Ellsworth was a bustling cattle town for a time during the late 1860s and well into the 1880s, during which time it was the scene of numerous killings following shootouts between drunken cowboys. Lawman Wyatt Earp served there for a short time, although at that time he was not well known at all. Professional gunman and gambler Ben Thompson was arrested there by Deputy Ed Hogue after his brother Billie shot and killed Ellsworth County Sheriff Chauncey Whitney in 1873. Ellsworth Marshal Will Semans was shot and killed on September 26th, 1869, while attempting to disarm a rowdy man in a dance hall. By the late 1880's the crime rate had dropped dramatically.
The Early History of Ellsworth
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Ellsworth is the county seat of Ellsworth County, and is located on the Kansas Pacific Railway, about two hundred and twenty miles west of Kansas City. The original town site was surveyed in the spring of 1867, by William McGrath and Col. Greenwood. The town site was selected and laid out by a Town Company, of which H. J. Latshaw was president. As originally surveyed and platted, it was located on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River, and embraced all of the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter, a part of the northwest quarter, and a part of the southwest quarter of Section 28, and a part of the northeast quarter of Section 29, Township 15 south, Range 8 west. There are few towns that had such rapid growth for the first few months of their existence as had Ellsworth. The plat of the town and certificate was filed for record in Saline County, to which Ellsworth County was then attached for judicial and municipal purposes, on the 8th day of May, 1867.
Scarcely was the town site surveyed and platted, when buildings began to spring up like mushrooms, E. W. Kingsbury leading the way by building the first house, which was known as the "Stockade," and which was used in the double capacity of store and hotel. At that time there was scarcely a settler in the county, but the belief that Ellsworth would be the western terminus of the Kansas Pacific road for some time, caused people to flock there by the dozen. No sooner was the way opened, than buildings sprung up as if by magic, and three months after the first house was built, the following parties were engaged in business: Lockstone & Phelps, groceries and provisions; O. Hall, groceries and provisions; Coffin & Haikes, groceries and provisions; J. L. Bell, tinware and stoves; Arthur Larkin, hotel; Geiger & Co., dry goods and clothing; Robbins & Matthews, groceries and provisions; H. F. Hoesman had a building up, but his stock of goods had not yet arrived; Vaughn & Sweezy, groceries and provisions; Andrew Schmitt, boots and shoes; Chick, Brown & Co., and ______ Nye, forwarding and commission houses. There was a wonderful growth for less than three months.
In those days, whisky was one of the staple articles of a well-regulated grocery store, and the grocer that tried to do business without it, was not troubled with many customers. At that time there were stationed at Fort Harker, distant some four miles from Ellsworth, about 1,500 soldiers and Government employes, (sic) who patronized the grocery stores to a wonderful extent, most of whom consumed what they bought on the premises or carried it away in liquid form. Another source of trade, and not a small one either, was derived from the long trains moving westward across the plains, nearly all of which, at that time, followed the Smoky Hill route.
The Smoky Hill, in Ellsworth County, is dignified by being styled a river, but in dry seasons the stranger will look for it in vain. He will see a small stream of water resembling a brooklet, over which a child might step without wetting its foot, but when it does assume the dignity of a river, it does it in grand style. On the 8th day of June, 1867, it suddenly arose to this dignity, and in a short time the flourishing town of Ellsworth was standing in about four feet of water. Many of the buildings were washed from their foundations, and all kinds of business was brought to a sudden stop.
To make the condition of the people still more critical, the Indians, about that time, began to hunger for scalps and plunder, and scarcely had the waters subsided, when a band of Cheyennes began to commit depredations. They killed one man about three miles west of town, and about two weeks afterwards, they killed three men between Ellsworth and Wilson. The citizens formed themselves into reliefs and guarded the town, and one night the Indians came within a quarter of a mile of town and ran off quite a lot of stock.
The flood and the Indians were bad enough, but a still greater calamity awaited them. About the 1st of July, 1867, the cholera broke out simultaneously at Ellsworth and Fort Harker, and made terrible ravages at both places. People fled from the dread plague, as though death was about to seize them. During the two or three weeks the scourge raged, it carried off about three hundred people at the Fort, and about fifty of the citizens of Ellsworth. Out of a population of nearly one thousand, only about forty remained, all the rest having fled.
