Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cattle Drives to Ellsworth, Kansas in 1873 by Linda Hubalek

The setting of my Brides with Grit series is Ellsworth County, Kansas in 1873. Although I created the fiction town of Clear Creek for the story, there really is a "Clear Creek" running through the county. 
I picked this specific year because of the information I found on Ellsworth when it was a major cattle shipping town from 1872 to 1875.
In 1867, Abilene, Kansas became a shipping facility for cattle driven up from Texas, loading over 36,000 head of cattle in its first year. By 1871, the area was settled and the huge herds of cattle were no longer welcome because they trampled farmer's crops and spread Texas Cattle Fever to local cattle.
Cattle drives coming up the Chisholm Trail veered west to Ellsworth in 1872. The area was still native grassland and able to accommodate the grazing herds.
Ellsworth businessman anticipated the shift in the cattle trade from Abilene to their town, adding merchandise that the cowboys would need, or want, when they were done with the drive. It was reported that the Big Boot Company sold more than one hundred pairs of boots in the first months of 1874.
The Drovers Cottage, once owned by Joseph McCoy in Abilene, was moved to Ellsworth in 1872 to take advantage of the people coming into town. This hotel could accommodate 175 guests and its stable could hold fifty carriages and a hundred horses. 

Most drovers arrived in town in June and completed shipping by early fall. In the 1873 season, more than 150,000 cattle were trailed into Ellsworth. Over 30,000 of those cattle were shipped east, and the rest driven on to stock ranches further west. 
You could imagine how many cowboys were in town when each 2,500 to 3,000 head of cattle coming in, had a trail boss, ten cowboys, a cook and at least one horse wrangler with the herd. And you usually had three horses along for each cowboy.
So for a rough count, there were 150,000 head of cattle, 700 cowboys and 2000 horses coming into the little town of Ellsworth, although not all at the same time. What a gold mine for stores and saloons, although the trade lasted only a few years.
I'd love to have been in Ellsworth in 1873, but I'll research and write about it instead!


  1. I must say, The Drovers Cottage looked very upscale from the usual boarding house or hotels of the day. That must have been a real boon to the town, and a real pleasure to the weary drovers.
    Thanks for this bit of Kansas history. And much luck with your novels set "in the day."

  2. Hi Celia,
    Yes, the Drovers Cottage was big and they moved it from Abilene to Ellsworth. I wonder how, and how long it took to move (I assume sections) 60 miles.
    Thanks for leaving a comment today.

  3. Sorry to be late getting here, Linda. My weekend was filled with fun things and people I care about, so I was out of the loop for the most part.
    What a perfect town for a cattle drive. It seems to have had everything needed to make life easier on the cowboys and cattle and great income for the town's people without destroying their property. Win-win. You're so lucky to have such personal access to the west.
    You're right, it was the perfect imprint for your fictional town.
    I wish you continued success in all you do.

  4. Great history. I've heard many cattle that came to Ellsworth were hearded on to Kearney, Ne. for a short time. Passing just a couple miles from my parents farm here in Mitchell county. Would love to find a trail marker or detailed route map of that sometime.


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