, who was returning from an expedition to California.

Many of the drovers had gained early experience with a Myers outfit. Captain Eugene Millett bossed a Myers herd to Illinois in 1866. In 1875, he and three partners put together one of the largest trailing operations in history, trailing over 100,000 head of cattle north in a single season.

Millett later ranched in Ellsworth County. Kanopolis Lake covers his headquarters. Millett helped organize the Kansas City Fat Stock Show in 1882. It would eventually be known as the American Royal.

Partnerships were common in the cattle trailing industry. John T. Lytle & William Perryman sold 1,000 head of cattle to Millett & Mabry in Ellsworth in 1872. Lytle would become the senior member of Lytle, McDaniels, Schriener, and Light. John Light had met many cattlemen on the streets of Ellsworth which led to his partnership with the Lytle operation. They became the major trailing contractor, delivering over 600,000 head of cattle to northern destinations.

“Shanghai” Pierce had been one of the first cattlemen to break away from the Abilene market to sell in Ellsworth. His exploits on the trail are legendary. Cowboys used to love to sit around the fire and listen to Shanghai s stories that usually ended with Pierce himself being the embarrassing target of some antic or joke.

Print Olive barely escaped Ellsworth with his life in 1872 when young Jim Kenedy shot him down in a saloon on South Main. Olive s cowboys were tough hombres, tough as the land that had spawned them. Olive would later run his vast herds of cattle in the Smoky Hill country south of WaKeeney.

Jesse Driskill used his cattle money to establish the Driskill Hotel. It was the showplace of Austin, Texas, when it opened in 1886. It is still one of Austin s premier establishments and is described as “a world which transcends time and place”.

George W. Littlefield wrote to his nephew in 1873 from Ellsworth, “This is our Place. This is the Place and this is the winter, for You & I to make a rise in the world.” His rise was exceptional. The LIT Ranch became one of Texas largest ranches. Littlefield organized the American National Bank of Austin and he became a major contributor to the University of Texas.

John Blocker made his very first drive to Kansas in 1873. He sold out that herd in Ellsworth at such a good price that he continued driving cattle as long as the trails were open. He and his brothers were highly respected in the cattle business. In 1886, he had an interest in 86,000 head on the trail to northern markets.

Hittson & Goodnight and Weaver & Chisum sold cattle in Ellsworth in 1872. Hittson claimed he owned 100,000 cattle in 1873. He would go on to be known as one of the founding ranchers of Colorado. Charles Goodnight s name is spoken with reverence by cowboys throughout the West who identify with his sense of frontier integrity. John Chisum s New Mexico exploits are legendary, often being identified with the life of Billy the Kid.

The names are intermingled with the traditions of the range. The American cattle industry was brought into existence on the strength of their will. Drought, flood, lightning, blizzard, depression, rustlers, Indians or even months on the trail would not deter them.

In 1884, the first national convention of cattle raisers was held in St. Louis, Missouri. It was the brain-child of Robert D. Hunter, the former manager of the Kansas Pacific Stockyards in Ellsworth. Of the 1,365 official delegates to the convention a good number could say they had been to Ellsworth in its heyday.

John T. Lytle and Shanghai Pierce were on hand as representatives from south Texas. Seth Mabry, John Deweese, and James Ellison had all been Captain Millett s partners on the “Big Drive” of 1875. Millett and Print Oliver were there from Kansas. The cattlemen for the very first time were meeting as a national organization.

Today, the traditions that were begun at the “end of the trail” are evident in the cattle ranches of Ellsworth County and the state of Kansas as a whole. Approximately 40,000 head of cattle and calves annually graze the prime grasslands of Ellsworth s Smoky Hills. Across the state beef reigns supreme as the number one economic industry of Kansas.

Historically, Ellsworth had its moment in the sun. The men who shaped an industry walked our streets and watched the sun set over these same Smoky Hills. Few American towns can lay claim to the extraordinary position that Ellsworth holds in the development of a nation. The mythic West and real events come together in our past to make up a heritage like no other.


Filed under: History, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 5:52 am

by Ron Welch

The prairies and plains of Kansas were dotted with military forts during America’s westward expansion in the 1800’s. Strategically placed, these early forts provided protection for both settlers and native Americans as well as travelers negotiating such difficult trails as the Santa Fe, Oregon and the Smoky Hill. While many of the early forts were sort-lived, an important lesson in American military history can be learned by touring those - both historic and active that remain.