The Town Company having been brought to a knowledge of their mistake in locating the town on the low ground close to the river, immediately set to work and had Mr. Marian survey and plat a portion of the south half of Section 20, Township 15 south, Range 8 west, which was placed on record July 18, 1867, as the Town Company's first addition. It is on the land embraced in this addition, and subsequent additions made at various times by King, Briscoe, Hodgens and Butler, that the present town of Ellsworth now stands. When the addition of the Town Company was surveyed and platted, lots corresponding with those in the original site were given in exchange to those who had purchased, and all the buildings were moved up to the new site, except that known as the "Stockade," which sequently was burned down.
In a short time the town was again on the high road to prosperity, and the business men received an accession to their numbers in 1867, by the arrival of M. Goldsomm, who opened up a general outfitting store, and Walker & Co., who embarked in the grocery business. In 1868, however, the railroad pushed westward, and a great many of the merchants of Ellsworth pushed westward with it. In that year, also, the Indians again threatened the place and ran off a quantity of stock, almost from the limits of town, belonging to Sanderson and White, who dept a livery stable at that time.
On that raid they killed a man named Dougherty, so that, what with the flood, cholera and Indians, the first year in the history of Ellsworth was a very trying one. As if these were not enough to contend against, right upon their heels came a set of roughs and cut-throats who undertook to run the town, and who, by their desperado deeds, sought to rule the people by establishing a "reign of terror." Two desperate characters, by the name of Craig and Johnson, were the recognized leaders of this gang, and like all such scoundrels, undertook to govern with a high hand.
Finally the citizens determined to rid the town of this gang of bandits, and, to accomplish this end, a number of them organized themselves into a vigilance committee. They concluded that the speediest way to disperse the cut-throats was to strike at the head, and one night Craig and Johnson, after committing some of their depredations, were seized, carried to the Smoky, and there hung to the limb of a cottonwood tree. The others of the gang took the hint and hied (sic) themselves to other regions, and Ellsworth became a peaceable town.
In 1868, Ellsworth was incorporated as a village and was governed by a council of five, of which J. H. Edwards was president. The first, hotel in town was built by Arthur Larkin in the fall of 1867. It was a frame building and stood on North Main Street, near Lincoln Avenue.
In the fall of 1869 the town was visited by quite an extensive fire which originated in the "Larkin House," of which, at that time, the Bebee Bros. were proprietors. The fire spread with great rapidity, and before it could be extinguished, all the buildings in the block in which the hotel was located, and also part of those in the block west, were utterly destroyed. The damage entailed by the fire amounted to over $15,000.
In 1869 a small stone schoolhouse was erected, which was the first school building in town, although prior to that time, school had been taught by a Mr. Wellington in a small frame building south of the railroad track.
In 1868, two strangers came to Ellsworth, and one day, while in a billiard saloon, one of them lay down upon a billiard table and went to sleep. The other, not liking this, took out his revolver and commenced tapping him on the head to wake him up. He succeeded, and upon the man opening his eyes and seeing the other with a revolver in his hands, he immediately ran for the door, and just as he was passing out, the other deliberately shot him dead. Next day the murderer graced the limb of a cottonwood on the banks of the Smoky. Ellsworth was no place for evil-doers at that time, and they soon learned to give it a wide berth.
Except for one or two incidents, 1871, like the year that preceded it, would have been an uneventful one. It happened in that year, that a party of Pawnee Indians were returning northward from a marauding expedition, in which they had been engaged against a tribe to which they were hostile, and had got as far north as Ellsworth, when a Deputy United States Marshal, named Fox, collected a posse and attacked the unsuspecting and peaceable Pawnees. Fox and his gang killed one of the Indians in the streets of Ellsworth, and chased the band to the Smoky, where they killed three more, and took a number of them prisoners and locked them up. The citizens stigmatized the act as uncalled for, cold-blooded murder, and set those at liberty whom Fox and his gang had placed in confinement.
The year 1872 was one of considerable improvement, and some good buildings were erected. In that year the court house was built, a very fine two-story brick building. The lower floor is divided into county offices, and the upper floor is used for a court room. Immediately in rear of the court house a solidly built stone jail was erected, two stories high, the upper story being finished off as a residence for the sheriff, while the lower story is partitioned off into cells.
In that year, also, Minnick & Hounson erected a very neat two-story brick building on South Main Street, the lower part of which was fitted up for a drug store, and the upper part as a hall, which the Masons rented as a lodge room. It was also in that year that Col. Gore erected the "Cottage Hotel" and a livery stable in connection therewith, and not the least improvement of that year was an iron bridge, three hundred feet long, across the Smoky, which was built at a cost of $15,000. Among the many fine improvements of 1872, the most important was that made by Arthur Larkin in the re-building of a hotel, to take the place of the one that had been destroyed by fire in the fall of 1869.
