You are entering the prairyerth website of Peg Britton that celebrates more than 130 years and 6 generations of our family’s life in the Kansas Prairie communities. It can be said that our roots are anchored deep within this history-stained soil leaving our modern-day tree to shed old growth and establish new limbs and leaves which will assure our continuation.
In Kansas you will not find majestic mountains, magnificent water falls, spectacular gorges or theme parks to distract you from yourself. The plains of Kansas are subtle and to the untrained eye it may appear we are topographically deprived. Our landscape looks deceivingly homogeneous, but a variety of landforms exist within its borders. Our beauty is the kind that is disturbing, in a way, as it constantly challenges our inner connectedness and makes demands of us to know who we are. It invades our minds.
Here you can stand in the wind under the immense dome of an empty prairie sky and know you are part of something vast and wonderful. It can make you reel with insignificance. It allows you to know you are as important as the turkey buzzard, sunflower, or white-tailed deer, but not more so. The prairie will permeate the imagination of anyone who can see and it will explode in those having the curiosity to explore.
photo by Jeff Cooper - Excelsior Lutheran Church
This area continues to be uniquely shaped and fashioned by its history and intimate bond with the elements of nature. Ellsworth was a wild town at its inception and burdened with constant hardships of devastating floods, fires, and Indian raids. Cholera wiped out entire families. These elements forged into a community of people with diverse backgrounds who experienced a commonality of pain, suffering and loss while mapping out their future.
In the 1860s, rumors spread throughout the east coast that the Kansas Pacific Railroad was going to establish a cattle shipping terminal near Fort Ellsworth. The fort had been established to help protect the settlers from the Indians. Buffalo soldiers guarded the construction of the railroad along the Smoky Hill Trail. Upon learning this, people viewed Ellsworth as the land of opportunity and came in droves to seek their fortunes.
My father, Bruce H. Baker, at about age four, ca. 1896. Bruce can be seen standing on the train.
Descendants of many of these workers and early settlers still live here. The individualism that was inspired by this diversity wasn’t the kind to cause revolt, but rather brought people together who conformed in order to endure. Even today individualism, idealism and independence are the backbone of this farming and ranching community. It is our way of life.
Ellsworth soon became associated with the “Wild West” because of the cattle drives and hard-drinking drovers, outlaws, gamblers, gunslingers, buffalo hunters, and “loose women”. Six-shooters were drawn and shot with reckless abandon causing chaos in the streets night and day. Grudges were carried like epaulets on the uniforms of petty dictators. Lawlessness prevailed, but the “hangin’ tree” on the south side of the river saw plenty of action when the vigilantes finally took control.
Ellsworth, located mostly on the north banks of the Smoky Hill River in north central Kansas, has a population of 3,000 citizens, more or less. That is a slight increase from the time the town was officially established on May 8th, 1867. The geographical center of the contiguous states is only a few miles from here. You can find other statistics about Ellsworth on other websites.
As you wander through my website, you’ll find stories of our past as well as information about our “mom and pop” shops. We offer unique places where you can park yourself and enjoy the prairie atmosphere. You can learn about our lifestyles and share them if you like.
You might want to climb on a horse and help round up cattle, buy some 1860s vintage clothes or talk about drovers with the Cowboy. You can buy corks, nuts and bolts of every size, antiques, fine pewter and home-grown products. You could give our town a much-appreciated boost by spending a few dollars, playing a round of golf, going for a swim or enjoying a dish of homemade ice cream on a park bench downtown. In the summer you may want to see a movie at the drive-in theater in Kanopolis, take in one of our special events…like our famous Great American Cattle Drive…watch our kids play baseball or sit on a hillside outside of town and see a prairie sunset like no where else on earth….except the Steppes of Russia.
Theodore Jury and Mary Elizabeth Link, my great-grandparents, can be seen standing outside their homestead near Langley.
There are links to direct you to some really great adventures nearby such as Rolling Hills Zoo which anchors the east end of the Amazing 100 Miles. The west end is anchored by the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, famous for its fossils and fossil hunters who had their beginnings in Ellsworth County. In between these anchors are 28 communities each with its own art, architecture, culture, commerce, cuisine, geography, history and people that distinguish it from the next town down the road.
There are articles you’ll enjoy that have been contributed by some good writers who gathered up their strong feelings about living on the prairie and transposed them into beautiful prose. Some other articles I just lifted gently from elsewhere and hope no one minds. Credits are attached.
Central Kansas remains a place where families still gather around the table for home-cooked meals and debate with others as to whether they are eating dinner or supper. They talk with one another about the events of the day, the community and their place in the world.
Ours is a place where all children have access to excellent teachers and good schools. They are provided with opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports and activities and no one is eliminated from participation. Almost every student plays in the band. Parents are supportive and flock to school events to see their children perform or hear about their progress, or lack of it, from teachers. In a small community such as ours, bonds are formed among children at an early age and retained throughout life. People stay in touch. It’s a place that remains true to itself and to the people who have lived here. It’s our place on the prairie.
photo by Mark Inman Seitz
The song of the prairie and the eternity of the prairie sky are within us all, drawing us ever closer to the land and people around us as we continue to grow. We’d like for you to know more about the way we live by exploring my website then, perhaps, you’ll want to come pay us a visit.
Peg Britton, a kansas prairie woman.