The Early History of Ellis County
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Location and Natural Features
Ellis County was named after Lieut. George Ellis, of the Twelfth Kansas Infantry, who was killed April 30, 1864, in a battle at Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas. Until 1867, the county was embraced in the unorganized territory of the western portion of the State, but the Legislature of that year defined its boundaries and named it as above. The county contains 576,000 acres, or 900 square miles, and is bounded on the north by Rooks County, on the south by Rush, on the east by Russell, and on the west by Trego County.
In formation, the county is exactly square, being thirty miles north and south and the same number east and west. The territory embraced within the county limits is divided into five civil townships, Ellis embracing a strip nine miles wide on the west side of the county, extending from the north to the south line of the county. Saline Township embraces a strip nine miles wide in the northern portion, extending from the east line of the county to the east line of Ellis Township. Big Creek Township is twelve miles wide, joining Ellis Township on the east and extending from the south line of Saline Township to the south line of the county. Victoria Township joins Big Creek on the east and its formation is very irregular, being only three miles wide on the north, which width it maintains for nine miles, when it widens to five miles, and three miles further south the width is increased to six miles, when three miles still farther south it is again increased to seven miles, which it maintains to the south line of the county. Walker is the remaining and eastern township of the county, whose formation is the same as that of Victoria, with the exception that as the latter widens the former narrows until the southern portion of it is only two miles wide. Ellis is in the fifth tier of counties from the west line of the State.
The surface of the county is of the same character as that of most of Western Kansas, one vast stretch of prairie, almost completely destitute of timber, what little there was originally having almost disappeared, except a small portion on Big Creek, within the limits of the military reservation at Fort Hays. The face of the country, however, is very far from being uniform, some portions, especially the southeastern, being quite level or gently undulating, the central portion, though not bluffy, is very high and uneven while in the western and northern portion, especially in the vicinity of the Saline River, there are considerable bluffs. About ten or twelve per cent of the county may properly by termed bottom-lands, that is, lands that lie in strips of valley along the streams.
The only streams in the county of any importance are the Saline River, which runs from west to east along the northern boundary of the county, the Smoky Hill River, that runs in the same direction close to the southern boundary line, and Big Creek, that enters the county from the west, midway between the northern and southern boundary lines of the county, and flows in a southeasterly direction. The lesser creeks that flow into these streams are rather insignificant, and even the larger streams, as a usual thing, contain but very little water.
At one time the timber-land of the county was estimated at one per cent of the total area, but even this little has been greatly diminished by settlers cutting it down for fuel. The valleys along the creeks average about a mile in width, some being much less than this, and some considerably more. There are a few springs in the county, especially in the northern portion, but almost in all parts of the county good well-water can be had at various depths, ranging from fifteen to forty feet.
The soil of the county is good, being a rich, black loam, varying in depth from two to eight feet. With ordinary rains it is capable of producing almost anything that grows out of the ground. When the seasons are favorable, immense yields of wheat are raised, but the scarcity of rain renders crops very uncertain. Notwithstanding the richness and depth of the soil, Ellis cannot be classed as an agricultural county, its chief adaptation being wool-growing and stock-raising. Cattle and sheep-raising are the most profitable as they can sustain themselves the year round on the nutritious buffalo-grass which grows all over the county. Swine, and stock that require to be corn-fed in the winter, are not so profitable, as it is only in exceptionally wet seasons that any corn can be raised, and in most seasons the corn required for feeding purposes has to be shipped in from other counties. Owing to the uncertainty of the seasons, farming in the county is not engaged in to any great extent, but with anything like a reasonable rainfall, the soil is very productive.
But little information concerning the early history of the county could be obtained from the records, as they were very imperfectly kept. When the first election was ordered and held in the county, there is nothing in the record to indicate, nor is the appointment by the Governor of the first County Commissioners an authenticated fact of record, although it is pretty well established that the first County Commissioners were J. E. Walker, Dennis Ryan, and William Rose. The first County Clerk was J. W. Connor, and the first Sheriff was Thomas Ganlon, and the first Justice of the Peace in the county was M. E. Joyce, who had been appointed to the office by the governor early in 1867.
In 1864 or 1865, a military post was established in Ellis County, on Big Creek, about fourteen miles southeast of where Hays City now stands. This post was known as Fort Fletcher, and had quarters for several companies of troops. The post was located on the low-lying land along the margin of the creek, and was utterly destroyed by the flood that occurred in the spring of 1867, by which several colored soldiers lost their lives. Fort Fletcher was then abandoned and immediately thereafter Fort Hays was established on its present site by Gen. Pope.