This new hotel, erected by Mr. Larkin, was a fine brick structure, large and commodious, well built and neatly finished. It was not built on the same ground occupied by the old "Larkin House," but was moved a lot or two west, and was built on the corner of North Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. The old name was dropped, and the new hotel entered upon its career under the name of the "Grand Central," which it still retains. It has a frontage on North Main Street of 48 feet, and on Lincoln Avenue of 90 feet. It was the grandest improvement made in the city up to that time.
The year previous the town had been advanced a grade, by being promoted to the rank of a city of the third class, of which H. F. Hoesman, was honored by being made first mayor. After the first year of its existence, the town had no spasmodic growth, but grew slowly and steadily, those who came, coming with the intention to stay. The progress of the place, up to 1872, was not confined to the building of business houses alone, as a great many very neat and comfortable residences had been built in different portions of the city, but chiefly north of the railway track.
Population had so increased that the small stone schoolhouse which had been built in 1869, became altogether inadequate in 1873 to meet the demands of the community for school facilities. To supply the deficiency existing in this regard, bonds to the amount of $9,000 were voted, and a very fine school building, not large, but neat and ample, was erected. It is a two-story brick building, surmounted by a cupola, and contains six rooms, which, with the old building, which is still used as a primary department, furnishes ample accommodation for all the pupils that attend school.
The year 1874 was more remarkable for disasters than for progress. That was the year of the grasshopper raid, the effect of which was felt by the merchants of Ellsworth, but, in addition to this, a disaster more direct and tangible in its results occurred on the 8th day of August of that year in the shape of another destructive conflagration. How the fire originated is not clearly shown, but its disastrous effects were none the less felt. It swept away the entire block of frame buildings on the east side of Douglas Avenue, between First and North Main streets, and also several on North Main Street. The loss occasioned by that fire is set down at not less than $25,000.
No sooner was the fire extinguished than the work of clearing away the debris began, preparatory to the erection of other buildings, George Seitz, Andrew Schmitt, Z. Jackson and Leo Herzig, immediately set to work and erected, simultaneously, and side by side, fronting on North Main Street, four one-story stone buildings, or rather, one building containing four store-rooms. That of George Seitz stands on the corner of Douglas Avenue and North Main Street, which is handsomely fitted up and occupied by him as a drug store. The one adjoining this on the east, is owned by Andrew Schmitt, and is occupied by him as a boot and shoe store. To the eastward of these are the two rooms put up and owned by Z. Jackson and Leo Herzig.
In the fall of 1873, the cattle trade commenced coming to Ellsworth, and with it came a new element into society, which, while making business somewhat lucrative, was rather detrimental to morality. In 1874, Ellsworth was the headquarters of the cattle trade, and the place was known as a cow-boy town. The thugs, blacklegs and cut-throats, with the attendant train of prostitutes that usually accompany them, which the cattle trade brought to Ellsworth, made it, for a time, far from being a place in which a piously inclined person would choose to reside. Gambling, drinking, shooting, and those sinful practices in which women lost to every sense of shame and virtue see, to take delight, constituted their greatest pastime.
One season of such characters satisfied the people of Ellsworth that the evils of the cattle trade, or rather those that followed it, were more detrimental to the real interests of the place than it was benefitted by any advantages derived from it in point of increased trade, and when, in the following year the cattle men took their trade farther west, the citizens of Ellsworth were very much relieved, and felt greatly rejoiced. During the short time the cattle trade remained at Ellsworth, no less than ten persons were shot and killed either on the street or in some gambling den.
The Sheriff of the county, C. G. Whitney, met his death at the hands of one of the desperate characters then infesting the town, named Bill Thompson, who claimed to be a Texan. The revolver or bowie-knife was the arbiter of all disagreements, and were frequently used when all the disagreement that existed was, that one man had a pocket-book and the other wanted it. Thompson and the Sheriff had disagreed about some frivolous matter, and scarcely had they exchanged a half dozen words, when Thompson's revolver concluded the argument by silencing the Sheriff forever.
This dangerous element having been removed, the town settled down to peace and quietness; and if the merchants did not take in quite as many dollars, they, and the citizens generally, breathed a purified moral atmosphere. The destruction of the crops in 1874, made times exceedingly dull in the year that followed, and a great many became discouraged. The worst had not come yet, however, for another disastrous blow was about to fall on Ellsworth that the people, little expected. On November 12, 1875, another fire struck the town and carried away an entire block on South Main Street, running west from Douglas Avenue.
