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Filed under: County Sites, Wilson — Peg Britton @ 11:59 pm


Photo by Mark Inman Seitz

Wilson Lake, located on the Saline River, is one of the clearest lakes in Kansas because of the grassland drainage area above it. With 9,000 acres of water and 100 miles of shoreline, it has become one of the most popular recreation areas in central Kansas.

Set in an area with few large bodies of water, Wilson Lake offers a great deal to the outdoor enthusiast. Five parks are provided for your enjoyment. These areas include showers, boat-launching ramps, overnight camping pads, fresh water, picnic tables, grills, swim beaches, group shelters, sand volleyball courts, and playground equipment. Weekend campground programs are given during the summer recreation season. A marina is located in Wilson State Park.


The Rocktown Natural Area, a registered Kansas Natural and Scientific Area, has a rich diversity of mixed prairie grasses and other typical prairie plants. It also contains unique geological formations, primarily red sandstone, which have been carved by wind and rain into a variety of interesting shapes. Although the area is closed to all vehicular traffic, a 3-mile loop trail allows foot access to the area.

The Bur Oak Nature Trail is located below the dam and adjacent to Sylvan Park. The trail provides visitors with a better understanding of the area’s ecology. A brochure describing the stops along the trail is available at the trail head. The Corps of Engineers Office and Information Center located on the northeast corner of the dam has additional brochures concerning Wilson Lake and other Corps lakes.

Check here for more.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 11:58 pm


The Legacy Trail, brain-child of Jim Gray of Ellsworth, is an invitation to experience the history of the area before construction of Kanopolis Dam. The Legacy Trail is a self-guided automobile tour. Starting at Kanopolis Lake Information Center, the tour visits 27 historical sites, and returns to the Information Center. The complete route is approximately 80 miles, but portions of the route may be done separately if desired. Time spent on the Legacy Trail will vary, but at least three hours are needed to complete the Trail. The Legacy Trail makes use of existing paved roads and sand roads. It is best not to venture on the sand roads during poor weather conditions. Please respect the rights of private landowners.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 11:54 pm

There are many buffalo wallows in the county as hundreds of thousands of buffalo once roamed here. Some are several acres in diameter. Over many years the buffalo would congregate where there was some water, stand in the water and their thousands of hoofs carried the mud out to other parts of the land. After so many centuries of this, the wallows became huge indentations in the soil. In dry years, alkaline accumulated and the buffalo came to lick and wallow in it and they carried more soil out. Almost any local farmer can point these out to you. There are buffalo wallows on #6 fairway of the Ellsworth golf course.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 10:01 pm

Compiled by Marvin Bush
Thomas Mullen moved to Kansas from Illinois in 1867 and purchased a quarter section of land 6 miles south of Brookville, where the Castle Rock Bed and Breakfast now stands.

The Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, ran diagonally through this quarter section, which made an ideal location for Mr. Mullen’s business of shipping clay out for pottery and sand out for molding.

At this time, Ellsworth was the end of the track.

The clay and sand were shipped from Mullen’s siding, which was the name given to the side track located on Mullen’s farm. At this time, there were about 15 or 20 people living near this siding. Later on it was called Rock Springs, then Terra Cotta. Terra Cotta means “colored earth” from the red clay in the surrounding hills.

In 1878, Tom Mullen and Mr. S.M. Simpson from Lawrence, laid out the Terra Cotta town site. In 1867, land sold here for $3.50 an acre. One hundred and sixty acres would cost $400 or $360 if you paid cash. Mr. S.M. Simpson sold his half interest in Terra Cotta to a load of Yankees from Connecticut.

There were three Loomis and Keep families. Monroe and Frank Loomis built a grocery store, elevator and a lumber yard. Monroe Loomis was the town’s first postmaster. These brothers also built a hotel and later sold it to a man named Bliss. Mr. Bliss sold it to a Mr. Fletcher, who added a grocery store to the hotel. Mr. Bliss started a blacksmith shop. The town grew to a population of 75 people, with no sidewalks and only a few trail streets. Dave Burrall and a Mr. Williams started a cheese factory. They produced very fine longhorn cheese. John Mullen was the town’s second postmaster. He was follow by Mr. Burrall and Alex Fletcher. Ellen Hessian later ran the post office from the Hessian Home.