Up to that time the county was without settlement, but the location of Fort Hays, and the near approach of the Kansas Pacific Railway to that point, attracted a good many settlers to that locality, and then followed the founding of Hays City. Some early attempts to cultivate the prairie in the vicinity of Hays City were made, but they proved failures, and nothing further in this line was essayed until the summer of 1871, when Thomas Arrowsmith, J. H. Edwards and Louis Watson made some attempts at experimental farming adjacent to the town of Ellis, but the success they met with was far from encouraging. Aside from a few wood-claims that had been taken in the county, but very little of the land was taken, and in 1872 ten or twelve homestead and pre-emption claims were all that had been settled upon in the county.
n that year a small colony from Ohio located at what is now known as Walker Station in the eastern portion of the county, but the object of the colony seems to have been to found a town rather than become engaged in agricultural pursuits. The town, however, has had a very slow growth, and though it has passed its first decade it does not contain more than half a dozen houses and one store, and is merely a station on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railway.
Following this colony, two others, very limited in number, arrived the following year, one from New York, that settled in and about Ellis, and one from Pennsylvania, that located at Hays City. It was in that same year that George Grant arrived from England and purchased of the Railway Company 50,000 acres of land in the eastern portion of the county, for the purpose of colonizing it with English agriculturists, and stocking it with improved imported sheep and cattle. This was the greatest accession the county had received, and during the next two or three years some two or three hundred Englishmen, many of them with their families, arrived in the county and located on the Grant purchase.
Large numbers of fine sheep and cattle were brought from England and the colony started out under very promising auspices. A town was started on the line of railway, a few miles west of Walker, to which was given the name of Victoria, and by which it is still known. A very fine stone depot was built, and a handsome stone church known as St. George's Chapel. The latter was erected by the colonists and by subscriptions collected in England. A very fine elevator was also built and the place gave promise of growing to be quite a town.
A store was put up and in a short time the place had about twenty-five houses and one hundred and fifty people. Experience, however, soon taught the colonists that Ellis County was not an agricultural country, and meeting with nothing but failure and disappointment in their efforts at farming, they became discouraged and began to return to England, and now, of all those who came, but very few remain. In 1879, the originator of the scheme, George Grant, died, and his remains are interred in front of St. George's Chapel at Victoria, while the colony he sought to found has about ceased to exist.
In 1875, and the two years following, large numbers of Russians came into the county and located in colonies. There are, in all, about twelve hundred Russians in the county, located in five separate settlements. Two of these colonies are located on the Smoky, close to the south line of the county, one on Big Creek, about a mile south of the military reservation, one just north of the Kansas Pacific Railway, about half a mile from Victoria, and one on Victoria Creek, about five miles farther north. Most of these Russians took claims upon their arrival, which they immediately commenced to improve. They also built villages to which they gave names after some place in their native country. The village to the north is named Schoenchen and contains about 150 people; the one on Big Creek is named Catherine and has about 200 people; the two on the Smoky are named respectively, Munjor and Peifer (sic) the former having a population of about 300, and the latter of about 150.
The most important of the Russian villages is that just north of Victoria, which is named Herzog, and which contains a population of about 400. This latter has the appearance of being quite a town, and in building it some attention has been paid to regularity in laying off the streets. Many of the buildings are very comfortable frame houses, but the majority of them are made of sod, and so constructed as to afford the inmates a considerable degree of comfort. The other villages are similarly built, with the exception that regularity in laying off streets has been disregarded.
Herzog is regarded at the capital of this Russia Minor, and there is established the chief patriarch and priests. The place has a very fine stone Catholic Church, which was erected by Sir Walter Maxwell, who took considerable interest in the English Colony under George Grant. The Russians also erected a large stone monastery, 45x120 feet, to which another wing similar in dimensions is now being added. These Russian villages are occupied, chiefly, in the winter season, as the people reside upon their farms during the other seasons of the year, and only retire to the villages when the weather will not permit them to work on their farms.