Minnick's brick building, the upper part of which was used as a Masonic Hall, perished in that fire. The loss occasioned by the fire was not less than $50,000. Prior to that time, South Main constituted the principal business street of the city, but the November blaze wiped the greater portion of it out of existence. It was then abandoned as a business quarter of the city, and the merchants who had been burned out moved north of the railway track, where they re-established themselves, chiefly on Douglas Avenue.
In the spring of 1876, a handsome stone block was erected on the east side of Douglas Avenue, between First and Second streets. This block is two stories high, and was built by E. A. Powers, I. W. Phelps, Arthur Larkin and J. L. Bell. The building on the corner of First street and Douglas Avenue was built by E. A. Powers for a bank, which he continues to use as such. The institution is known as the Powers Bank, and was established by E. A. Powers in 1870. In 1882 it passed under the control of a company, and was incorporated in November of that year. The capital of the bank is $50,000, and the officers of the institution are: E. A. Powers, president; I. W. Phelps, vice-president; J. W. Powers, cashier, and W. F. Tompkins, assistant cashier. This is the only bank in the city.
The next building to the bank is the one erected by I. W. Phelps, and is used by him as a grocery store; the next was put up by Arthur Larkin and is now used by him as a dry goods store; the fourth and last of the block was put up by J. L. Bell, which he uses for a hardware store. These four buildings constitute one of the most substantial and neatest blocks in Central Kansas. Subsequent to the building of this block, Mr. Larkin, finding that his room was too small for his business, widened the store by tearing down the hall partition and added to its depth by building fifty-five feet to the east end. This made the dimensions of the store 26 1/2x125 feet. Having done this, he built a stair six feet wide from the center of the store to the floor above.
The ground floor of the original building is used for dry goods exclusively, while that of the addition is devoted to clothing, hats, caps, boots ans shoes. The upper floor is the salesroom for carpets, rugs, mattings and oil cloths, also ladies' cloaks, mantillas, dolmans, sacques, etc. This block, extending from the bank to Bell's hardware store, is the best improvement yet made in the city. That same year, 1876, and adjoining this block on the north, two one-story stone buildings were erected, one by E. G. Minnick and the other by D. B. Long.
The year 1876 was one of substantial improvements, experience having taught the people that wooden buildings were the poorest kind of protection against fire. The fires of 1869, 1874 and 1875, by which property to the amount of $100,000 was destroyed, gave them a lesson of which they took advantage, and the result was that good, substantial business houses were erected of either brick or stone. Three times during its short existence had Ellsworth been fire-tried, and yet a fourth one was close at hand. In March, 1877, another fire visited the town, carrying away the only remaining block that stood on South Main Street. This was located between Douglas an Lincoln avenues, but the fire made quick work of it and a reminder of it can still be seen in some old stone walls that stand south of the railroad track, a short way from the depot. The loss occasioned by this fire was estimated at $20,000.
If 1877 was a year of some disaster, it was also a year of great improvement. J. Beebe, built in that year a very fine two-story stone building on North Main Street which he uses for a grocery, furniture and hardware store. Two lots east of Beebe's, a similar building was put up by F. Bornschiem, which is now used for a bakery and restaurant. Adjoining this to the west, Dr. Seevert erected a one-story stone building, and next to this H. Rainelsberg put up a very handsomely finished two-story double building, the ground floor of which is in one room and is used by him as a clothing and dry goods store, while the upper floor is used partly for goods and partly for a residence.
The erection of these buildings made almost a solid stone block on the north side of North Main Street between Lincoln and Douglas avenues. In 1877, Arthur Larkin built the Golden Belt elevator which is operated by steam-power. Its capacity is between 15,000 and 20,000 bushels. If 1877 started in disastrously, it closed with a good record, and in the number and character of improvements made, far excelled any year that preceded it.
The place was now commencing to bear a citified appearance and to assume an air of solidity and healthful prosperity. Up to that time no substantial improvements had been made on the west side of Douglas Avenue, but in 1877 a commencement was made by Tom May, who erected a two-story stone building on the northwest corner of Douglas Avenue and First Street.
