JOHN ELLIS. Within the lifetime of John Ellis, El Dorado banker, stockman and farmer, has been unfolded practically the entire history of civilization in Butler County. He came here when a boy of five or six years. Kansas was still a territory, and his people located on the very fringe of settlement and in what was then and for a number of years afterward regarded as Southwestern Kansas. Few of the old timers can look back to a time in Butler County when its prairies supported herds of buffalo, but John Ellis recalls having seen as many as 150 in a single drove. Wherever the buffalo was found in the West there also was the Indian. John Ellis knew the wild and untamed redmen of the West when he was a boy, though he never met them when on hostile excursions, and so far as his experience goes Butler County was never a scene of violence on the part of the redmen. However, parties of them frequently went through Butler County on hunting trips, and with other boys of his time he shared in the fright caused by Indian scares, though reports of the coming of hostile Indians were almost universally unfounded in real danger. For several years after the buffalo disappeared from the prairies the wild deer were still numerous, and John Ellis was old enough to carry a gun on his shoulder before the big game really became extinct in this section.
There were few signs of civilization when he and his parents came to Butler County. Inhabitants were few and far between. John Ellis attended one of the first schools ever conducted in Butler County. The house was built of logs and was located on George T. Donaldson's place in Chelsea Township. Mrs. Donaldson was a sister of Mrs. L. V. Shelden and Miss Vaught. Much has been said in recent years about the wisdom of keeping schoolhouses in constant service, instead of allowing them to lie idle for several months of the year. This plan was put into practical operation in Chelsea Township fifty years or more ago. The old log house in which John Ellis learned his letters was used only in the summer time for school purposes, while in the winter it was converted into a corn crib. Mr. Ellis recalls the name of his first teacher. She was Margaret Vaught, a sister of Mrs. L. V. Shelden, the mother of Alvah and John G. Shelden.
Thus John Ellis is a product of old-time customs and an environment such as few Kansans can recall. While he is deeply rooted in the past of Butler County, he is exceedingly alive and a vital factor in the present. Besides being vice president of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of El Dorado John Ellis has built up a business as a farmer and stockman which ranks him among the foremost Kansas agriculturists of the present generation. He began farming for himself at the age of nineteen. His business has been on the increase ever since, and his prosperity has been built up gradually and on the solid rock of business integrity. He now operates about 1,750 acres of land in Chelsea and Sycamore townships, though for the past sixteen years his home has been in El Dorado, where he has a fine modern residence. He spends nearly every day on his farm, going to and fro in his automobile. As a stockman he has more than a local reputation, and handles both cattle and horses.
John Ellis was born at Waukegan in Lake County, Illinois, April 13, 1854. His father and mother were fine types of early Kansas pioneers. His father, Archibald Ellis, was born at Castlebar, in County Mayo, Ireland, grew up there, and at the age of twenty-one crossed the ocean to the United States. A passenger on the same sailing vessel which brought him to the new world was Ann Tiernan. She was born in County Meath, Ireland, met her future husband in crossing the Atlantic and they were married shortly after landing. She died at El Dorado in 1892.
After his marriage Archibald Ellis settled at Newark, New Jersey. By trade he was a chandler, and followed that trade after moving west to Lake County, Illinois. He had a zest for adventure and was more than ready to attempt new exploits and identify himself with the outermost fringe of civilization. When the first news came of the discovery of gold in California he went out there by the way of New York and the Isthmus of Panama, and remained two years in California as a seeker for the golden metal. He then returned to Illinois, but was soon back in California, returning via the Cape Horn route, and he remained this time for seven years. He had moderate success as a miner and when he returned to the States for the second time he voyaged around the Horn.