The early history of Ellis County is confined chiefly to Hays City, as no attempt at settlement of the county was made until several years after its organization. The early settlement of the county was characterized by those incidents which are usually peculiar to frontier life, in which the revolver generally plays such a conspicuous part. The first three Sheriffs of the county met with violent deaths. The manner of Ganlon's death, the first Sheriff of the county, is not authenticated, but that he met his death at the hands of some desperadoes has been so strongly proven as not to admit of a doubt. How Lanahan, the second Sheriff of the county, came by his death will be recorded at length in the history of Hays City. The third Sheriff, Alexander Ramsy, a brave and courageous officer, was killed in attempting to arrest two horse-thieves. In the summer of 1875, Ramsy went in pursuit of two horse-thieves and overtook them at Stockton, in Rooks County.
Upon calling them to surrender, they drew their revolvers, whereupon Ramsy fired, killing one of them instantly. Almost simultaneously with his shot, the thieves fired, the fire from one of their revolvers taking effect in the abdomen of Ramsy, inflicting a wound from which he died within a few hours. A witness of the affair, on seeing Ramsy wounded, drew his revolver and fired, wounding the other thief in the neck, the ball passing through his jaw. He was then captured, tried at Stockton, and while the jury was out deliberating upon a verdict he escaped.
Many other incidents not quite so tragical in character, but which illustrate frontier life occurred, and the manner in which justice was administered is worth of mention. M. E. Joyce, as already stated, was the first Justice of the Peace in the county and had his office at Hays City. In the winter of 1867-68, one man who had killed another came in, confessed his crime, and surrendered himself to the Justice mentioned. A day was set for the hearing and the man was allowed to go, upon his promise to appear and answer. The day came and a large crowd was assembled in the office of the Justice when the man who had surrendered himself entered. The case was called and upon the defendant's answering, the Justice asked him if he was "guilty or not guilty." To the surprise of the Justice and everyone else, the man answered "guilty," whereupon the Justice adjusted his spectacles on his nose, looked at the man a moment, and then said, "You are a d--d fool, and I will discharge you for want of evidence."
In another case tried before this same Justice, the party against whom he rendered judgment desired to give notice that he would take an appeal from his decision, when the Justice gave him to understand that no appeal could be taken, as his was the highest court in Kansas.
The first case tried in the District Court in the county was "Ruggles & Ryan vs. Ranahan," and the presiding Judge was Hon. Judge Humphrey. A great deal of interest was manifested in the case by the people, although the matter at issue was only a question of debt. The Judge decided in favor of the defendant, and this so enraged one class of the people that they made preparations to handle the Judge roughly, and to escape being mobbed he was obliged to flee to the fort and seek the protection of the troops.
The first couple married in Ellis County was Peter Tondell and Elizabeth Duncan in 1868, and the first child born in the county was John Bauer, his birth occurring on January 29, 1868. The first instrument recorded in the county as appears by the books in the office of the Register of Deeds, was a deed from Hiram L. Cowdry to O. B. Taylor, conveying Lot 23, in Block 5, of Hays City, the consideration being $300. The instrument was dated March 3, 1871.
Ellis County is not an agricultural country, as has been shown by experience. Thinking it was such, thousands of people have located within its borders from time to time, only to learn, after years of effort, that they had made a mistake, and left it for other fields. Proof of this is found in the falling away of the population within the two years from 1880 to 1882. In the former year, according to the United States Census, the population of the county was 6,179, while according to the census taken by the Township Assessors in 1882, the population was only 4,699.
While not an agricultural county, it has its advantages, however, and for stock-raising purposes is very desirable. Cattle and sheep-raising can be followed both to advantage and profit, as the rich buffalo-grass with which the surface of the county is matted, is amply sufficient to carry them through the winter without feed of any other kind. The almost utter impossibility of raising corn for feeding purposes precludes the raising of hogs for profit, although in seasons when there is a reasonably fair rainfall, which is very seldom, cereals of all kinds can be raised in abundance. Stockmen, however, find it an excellent county for their business, and both cattle and sheep-ranches are becoming more numerous each year. Financially, the county is in very good condition. It has an excellent court house, and its debt is very trifling, and all orders drawn on the County Treasurer are paid to their full face value upon presentation.
Schools, Manufactories, Etc.
There were in Ellis County in 1882, according to the annual report furnished by the County Superintendent to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, thirty-nine organized school districts. There were however, only twenty-two school buildings in the county, containing in all twenty-eight rooms, showing that seventeen of the districts had no school buildings. How it is thus, is not shown. That the organized districts should so far exceed the number of school-buildings, may suggest an inquiry which cannot be answered from the records. It may be accounted for by the fact that many of the districts are very sparsely settled, and the few people residing in them, do not feel disposed to be taxed for schoolhouse purposes so long as they can send their children to school in the adjoining district.