When General Nelson Miles moved to Fort Harker he found it “more agreeable and more within the confines of civilization” than his former duty station, Fort Hays. The garrison was located within a few yards of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and mail arrived twice a day.

Because of its central location next to the Smoky Hill River, near the old Santa Fe Trail in Ellsworth County, the post was a point of rendezvous for many troops and their commanders. It also was an important supply stop for other forts in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

The original installation, known as Fort Ellsworth, was built a mile away from Fort Harker’s present site in 1864. It was moved in 1867. That same year, one George A. Custer passed through the post enroute to an unauthorized meeting with his wife that later resulted in his being court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year.

A cholera epidemic claimed more than 200 lives at Fort Harker in the late 1860’s and, and by 1873, the post had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned. Wooden materials used in its construction were salvaged by settlers nearby.

Remaining structures include a two-story stone guardhouse and three stone officer’s quarters now being used as private residences. The top floor of the guardhouse which is open to the public, had six 7′ x 3′ cells that proved almost unbearable to prisoners in the summer heat. According to the post surgeon, “the ventilation of the cells is defective and it is difficult to remedy this in the present building without giving many of the more daring prisoners chances of escape.”

A museum in the guardhouse displays military items and historical memorabilia.


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 4:00 am

by Peg Britton


One of the few remaining Ellsworth landmarks left from the 1800’s soon will be 100 years old and may be saved from the wrecking ball according to the present owners, Ruth and Robert Rodgers. The large two-story structure at the intersection of South Main and Douglas, now the Charles B. Rodgers Gallery and Museum, was once a very prominent gathering place for people throughout the county and those who came to Ellsworth on the railroad.

The original structure was built by Jerome Beebe in the mid-1890’s. This historic cow town hotel was constructed of native sandstone and located on “Snake Row”, the main street of this early wild-west town, where all the action took place and such men as Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickock, and Ben Thompson were to be found.

In November 1901, the property was sold by Sarah Beebe, widow of Jerome, to Lottie V. Baker for $3,000.00. It was immediately renamed the “Baker Hotel” and marked the beginning of an era of fine dining in Ellsworth that lasted for a period of twenty-three years.

Frank and Lottie V. (Jury) Baker were married 4 Nov 1890 and for eleven years owned and operated the hotel in Kanopolis. While living in Kanopolis their one son, Bruce Hudson Baker, was born 10 October 1892. The Baker family moved from Kanopolis to Ellsworth in 1901 when they purchased the hotel, which may have been called the American House, from Sarah Beebe. In 1911 they extensively remodeled the first floor of the hotel where the office, wash room and dining room were located. The following article was taken from the Ellsworth paper, 1911:

Remodeling of Baker House Completed.

The work of remodeling the first floor of the Baker House has been completed and Mr. Baker now has the neatest, most conveniently arranged and most pleasant hotel office, wash room and dining room to be found in this part of the state.

The office and wash room have been moved into the northeast corner of the building. They are large, commodious and well lighted. The floors of the office and wash rooms are of tile. It is well laid, and the design is neat and attractive.

The dining room has been extended out to the north side of the building taking up the space formerly given to the office. This makes the room almost twice as long as it was before, and enables Mr. Baker to seat from seventy-five to eighty at the regular tables without crowding. In an emergency one hundred could be easily and comfortably seated.

The room has been thoroughly renovated, repapered, repainted and a new metal ceiling added. It is light and airy, well ventilated and inviting.

It is such men as Mr. Baker that help to build up and make a town a good place to live in. He owns considerable property in Ellsworth, and he is always improving and adding to it. His home on South Douglas Avenue is one of the neatest and most comfortable in town. His hotel is now one of the best in the state.

People came from far and wide to eat at the Baker Hotel as it had become a famous gathering place and focal point for the county because of the good food and social atmosphere. The seating capacity was expanded to accommodate the one hundred or more diners who arrived each Sunday for the noon meal. It is said the chandeliers were exquisite in ornate detail and in keeping with the beautiful decor of the dining room. Very large portions of excellent food were served at the hotel for twenty-five cents, which included pie and beverage. Later the price was raised to thirty-five cents “due to increased food prices”. Two kitchens were used for food preparation, the main one and a “summer kitchen” outside. They served three meals a day, seven days a week. One of the favorite dishes served and long remembered was Lottie’s creamed dried corn. It was said she could make it like no other. She also made fresh donuts, rolls, bread, and pies daily.