Notwithstanding the great improvement the city had made, and the love of the people for law and order, the ushering in if 1878 found but one church building in town which had been built by the Catholics in 1869. It is a neat frame edifice, the construction of which cost about $1,000. Although there were no church buildings save the one mentioned; there had been for some time two or three church organizations. As early as 1873, Rev. Levi Sternberg organized a Presbyterian Church of nine members. By 1878, this little band had grown to be quite strong, and in that year commenced the erection of a very neat frame church building which was finished in 1879, at a cost of $1,500. The church has now a membership of seventy-five, and the present pastor is Rev. J. S. Carruthers. This and the Catholic Church are the only church edifices in town, although the Methodists and Lutherans have quite strong organizations and resident pastors.
The year 1878 was not very remarkable for any great improvements, those that were made being confined chiefly to the erection of residences. Two elevators were erected that year, one by Schmucker & Work, and one by W. G. Smith. Both are operated by horse-power, and of about equal capacity, 10,000 bushels each. The year 1878 closed with about as many business houses in the place as the requirements of the county demanded, but Arthur Larkin thinking that his "Grand Central Hotel" and the "Cottage House," did not furnish sufficient hotel accommodation, erected the "American House," a very fine stone building which stands on the south side of the railroad track, a short distance from the depot. Shortly after the hotel was built he sold it to John Kelly, who is still owner and proprietor. About the only substantial improvement made in 1879, was a brick building on the west side of Douglas Avenue, north of the adjoining the one erected by Tom May in 1877.
Towards the close of 1879, Ellsworth was doomed to experience another fire, which, though not quite so disastrous as either of those that preceded it was severe enough as it destroyed the only flouring-mill in the county at that time. The mill that was swept out of existence by this fire had been built by Everett & Foster in 1876, and, fortunately for the town, stood far enough away from either the business or resident portion of the place as not to endanger the safety of either. The loss of this mill was a source of great inconvenience to the people, and farmers had to take their grists to other counties to be ground. A company was formed the following year and the mill was rebuilt, and is known as the "Foster Mill." It is of rather small dimensions, has only two run of stone and is operated by steam-power.
The same year that Foster's mill was rebuilt, Getty & Larkins built a more extensive one in the west part of town which is also operated by steam-power. The building is frame, and all the machinery of the mill is of the latest and most improved pattern. This mill has five run of stone, and also makes flour by the roller process. The capacity of the mill is about 150 barrels of flour per day. In connection with the mill is an elevator of 30,000 bushels capacity.
In 1881 the "Ellsworth Sugar Works Company" was formed, and that same year quite an extensive sugar-mill was erected in the western part of town. The capital invested in this mill is $25,000. It is operated by steam, and when running gives employment to seventy-five hands. Its success is, as yet, a matter of speculation, but if properly managed, it cannot fail to be a profitable investment.
Another of the improvements of 1881, was the erection of quite a large block on the east side of Douglas Avenue between First and Second streets, by Z. Jackson. The north, south and west walls of this block are stone and the front wall is brick. The ground floor is divided into three storerooms, and the front part of the upper floor is partitioned off into offices, while the remainder of it is handsomely fitted up for an opera hall. On the west side of the hall is the stage and dressing rooms, and a gallery extends along the entire length of the east side. The hall is seated with chairs and the stage well mounted with scenery tastefully and artistically painted. Four hundred persons can be seated comfortably in the hall, and by a little crowding, five hundred could find room.
The only improvement of any note made in 1882, was the two-story stone building erected by H. Nunamaker, on Douglas Avenue, and an elevator put up by the Foster Mill Company, the capacity of which is 20,000 bushels.
In 1881 there lived in the southeastern portion of the county a man named Phillip Angley. He lived by himself in a "dug out." This kind of a habitation is what constitutes the cellar or basement of an ordinary house, or a hole dug in the ground, over which is placed a roof of prairie grass and earth. Sometimes they are only dug to a depth of three or four feet, but in such cases sod walls are built to about the same height above the ground as the depth of the dug out is below. It was in one of these abodes that Phillip Angley lived, and there his nephew Graham, found him in 1881, when he came to live with him.
Angley had neither wife nor child, and before the advent of his nephew, lived in his primitive abode solitary and alone. Uncle and nephew got along all right until January, 1882, when Angley sold some land to a neighbor taking the money he received as the purchase price with him to the dug out. I was fatal money to him, because, for it, his nephew taking advantage of him while he was asleep, murdered him, and after getting possession of the money set fire to the rafters that supported the roof and then fled towards Ellsworth.