The school population of the county in 1882, between the ages of five and twenty-one years, was 2,623, divided as to sex into 1,376 males and 1,247 females. Of this number there were enrolled in the public schools 1,061, of which number 532 were males and 529 females, and the average daily attendance was 738. The number of teachers employed was 32, of whom 7 were males and 25 females. The average salary per month paid teachers was, males $44, and females $26. While the difference in the rates paid between the sexes is quite striking, it is not nearly as great as it was in 1881. In the latter year the average saltary (sic) per monh (sic) paid males teachers, was $38.85, while all the females received, was $18.43.
Of the thirty-nine organized school districts in they county, but twenty of them sustained public school for three months in the year, while fifteen failed to sustain school even for three months. The average number of mills levied in the county for school purposes in 1882, was 15.50, and the estimated value of all school property was $31,500. In 1882, there were issued school bonds to the amount of $7,285, and the total school bonded indebtedness of the county was $25,800, or $5,700 less than the estimated value.
On August 1, 1881, the commencement of the school year, there was a balance in the hands of the District Treasurer of $2,306.69, and the amount received during the year from district taxes, was $4,724.88, and from State and county funds $1,724.73; from sale of school bonds $7285, and from all other sources $391.99, making a total of $16,433.29 received for all school purposes. The total amount paid out during the year for all school purposes was $14,332.96, leaving a balance in the hands of the District Treasurer on August 1, 1882, of $2,100.33.
The only establishments in the county of a manufacturing character, are flouring-mills, of which there are four, one on the Saline River, about twenty miles nearly due north from Hays City. This was the first mill built in the county, and was erected by Jacob Meiers in 1876. The mill is built of stone, and is run by water-power. It is valued at $15,000. The next mill built in the county was that of M. Yost, about three fourths of a mile west of Hays City. It is a frame constructed mill, and was erected in 1879, at a cost of $20,000. It is operated by steam-power and makes flour by both grinding process and roller system.
The third mill is that erected at Hays City, by Jacob Meiers, in 1881. It is a substantially constructed stone mill, with four run of stone, and operated by steam-power. This mill is fitted up with the most improved machinery, and was built at a cost of $30,000. The fourth mill is that erected at Victoria, by Brungardt, and completed in January 1883. It is a small frame-structure, fitted up and furnished in excellent style, is operated by steam-power, and was put up at a cost of $15,000.
Statistics of Progress
In regard to population, the growth of the county as been exceedingly slow, and the latest returns show that it is more on the decrease than increase. For the first two or three years after the limits of the county were defined by the Legislature in 1867, the population increased quite rapidly, and in 1870 had reached 1,336. During the five years following it decreased to 940, being 396 less in 1875 than it was in 1870. The greater portion of this falling off took place after the grasshopper raid in 1874.
Those who left must have been of the original settlers, as during the five years for which the decrease is reported, the county received several accessions in the shape of colonies. During the three years following 1875, the population had increased again to 2,437. From 1878 to 1880, very large accessions were made to the population, as according to the United States Census for the latter year the population was 6,179, showing a gain of nearly 4,000 in two years. This increase, however, did not continue, as during the two following years quite an exodus from the county took place, by which the county lost in population nearly as much as it had gained during the three years preceding. The Census of 1882, as furnished by the various Township Assessors, sets the population down at 4,699, showing that the population in 1882 was 1,480 less than it was in 1880.
The material growth of the county, while it does not show any unusual degree of advancement in the aggregate, yet, when compared with the population, is very far from being unfavorable. Whatever progress has been made in the county towards increasing its material wealth, has, virtually, been made since 1875, because what few attempts had been made prior to that time at agricultural farming, had been, chiefly, experimental, except in 1874 when farming was entered upon quite extensively, but the bright promises created by the spring of that year were dashed by the grasshoppers, and hundreds of people left the county. The condition of the county in 1875, will be better understood by the fact that in that year the total area of field crops in the county was only 1,391 acres, of which about one-third was devoted to different kinds of grass.
The following year the acreage increased by only 400 acres, but by 1878 it had reached to 10,754. For the next three years the increase in the acreage of field crops averaged over one hundred per cent per annum, as shown by the statistical record of 1882. According to the same record, the number of acres included in farms was 97,823 the assessed value of which was $361,023, which valuation represents about one-third of the real value. During the year ending March 31, 1882, there were thirty-eight farm dwellings erected in the county, valued at $6,225.