In 1897, Mrs. Tom Mullen became postmaster and ran the office until it was discontinued in 1914. Tom Mullen shipped out over 3,000 cars of sand.

Ranching was the most important vocation in the area with a little farming mixed in. About 3 miles west of Terra Cotta was the Weigh Ranch, where the main source of income was from sheep. There were quite a few sheep and cattle in this part of the county at this time, but there were no signs of hard feelings between the two.

In 1885, the stockyards were built at Terra Cotta. Between 1886 and 1912, more cattle were shipped from Brookville and Terra Cotta than from any other town between Kansas City and Denver. Terra Cotta alone shipped three times more cattle than Brookville. Many citizens of Terra Cotta, through their work with the railroad, met such men as Wild Bill Hickok, Ben Thompson, Wyatt Earp and others.

Some of the people around Terra Cotta were famous in their own right. One of them was Warren Webster, who invented the first disc wheat drill. He got the idea while watching Frank Mullen playing with a rotary posthole digger. He designed the drill and it worked, but he failed to get a patent on it. Some men from an Eastern manufacturing company looked it over while visiting Webster and told him it wouldn’t be profitable to manufacture. They returned to the East, built the machine and got a patent on it.

A Butterfield Stage Relay station was located about 1 ½ miles west of Terra Cotta. A prairie fire came through in 1887 and burned down the hotel. Terra Cotta’s lifespan was a wild 10 years.

The children of Terra Cotta were educated in a school located about three-fourths miles east of the town site. In 1876, school district No. 28 was organized and a school was built the same summer. This was the first school in Ellsworth County to provide books free to its pupils. The school was called Rock Springs and when Terra Cotta was founded, the name was changed to Terra Cotta school.

In the early years, it had as many as 45 pupils and in 1940 it had one pupil. Thirty-one teachers taught in the school during its span of usefulness.

In about 1888, the recession hit. Loomis and Keep left, the elevator was moved to Shady Bend, the hotel had burned in a prairie fire, Bliss Blacksmith Shop was moved to Venango and Mullen ceased a large part of his clay operations. The Loomis grocery store, which had been sold to Mr. Fletcher, was moved to Kanopolis. By the early 1890s, all the business houses had disappeared.

Some settlers sold their holdings to area ranchers who were springing up all over the eastern part of the county. Others mortgaged to Eastern loan companies at $10 an acre, which was the going rate at the time, and left the Eastern investors to hold the bag.

The cemetery was at the north end of town. At one time, there were 48 marked graves.

In 1900, a depot was built, long after Terra Cotta was down to no business houses whatsoever.

The reason for the construction still is a mystery.

Some say the depot building was designed for a siding in Nebraska and was shipped out on the Kansas City to Denver by mistake and built in Terra Cotta.

In 1934, the depot was sold to a Mr. McCoy, who moved it to Ellsworth along old Highway 40. It was used as a night club and honky tonk club called the “Silver Moon”.

In 1946 and 1947, it was moved south of the Lockhart Motel and made into apartments. It sat empty for many years and in 1996, the City of Ellsworth bought it and the ground it sat on. The city gave it to the Ellsworth County Historical Society and paid for moving it to its present site at the Hodgden House Museum complex.

In 1999, the Union Pacific Railroad started building a new and longer siding at Terra Cotta. It is about 1 ¾ miles long. The switch heaters are in place and the signals also are installed, but turned sideways and not in use. The continuous welded rail hasn’t been installed yet between the two signals. The switches for the siding will be controlled from Omaha Nebraska.

What is the connection between a dead man’s hand in poker and Ellsworth County?

One night, after finishing his run to Abilene, Tom Mullen stepped off the train, and saw a man walking down the railroad tracks carrying a lantern. Wild Bill Hickok was there and told Mr. Mullen and another passerby to watch him put out the lantern light.

Now Hickok had a reputation as a sure-shot gunfighter. Hickok shot at the lantern and instead hit the unarmed man and killed him in cold blood. This man’s name was McCall. McCall’s brother vowed he would not work another day until he killed Hickok. Hickok was hired in early 1871 as marshal of Abilene, and discharged by the city after shooting one of his own deputies by mistake. That was around December 1871.

