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Ellis County, Kansas 

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Ellis County, Kansas 1889 map

Ellis County map, 1899.




Located in north central Kansas, Ellis County was created by a Kansas legislative act on February 26, 1867. It was named for Lieutenant George Ellis of Company I, Twelfth Kansas Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas on April 30, 1864. Like much of western Kansas,  the area is a broad stretch of prairie with little natural timber growth. Across the northern portion of the county the Saline River flows, and the southern part of the county is watered by the Smoky Hill River and its tributaries, the largest of which is Big Creek.


Buffalo Bill, 1872Before the county was formed, Fort Fletcher was established in the fall of 1865 on Big Creek about 14 miles southeast of where Hays City would later be built. However, the post was located on low-lying land along the creek, and was utterly destroyed by a flood that occurred in the spring of 1867, in which several Buffalo Soldiers lost their lives. The fort was then abandoned and Fort Hays was established near where Rome and Hays City would later be built. In May, 1867, the Lull brothers of Salina established a general store on the west side of Big Creek, a little north of where the railroad tracks were being laid. By the middle of June several houses had been built and the town was first called Rome. One of the town’s co-founders was Buffalo Bill Cody, who along with partner, William Rose, expected the city to be the metropolis of the county and they would make quite a profit from the sale of lots. Early in June, Bloomfield, Moses & Co. established a general supply store, and later Joseph Perry built the two-story Perry Hotel.


With the Kansas Pacific Railroad laying track in the area and employing some 1,200 men, the town grew quickly and by the end of July, the fledgling settlement boasted over 2,000 citizens. These railroad men, along with soldiers, and buffalo hunters, provided ample customers for the many saloons and gambling halls that quickly sprang up.


Cody and Rose; however, would make a fatal mistake when they refused to take on a man named Dr. W.C. Webb as a partner in their town site venture. Unknown to them, Webb had the authority to establish town sites for the railroad, and before long the "Big Creek Land Company" platted the town of Hays City, on the other side of the Big Creek about a mile east of Rome.


A rivalry at once sprang up between the two places, but the railroad company threw its support to Hays City and Buffalo Bill Cody and William Rose were giving free lots away to anyone willing to build or erect a tent in the town site. Many of the citizens and businesses of Rome soon moved to nearby Hays City to be closer to the railroad. When a cholera epidemic hit Rome in the late summer of 1867, any who remained, including Cody and Rose, left. A year later there was nothing left of the town. 


In October, 1867, a petition requesting organization of the county was presented to Governor Samuel J. Crawford. Approved, commissioners were appointed and Hays City was made the temporary county seat. At that time, the county supported about 630 people.


The early history of Ellis County is primarily confined to Hays City, which was characterized by many incidents of frontier life, including those where guns played a conspicuous part. The first three Sheriffs of the county met with violent deaths. The first, Thomas Ganlon, met his death at the hands of outlaws; the second, Peter Lanahan, was killed when trying to quell and disturbance; and Sheriff Alexander Ramsy was killed while attempting to arrest two horse-thieves.


Another sheriff during these early days of Hays City was Wild Bill Hickok who was employed as a “special marshal” to try to tame the lawless city. However, during his tenure, Hickok got a little carried away with his gun, killing soldiers, two citizens, and wounding several others. After killing the soldiers, Hickok fled Hays City to evade the military authorities and was next heard of at Abilene.



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Buffalo hunt south of Hays, Kansas

Buffalo hunt south of Hays, Kansas in 1869 includes George Armstrong Custer, Hill P. Wilson, Captain Tom Custer, and General Samuel D. Sturgis, 1869.


Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!


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