The field crops of 1881 were distributed as follows: --Winter wheat, 16,993 acres; rye, 1,223; spring wheat 521; corn, 11,138; barley, 60; oats, 836; buckwheat; 14, Irish potatoes, 195; sweet potatoes, 62, sorghum, 1,230; castor beans, 29; flax, 270; tobacco, 45; broom corn, 989; millet and hungarian, 3,734; pearl millet, 169; rice-corn, 1,374; grasses of various kinds, 1,423, making a total of 40,345. Tame grasses were not very extensively cultivated, there having been only 130 tons of tame hay cut, and 5,441 tons of prairie hay. But very little was done at gardening, there having been only $753 worth of garden products marketed that year. The income from eggs and poultry was much larger, it being $3,253. The cheese product of the county, for which the year ending in March 31, 1882, was 1,680 pounds, and that of butter was 54,799 pounds.
The increase in the live-stock of the county has not been very rapid, as compared with that of some other counties, but yet a gradual increase has taken place from year to year. The returns for 1882, give the number of horses in the county at 1,467; mules and asses, 194; milch (sic) cows, 1,650; other cattle, 5,176; sheep, 13,278, and swine, 1,496. The value of animals slaughtered, or sold for slaughter, was $9,518. The wool clip for the year was 16,747 pounds. Some efforts have been made at horticulture, but they have not met with that success so far as to render fruit raising a source of any income. In 1882 the trees in bearing in the county were: --Apple, 106; pear, 11; peach, 774; plum, 176, and cherry, 146. The number not in bearing was:--Apple, 2,129; pear, 91; peach, 7,469; plum, 717, and cherry, 759. The people who take an interest in the fruit culture and endeavor to make it a success, labor under considerable disadvantages, chief of which is the prevailing dryness of the season. Were it not for the absence of rain, horticulture would be a very profitable industry.
But very little of the county is under fence, the total number of rods of fence being 17,720, divided as follows:--Board-fence, 113 rods; rail, 40; stone, 491; hedge, 4,000, and wire, 13,076; or about sufficient to enclose 196 square miles, or an area equal to nearly one-fifth of the entire county. The agricultural implements in the county in 1882 were valued at $26,761.
Other attempts at material advancement have been made in the cultivation of artificial forestry, but the success that has attended such attempts has been of a rather doubtful and discouraging character. The number of acres in the county in 1882, devoted to artificial forestry, was 694, of which 108 acres were set out to walnut, 2 to maple, 56 to honey locust, 368 to cottonwood, and 160 to other varieties. Some three or four miles east of Hays City, and immediately south of the railroad track, one Martin Allen has a timber claim of eighty acres, on which there is a grove containing about twenty-five acres, the trees of which were set out about six years ago. Some of the trees have attained a height of ten, twelve and fifteen feet, and though the grove looks remarkably well when in foliage, yet a personal examination of it shows a large percentage of the trees to be dead, and parties who have given considerable study to the subject of arboriculture, express grave doubts as to the success of tree growing in the county without some climatic changes take place.
A Slightly Later History of Ellis County
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Ellis County, located in the third tier of counties south of the State of Nebraska and the sixth east of Colorado, was created by the act of Feb. 26, 1867, with the following boundaries: "Commencing where the east line of range 16 west intersects the second standard parallel, thence south to the third standard parallel, thence west to the east line of range 21 west, thence north to the second standard parallel, thence east to the place of beginning."
The boundaries as thus established are the same as at the present time, giving the county an area of 900 square miles. Popularly speaking, it is bounded on the north by Rooks county; on the east by Russell; on the south by Rush, and on the west by Trego. It was named for Lieut. George Ellis of Company I, Twelfth Kansas infantry, who was killed at the battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Ark., April 30, 1864. The surface of the county is practically the same as that of all western Kansas—one broad stretch of prairie, with but little natural timber growth, though some artificial groves have been planted, and there are about 25,000 bearing fruit trees in the county.
Across the northern portion the Saline river flows in an easterly direction, and the southern part is watered by the Smoky Hill river and its tributaries, the largest of which is Big creek. Along some of the streams there is a natural growth of maple, cottonwood, black walnut, ash, box-elder and hackberry, but these belts do not average more than 200 feet in width. Magnesian limestone is plentiful; limestone of a finer quality is found along the Smoky Hill river; clay suitable for brick making is abundant near Hays; gypsum is known to exist in some localities, and there are a few salt marshes in the county.
