Ellsworth was established as a cowtown in 1867. Part of the Chisum Trial 1871 Ellsworth had the largest stockyards in Kansas. Its importance grew when in 1870 the Kansas Pacific Railway linked it to Abilene and Denver.

As Ellsworth grew it attracted small businessmen to the area who established saloons, brothels and various stores. It also became the source of a great deal of crime and lawlessness. Its sheriff, Chauncey B. Whitney was killed by Ben Thompson on 15th August, 1873.