He was shot in the back while playing poker in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on August 1, 1876. He was holding a pair of aces and eights. They are why it’s called the dead man’s hand. Hickok was shot by a man named McCall, the brother of the man the gunfighter killed in Abilene in front of Terra Cotta’s Tom Mullen.

Information compiled by Marvin Bush, railroad historian and director of the Ellsworth County Historical Society.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 8:21 pm

2366 Avenue K
Kanopolis KS 67439

For a long, long time Jesse Magana and his family members have been working on the development of Rancho Milagro, his rural home located east of Kanopolis on Highway 140.

Over a number of summers past, Jesse has had gatherings offering Mexican rodeos, music, dancing and food during the summer months to draw followers from all over the United States. Gradually he has been expanding his operation as his dream of having a full dude ranch materializes.

Rancho Milagro became a registered agri-tourism business with the Kansas Department of Commerce and Tourism in November 2004. In August 2005, Rancho Milagro incorporated as a for-profit business.

When his plan fully materializes, Rancho Milagro will include rooms with private baths in the ranch house and cabins for additional guests on his 60 acres. The plan is to accommodate 50 or more guests at one time. There will be a chuck wagon dinner theater, a corporate retreat, barn, facilities for horses and stock pens…all the amenities of a dude ranch.

An historian-rancher-horseman in his own right, Jesse will provide tours of local historical sites, equestrian training, wagon and trail rides. He currently provides guided trail rides, historic tours to the Smoky Hill Trails Interpretive Center, hunting, fishing, and summer camps for youth.

Spring Round-up, fall cattle drives, hay rake rides, guided trail rides, over night pack trips, horseshoe art and a Certified Ranch Hand Program is available in conjunction with JL Canyon Ranch.

For more information, call Jesse at 785-472-4666 or his son and partner, Clay Magaña, at 316-773-0540. See their Rancho Milagro Kansas website for more information


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 8:16 pm

There is a beautiful 18 mile stretch of highway just north of Wilson on highway K- 232, which extends from I - 70 north to Lucas, Kansas. This is the official Post Rock Scenic Byway which passes through the Smoky Hills of north central Kansas recalling the brave people who came to settle our western frontier.

The highway is named because of a very unique layer of limestone that is found in this area just several inches below the surface of the earth. It is found no where else in the world, so I’ve been told. Since there were few trees back in our early history, early pioneers used this limestone to build their houses, barns, farm enclosures and stone post fences.

The byway offers scenic, recreational, geological and agricultural viewing opportunities. The vista along the route capture the natural qualities that are prevalent in north central Kansas. Grass prairies are the dominant feature, stretching across a vast, bumpy horizon of small rolling hills.

A six-mile segment of the byway is adjacent to the Wilson Lake recreational area, with scenic turnouts that overlook the dam and offers expansive views of the lake and the valley below the dam.


The byway connects I-70 on the south and K-18 on the north and links the communities of Wilson (Ellsworth County) and Lucas (Russell County). You can zoom through the trip in 30 minutes, but to fully appreciate the experience, take the time to dwell a little on what you are witnessing.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 8:15 pm

Jack Lill, owner
Brookville Kansas
JL Canyon Ranch

Jack Lill offers canyon rides, sunset rides, stabling, hay rack rides, guided trail rides, horse shoe art. Several times a year Jack rounds up cattle and you can join him if you want to. It’s a very unique experience if you’ve never been exposed to it. Bring your horse and saddle or he can provide them for you. His roundups have drawn in the “city folk” who are takin’ a hankering for his trail rides. Give him a call to be part of his next round up or trail ride.



Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 8:14 pm

Settlers into Kansas were imaginative people. Because trees were generally very scare at that time, other resources had to be used to construct homes and outbuildings where timber wasn’t available. People are generally aware of sod houses on the open prairies of Kansas but many don’t know that people also used dugouts in hillsides and along river banks as shelters, including those at Fort Ellsworth. One such dugout into a sandstone bluff southeast of Kanopolis was used for a home, school house, blacksmith shop and refrigerator.