Fort Fletcher (later Fort Hays) was established in the fall of 1865, but the first settlement was made in the latter part of May, 1867, by the Lull brothers of Salina. They located on the west side of Big creek, a little north of the railroad, and by the middle of June several houses had been erected. The town was called Rome and its founders expected it to become the metropolis of the county. Early in June. Bloomfield, Moses & Co. established a general supply store there, and later Joseph Perry built a two-story frame hotel. A little later, however, the "Big Creek Land company" platted the town of Hays, or as it was at first called, "Hays City," on the east side of the creek. A rivalry at once sprang up between the two places, but the railroad company threw its support to Hays and the town of Rome passed out of existence. Some of the buildings, including Perry's hotel, were removed to Hays.
In Oct., 1867, a memorial praying for the organization of the county was presented to the governor. The petitioners recommended Pliny Moore, William Rose and Judson E. Walker for commissioners, James G. Duncan for county clerk, and Hays City as the temporary county seat. W. F. Webb, H. P. Field and U. S. Thurmond were appointed to take a census of the county. The census showed a population of 633—a few more than the minimum number required by law for the organization of the county—and Gov. Crawford issued his proclamation declaring the county organized, with the officers and temporary county seat recommended by the petitioners.
At a special election in April, 1870, for the location of the permanent county seat, 59 votes were cast, all in favor of Hays. On the question of erecting county buildings, there were 58 votes in favor of the proposition and 1 opposed. Consequently, on April 22, the commissioners issued an order for the erection of suitable buildings, but it was some time before the financial condition of the county would justify the execution of the order. At the present time (1911) Ellis county has a fine stone court-house, two stories high with basement, containing sufficient room for the transaction of all the county business.
The settlement was slow for a time. In 1872 a small colony from Ohio located near Walker, in the eastern part of the county, and was soon followed by two others—one from Pennsylvania and one from New York. The same year an Englishman named George Grant purchased 50,000 acres of land from the railroad company, intending to colonize it with English farmers, and during the next two years some 300 Englishmen, several of them with their families, located on the purchase. The grasshopper scourge of 1874 caused a large number of the settlers to leave the county, but in the three years beginning with 1875 a large number of Russian emigrants came to take the places of those who had left.
The first white child born in the county was John Bauer, whose birth occurred on Jan. 29, 1868, and the same year witnessed the first marriage, the contracting parties being Peter Tondell and Elizabeth Duncan. The first court was held soon after the county was organized, Judge Humphrey presiding. The county has but one line of railroad—the Union Pacific—which crosses it from east to west near the center, giving it a little over 32 miles of main track.
In 1910 the population of Ellis county was 12,170, a gain of 3,544 during the preceding decade. The county is divided into the following civil townships: Big Creek, Buckeye, Catherine, Ellis, Freedom, Hamilton, Herzog, Lookout, Pleasant Hill, Saline, Smoky Hill, Victoria, Walker and Wheatland. The assessed value of property for 1910 was $18,938,312, and the value of farm products, including live stock, was $2,867,960. The five leading crops, in the order of value, were: wheat, $1,718,900; corn, $261,882; hay, including alfalfa, $119,702; Kafir corn, $110,160; barley, $40,760. The value of dairy products for the year was $94,718. According to the report of the state superintendent of public instruction, there were 53 organized school districts, with a school population of 4,138.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,332 km² (900 mi²), of which 2,331 km² (900 mi²) is land and 1 km² (0 mi²), or 0.06%, is water. Ellis County's population was estimated to be 26,926 in the year 2006, a decrease of 503, or -1.8%, over the previous six years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 27,507 people, 11,193 households, and 6,771 families residing in the county. The population density was 12/km² (31/mi²). There were 12,078 housing units at an average density of 5/km² (13/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 96.10% White, 0.67% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.82% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.31% from other races, and 0.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.37% of the population.
There were 11,193 households out of which 28.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.00% were married couples living together, 7.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.50% were non-families. 30.10% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.80% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the county the population was spread out with 22.40% under the age of 18, 18.40% from 18 to 24, 25.20% from 25 to 44, 19.60% from 45 to 64, and 14.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 95.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.60 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $32,339, and the median income for a family was $44,498. Males had a median income of $29,885 versus $21,269 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,259. About 6.50% of families and 12.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.20% of those under age 18 and 10.00% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Hays, 19,841 (county seat)
Unified school districts
Ellis USD 388
Victoria USD 432
Hays USD 489