There was a livery stable behind the hotel as most of the customers came from a considerable distance by horse and buggy and spent the day. Frequently families from throughout the county would come to Ellsworth to shop, socialize, and spend the weekend at the Baker Hotel.

The area south of the hotel was devoted entirely to vegetable gardens, asparagus beds, fruit trees, wood storage and chopping, and a dozen or so chicken coops whose contents were headed for the kitchen. It was also the home of a pet pig called “Peggie Hogan” who frequently was dressed in a lace bonnet and dainty clothes to be paraded around the hotel.

In addition to the Baker’s and their children, who did the lion’s share of the work in operating the hotel, they had help from Lottie’s father, Theodore Jury, who helped with all the garden and hotel chores until his death in 1922. Theodore’s wife, Mary Elizabeth (Link) Jury also helped until she became ill and subsequently died in 1908. Frank’s parents, James M. and Frances C. (Beckwith) Baker helped for several years until their deaths. In addition there were four young women and a young man who worked at the hotel. One is remembered as being Lizzie Shade.

The Baker home, the large two-story house one block south of the hotel on the west side of Douglas (now owned by the Thorne’s), had a large sunken garden on the south side adjacent to the river where they grew vegetables, rhubarb and flowers, also to be used in the hotel. Lottie Baker canned everything from the two large gardens for use at the hotel and at home where she entertained extensively. Yearly she made several varieties of wine to serve on special occasions. She loved flowers and the tables at the hotel and in her home were adorned with a wide variety of flowers gathered from her numerous flower beds.

Lottie Jury was born at Millersburg, Pennsylvania September 14, 1868. She came to Ellsworth County with her parents, Theodore and Mary Elizabeth (Link) Jury, and three brothers, Herbert W., Charles, and Chester Jury in the early 1870’s. They settled on a farm in Empire Township and lived there until 1881 when they moved to Langley where Theodore Jury opened a blacksmith shop. Work was scarce and the family, it was said, ate a lot of “rabbit sausage”. Lottie resided there until her marriage to Frank Baker. Dr. Herbert W. Jury practiced medicine in Claflin, Kansas for more than sixty years. Charles moved to Idaho and Chet eventually went to New York City.

James Frank Baker was born in Elmira, New York 5 April 1856 and moved to Ellsworth with his wife, Hattie Barber, and his parents, James M. Baker and Frances C. (Beckwith) Baker in the early 1880’s. Hattie Barber became ill in 1886 and returned to Elmira where she died. J. Frank and Hattie Baker had two children, Harry B. and Fannie Baker, and a son who died young. Harry B. Baker married Jo Brubaker and they were the parents of Dale and Ardene Baker. Fannie married Harry Rice and they were the parents of Marjorie, James, LLoyd and Benton Rice, all familiar to the Ellsworth community. A brother of Frank Baker, Hollis C. Baker, and his wife, Jennie, also lived in the Ellsworth community for several years before returning to Elmira.

Following the death of Hattie Baker, Frank Baker married Lottie Baker and they had only one child, Bruce Hudson Baker. Bruce Baker married Margaret Louella (Tedlock) Baker they and were the parents of Peggy, Barbara and Bruce H. Baker, Jr. Peggy Baker became the wife of Roy P. Britton, and they are the parents of Dane, Todd and Allyson Britton. The sixth generation children of the Ellsworth pioneers are Mackenzie, Drew and Tyler Britton.

An article in the Ellsworth Messenger dated Thursday January 5, 1956 recounts the life of Ellsworth County Pioneer, Frank Baker:

James F. Baker is best remembered as a hotel man, but he also was one of the organizers of the Ellsworth Telephone Co., and of the Ellsworth Creamery Co., of which he was secretary for two and a half years.

Mr. Baker came to Kansas from New York with his parents in the 1870’s. He worked with his father on the Damon ranch five miles south of Ellsworth until a blizzard wiped out their cattle, along with those of most ranchers of the county. The father, James M. Baker, then moved to Kanopolis where he operated a real estate and insurance business. James F. Baker went to work at 50 dollars a month at a creamery in Ellsworth, but was also associated with his father in the latter’s interests at Kanopolis. He bought the hotel in Kanopolis, and later bought the American House, now the Tucker Hotel in Ellsworth.