When the rafters were so weakened by fire that they could not support the roof all the earth on the top fell into the dug-out and covered up the murdered man except his feet. In the position he was discovered a few days after by some of his neighbors who dug him out, and then it was ascertained that he had been foully murdered. Graham, the murderer, was in Ellsworth lavishly spending the murdered man's money when the news of the deed reached town. Suspicions instantly fell upon him as being the perpetrator of the crime, and he was lodged in jail.
While in jail he was called upon by another uncle of his, named Shafer, to whom he made a full confession of the crime. That night he was taken from the jail and hung to a telegraph pole along side the railway track nearly opposite the court house. At that time there was another murderer in jail named Rose, and after hanging Graham, the crowd went back to the hail to get him ands serve him in like manner, but the Sheriff, anticipating their action, had the prisoner removed to a place of safety.
Having in the foregoing, given briefly the history of the town from its commencement until the close of 1882, it may be interesting to some to be told how the place received the name of Ellsworth. Upon this point, different and erroneous beliefs exist: Some believe that the town of Ellsworth being the county-seat, took as its name that of the county, and that the latter was named in honor of Col. E. E. Ellsworth, who was killed by Jackson in Alexandria, Virginia, and who, it is said was the first victim of the war of the rebellion.
The name of the town is not derived from that source, but from a fort that was built during the war about four miles east of the present town site, at a point where the old Santa Fe trail crosses the Smoky Hill. This fort became known as Fort Ellsworth, and from this the town of Ellsworth derived its name. As showing the moving disposition of the people that came to Ellsworth, it may be remarked that the population of the place now, is just about what it was at the end of the first year of its existence. Hundreds came and hundreds went, and each year found the population about the same in number, but different in people.
The town receives little or none of this floating population now, and the place has settled down to a permanent, steady growth. Its present population is about one thousand, and those who come now, come to stay. The town is beautifully situated on the northeast bank of the Smoky Hill River, on a wide plateau of second bottom land. To the north of town the ground takes a sudden rise and stretches away into high table-land. To the south is Smoky, with a solitary tree at intervals marking its course, and beyond is the high and broken upland. The business of the place is now so fixed that merchants can make their calculations as to trade, to a considerable degree of certainty. The business portion of the town is mostly substantially built of stone and brick, and some of the stones will compare very favorably with those in much larger places.
Those engaged in mercantile pursuits, transact a large amount of business during the year, and the fact that 400,000 bushels of wheat passed through the three elevators in town in 1882, will be sufficient to show the kind of country the merchants have to depend upon for trade. The business of the town is represented by three general merchandising stores; seven grocery stores; two boot and shoe stores; two drug stores; three hardware dealers; one dealer in furniture; two lumber dealers; one millinery establishment; three hotels; one jewelry store; two restaurants; two harness-shops; one wagon and carriage-shop; three livery stables; one bakery; two flouring-mills; one sugar-mill, and three grain-elevators, every branch seeming to be carrying on a prosperous business.
Ellsworth has been sorely tested by fire, by flood, and by cholera epidemic, to say nothing of the other scourges, in shape of desperadoes and other loose characters with which all frontier towns at some time of their existence have been afflicted. All there have been survived, and Ellsworth now is one of the thriving towns of Central Kansas.
Ellsworth is located at 38°43'55N, 98°13'45W (38.731924, 98.229204). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.4 km² (2.1 mi²), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,965 people, 995 households, and 641 families residing in the city. The population density was 545.1/km² (1,413.3/mi²). There were 1,141 housing units at an average density of 209.8/km² (543.9/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 88.40% White, 7.55% African American, 0.94% Native American, 0.51% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.94% from other races, and 1.62% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.95% of the population.
There were 995 households out of which 27.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.9% were married couples living together, 7.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.5% were non-families. 33.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.84.
In the city the population was spread out with 17.3% under the age of 18, 10.0% from 18 to 24, 31.5% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 19.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 132.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 139.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $35,625, and the median income for a family was $45,156. Males had a median income of $30,233 versus $19,762 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,396. About 3.8% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.0% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.
In pop culture
Ellsworth is featured in the game Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent. In the game, it is the home of Ellsworth Federal Penitentiary. There, the main character, Sam Fisher, must meet with an inmate named Jamie Washington, a member of a US terrorist organization called John Brown's Army. Fisher must escape with Washington and then use Washington to solidify cover for his mission. The actual Federal Penitentiary is in Leavenworth.
The town is also featured in a recent song by Rascal Flatts titled "Ellsworth".