It was in 1859 that the Ellis family set out for the Walnut Valley in Kansas. They made most of the journey by the river route. They embarked on a boat at La Salle on the Illinois River, went down that stream and into the Mississippi, and at St. Louis changed to a smaller boat and turned against the current of the Missouri and finally disembarked at Westport Landing, which was then the only conspicuous feature of what is now Kansas City, Missouri. He had had his horses and wagons with him and from there they drove across the country to Emporia, a budding new village of the Kansas prairies. Leaving his wife and younger children at Emoria, Kansas Archibald Ellis, with his oldest son, George, started out to look for a suitable location. He found one in Chelsea township of Butler County, along the Walnut River. He then returned to Emporia for the other members of the family, but while crossing the Cottonwood River the team was drowned and they narrowly escaped the same fate themselves. On bringing his household to Butler County Archibald Ellis pre-empted the land which he had selected, and that same quarter section is now owned by John Ellis, having been in one family's ownership upwards of sixty years.
In this isolated and somewhat desolate community Archibald Ellis began his career as a cattleman, and judged by the standards of the time he made a fine success. In fact he had splendid business judgment, and at the time of his death had increased his original quarter section homestead to 1,200 acres. Whether in Kansas or in the gold mines of California he showed himself ever a man of adventurous spirit, with unlimited courage and enterprise. It was of such stuff that the Kansas pioneer was made.
When the Ellises located in Butler County there was neither town or settlement of any description in the county. Kansas had been torn by the factional struggle over slavery and freedom, and orderly progress and development had no chance. At that time the big metropolis and market center for all Kansas, and for the great West as well, was Leavenworth on the Missouri River, nearly 200 miles from the Ellis home. Archibald Ellis usually made about two trips a year to Leavenworth for the purpose of buying supplies. The nearest postoffice was Emporia, nearly eighty miles to the northeast. Later Cottonwood Falls secured a postoffice and finally one at Chelsea. For several years the nearest grist mill was at Emporia.
The success he enjoyed in the management of his private affairs was matched by the prominence Archibald Ellis took in the public life of his home county. He was a democrat and an active leader in that party. He served as county commissioner and two terms as treasurer of Butler County. He died in 1879. He was a conspicuous figure in the early county seat fight and expressed himself positively on practically every other phase of the county's life and history. Fraternally he was identified with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
He and his wife became the parents of nine children. George, the oldest, was a very successful farmer and cattleman, and had bought a large interest and was president in the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of El Dorado when he died in 1912. Mary A., the second child, now lives on her farm twelve miles north and east of El Dorado, the widow of N. B. Coggeshall, who was a farmer. The third child, a son, and the fourth, a daughter, died in infancy. Archibald died when nineteen years of age. The sixth in the family is John Ellis. William died young, and Frank died on his farm in 1891. Lizzie, the youngest, also died in early life. The son Frank married Nan nie C. McDaniel, who is now living at El Dorado and the mother of two children: Frances, who is a student in the University of Kansas, and Pearl, wife of Mr. Cahill, a journalist living at Butte, Montana.
Enough has been said to indicate the early environment in which John Ellis grew to manhood. While he had all the advantages supplied by the common schools of Butler County in his day he has benefited most by the practical school of experience. He was about twenty-five years of age when his father died, and from the time of reaching his majority had managed the homestead, subsequently became owner of it and made it his own home until 1900, when he removed to El Dorado. In El Dorado his residence is at 507 Washington Street. As a farmer and stockman and banker Mr. Ellis has enjoyed financial independence for many years, and he is a man who makes the most of his well earned prosperity. In the spring of 1917 he made an extended visit to California and the Pacific Coast.
In politics he is an independent democrat. He served two terms as county commissioner of Butler County. Mr. Ellis was formerly a stockholder and vice president of the old Butler County Telephone Company until its interests were sold to the Bell Telephone Company in April, 1916. He is a member of the El Dorado Commercial Club.
In 1886, at El Dorado, Mr. Ellis married Miss Mary B. Hull, daughter of John and Eliza (Blaylock) Hull. Her father was a farmer and early settler in Wilson County, Kansas, and is now deceased, and her mother also died in that county. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis have two children. Gladys H., the older, is the wife of Homer Marshall, and they live on a farm twelve miles north and east of El Dorado. Mr. and Mrs. Marshall have one child, Mary Ellen, born in 1912. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis' second child is J. G. Ellis, born October 24, 1906.
A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, 1918, transcribed by students from Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March 9, 2000.
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