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 1871, the Texas cattle trade was shifting to Ellsworth. The wild Texas Longhorn trailed through it’s streets 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.
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".
Often known as the “wickedest cow town in the West”
Historic Plaza Walking Tour- tour original cattle town business districts along the original Kansas Pacific railroad
Hodgden House Museum Complex- early Ellsworth County history
Goverland Stage Shop- trail rides as Lake Kanopolis
To read more about Ellsworth, Kansas - visit their chamber website at