Charles Griffee came to his area of Ellsworth County in 1884. After buying the land from a man named Atwood, Griffee used his old mining tools to create three rooms. Each room is approximately 12 feet square with a 10 foot arched ceiling. A door way connects the middle and right rooms. The caves served as a home with the room on the left acting as a cooler. A natural spring in the cave allowed the inhabitants to keep items fresh in the cool water.

The caves are not easily accessed. It might be best to have someone familiar with the area to take you there.


Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 8:12 pm

Mushroom Rock State Park is located two miles south and two and a half miles west of the intersection of Kansas highways 140 and 141.
Mushroom Rocks State Park web site


The strangely shaped rocks at Mushroom Rock State Park in Ellsworth County are made of sandstone from the Dakota Formation, deposited along the edge of a Cretaceous sea about 100 million years ago. Over time, circulating water deposited a limey cement between the sand grains, creating harder bodies of sandstone called concretions.

Concretions, such as the cap of the rock shown here, are often spherical (the top half of the concretion pictured here has eroded away). The softer sandstone of the stem has eroded more rapidly, creating the mushroom-shaped rock.


This is probably the state’s smallest state park. It’s a pretty cool thing to see these rocks out in the middle of the prairie.


Filed under: County Sites, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 12:03 am

By Jim Gray

Bruce Scates, Jr. and Dortha Scates of Richardson, Texas were accompanied by Steven and Penny (Scates) Williams to Ellsworth, Sunday, March 9 2003 to visit the old home land.

Bruce’s great-grandfather, Elisha Scates, was one of the original settlers of Thompson Creek in 1866. The pilgrimage was the result of his daughter Penny’s interest in the family history. While researching the family, Penny ran across information on the internet that mentioned a Scates Cemetery in Ellsworth County. That was approximately one year ago. It was the first time that she or her father had ever heard of the cemetery that bore their family name.

Elisha’s son, John R. Scates moved to Ellsworth and became a mail carrier. Their youngest son, Bruce Randolph Scates was born in Ellsworth, Aug. 4, 1900. That is Bruce Scates, Jr.’s father. Penny’s grandfather. Most of the family eventually moved away. Elisa and Sarah joined a son, William, in Fairview, Okla. Elisha died there May 31, 1902. Sarah followed him, December 12, 1908.

Pearl Scates was another of Elisha and Sarah’s children. She married Earl Flanders and was the only Scates family member to remain in the area. They are both buried in the old Ellsworth Cemetery on the south edge of town. A visit was paid to their gravesite before traveling to Fort Harker. Jim Gray and Linda and Andrew Kohls were the guides for the day.

The Scates Cemetery is on the land that once was Elisha and Sarah Scates claim. The family gathered in front of the arched gateway for a picture and again at the monument dedicated to the “memory of pioneer days”. The view of Thompson’s Creek is an impressive panorama that bears witness not only to the Scates family origins, but to Ellsworth County itself.

Note: Jim Gray is a rancher, a historian and the co-owner of Drovers Mercantile in downtown Ellsworth. He and Linda Kohls are the founders of the C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the Old West.



Filed under: County Sites — Peg Britton @ 12:00 am


Kanopolis Lake was named the first state park in Kansas. With 18,000 acres and 16 full utility campsites, it is a popular gathering place for fishing, hunting, hiking, trail rides, boating and camping. Four developed parks meet the needs of the visiting public by providing lake access, parking areas, drinking water, swimming beaches, boat ramps, and camping and picnicking facilities.

Early Indian rock carvings on Inscription Rock in Horse Thief Canyon offer an interesting glimpse into the past. Kanopolis Lake is well-known for its excellent walleye and white bass fishing, but catches of crappie and channel cat can be equally good.

More than 11,000 acres of land are open to public hunting at Kanopolis Lake. Most of this acreage is located at the upper end of the project along the Smoky Hill River. Pheasant, quail, prairie chicken, rabbit, whitetail and mule deer are the most abundant game. Many species of ducks and geese frequent the lake during the fall and spring migrations. Coyote, fox, squirrel, mink, muskrat, beaver, raccoon, and opossum are also common.


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