The creamery he started here in company with other local men was continued until the 1930’s, and the Ellsworth Telephone Co., he started was taken over by the United Telephone Co., and then by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

Mr. Baker never lost the enterprising spirit which so many of the early pioneers of this area possessed, although he suffered a number of major reverses. He and his father came west after their tobacco and cigar business hit upon rough times. Mr. Baker was married in Elmira, N. Y. and his wife returned there to die after her health failed. He remarried. A son, Bruce Baker, has been with the Lee Hardware Co., in Salina for many years, and his half-brother, Harry Baker, lives in Pratt. The one daughter, Fannie, now deceased, married Harry Rice. A granddaughter, Mrs. Roy Britton, lives in Ellsworth.

Mr. Baker was fond of saying that he, with Frank Foster and two other men were the only Democrats in Ellsworth County. He served the county as County Assessor, filled an unexpired term as County Clerk, and in 1890 represented this county at the congressional convention in Colby. He was active in local public affairs of all kinds, was a member of the I.O.O.F. lodge, the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and the Modern Woodmen of America, serving as a representative to the grand lodge of the latter order and was a member of the Royal Neighbors.

Frank Baker became suddenly ill with pneumonia in December 1924 and died seven days later. One bitter cold night he walked in his night gown, bare-foot to the hotel saying, “If I have to die, I want to die there.” He opened all the windows in the north-east corner room of the hotel and died there on December 18, 1924. Lottie V. Baker died 11 January 1938.

Soon after the death of Frank Baker, Lottie Baker disposed of her interest in the hotel to Clifford Robson in 1925 by mortgage. Three years later Lottie Baker recovered a judgment against Clifford and Mona Robson (Allen), his wife, after the property was seized and sold by Sheriff J. M. Toman, in the amount of $14,217.85. The property was deeded back to Lottie V. Baker who assigned the property to F. C. Easterly, trustee, who deeded it to Pearl Tucker in October 1931. Pearl Tucker sold the property to Ray Ogburn in October 1956 for approximately $20,000. The Smoky Hills Arts Foundation bought the property at a Sheriff’s sale in 1968 and sold it to Charles B. Rodgers 16 May 1973.

April 1992


Filed under: History — Peg Britton @ 12:01 am

Kansas Rangelands Kansas grasslands evolved under semi-arid to subhumid climates, characterized by much the same weather extremes of temperature, rainfall, and snowfall we are familiar with today. As a result of prehistoric glacial activity and other natural forces then and later, plants have migrated from their places of origin, so that today Kansas ranges are simple-to-complex mixtures of perennial grasses and forbs, plus a few native annuals and biennials. Species composition has been modified by the introduction of Kentucky bluegrass and cool-season annual grasses, particularly Japanese brome. Most of the introductions are now “naturalized” enough to be considered permanent parts of Kansas range vegetation.

Through the ages to modern times, wildfires - many started by lightning, but most by primitive people - influenced development of fire-tolerant grasses and suppressed woody vegetation. Certain woody plants, however, always were present as natural components of some grasslands. Browsing by animals and frequent prairie fires were largely responsible for maintaining “normal” amounts of woody species.

In prehistoric time, numerous large herbivores subjected herbaceous vegetation to grazing stress. After the last glacial retreat (15,000 to 25,000 years ago), buffalo emerged as the major dominant large grazer, although the prairies and plains simultaneously supported many pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, prairie dogs, rabbits, rodents, and insects. And each exerted grazing pressures on the vegetation. There is little doubt that during and long before Spanish explorations into Kansas, most of the grassland was used almost continuously throughout the year by one roving herd of buffalo after another and other grazing animals. Grazing and trampling by buffalo and their associates were often intensive, as was uncontrolled grazing by livestock in the late 1800s after most of the wild grazers had been eliminated.

Palatable plants have persisted under nearly all grazing regimes by domestic livestock, whether or not the ranges have been managed economically. The ability of desirable range plants to endure and recover from heavy use underscores the important role of prehistoric grazers in range-plant evolutionary development.

Approximately two-fifths of Kansas (about 20 million acres) is native rangeland, reestablished native range, and grazed woodland. Native vegetation is characterized by various kinds of grassland. Most stockmen and others in the field of range management have general knowledge of kinds and amounts of forage that can be produced on conservatively stocked ranges in different geographical areas. Although important features of range production are reasonably well understood, grazing management and related practices that affect livestock performance are not so well understood.

Reprinted from Kansas Range Research

Clenton Owensby, John Launchbaugh, Robert Cochran, Kling Anderson, Ed Smith, and Eric Vanzant


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