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Salt is the Cry !!
by Dwayne Hand


Ellsworth, the county seat and largest city of Ellsworth county, is situated about 4 miles northwest of the center of the county, on the north bank of the Smoky Hill river and the Union Pacific R. R. It is also the terminus of a division of the St. Louis and San Francisco R. R. that runs southeast to Wichita. The town site was surveyed in the spring of 1867 by McGrath and Greenwood for a company of which H. J. Latshaw was president. E. W. Kingsbury built the first house, which was used for the double purpose of hotel and store and was known as "The Stockade." At that time it was thought by many people that Ellsworth would be the western terminus of the railroad for some years to come, and the place grew with such rapidity that in a short time it boasted a population of 1,000 or more.

The town was at first located on low ground near the Smoky Hill river, in sections 28 and 29. On June 8, 1867, that stream rose suddenly, and in a short time Ellsworth was in four feet of water, some of the frail frame houses being washed from their foundations. A new site was then surveyed in section 20, a short distance northwest and on higher ground. Those who had bought lots in the old town were given new ones in the "Addition." But the flood was not the only disaster the new city had to encounter. Scarcely had the new site been surveyed when the Indians began to commit depredations in the vicinity, and in July the cholera (q. v.) broke out both in town and at Fort Harker, about 4 miles to the southeast. Floods, Indian raids and cholera in such rapid succession were more than the people could stand, and in a short time the 1,000 population of Ellsworth dwindled to less than 50.

Then came a second growth, more substantial and more permanent in character. In the fall of 1867 Arthur Larkin built a second hotel, called the Larkin House, business enterprises sprang up, buildings of a better class were erected, etc. For some time Ellsworth enjoyed a large trade from the 1,500 soldiers stationed at Fort Harker, especially in liquors, and from the emigrant trains that passed through on their way westward. In 1868 Ellsworth was incorporated as a village, with J. H. Edwards as president of the council of five members. The first school was taught in rented quarters by a man named Wellington. In 1869 a one-story school house was erected, which served until 1873, when the people voted $9,000 in bonds for the erection of a larger and more modern building. The first number of the Ellsworth Reporter was issued in Nov., 1870, by M. C. Davis.

In 1873 a large share of the cattle trade came to Ellsworth, and with it came the usual turbulent element that concentrated in the western cattle towns. Shooting scrapes were common, gambling houses were run "wide open," and the better class of citizens were pleased when the cattle trade moved on westward, because its disadvantages more than offset its advantages. The pioneer church of Ellsworth was established by the Catholics in 1869, and it remained the only house of worship in the place until 1878, when a building was erected by the Presbyterian. Several other denominations came later and the city now has a number of cozy church buildings. The Mother Bickerdyke home for soldiers' widows and orphans is located here.

Ellsworth is a city of the third class. It owns its electric lighting plant and waterworks, has a telephone exchange, 2 banks, 4 grain elevators, a large flour mill, a salt plant with a daily capacity of 500 barrels, a good public school system, a normal training school, an international money order postoffice with three rural routes, express and telegraph offices, two weekly newspapers (the Reporter and the Messenger), machine shops, wagon works, and a number of well appointed stores in all lines of merchandising. The streets are paved with a by-product of the salt works, making a roadway that is both dustless and noiseless. Coal and building stone are found in the vicinity and are a source of wealth. The commercial club is always alert to the interests of the city, which in 1910 had a population of 2,041, a gain of 492 over the preceding U. S. census.

Pages 580-581 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent citizens.

SALT-SALT-SALT-!!!  THAT IS THE CRY !!!  by Dwayne Hand

Sometime prior to the year 1886, a company was formed at Ellsworth, which was called the Ellsworth Improvement Company.  It had as its officers the mayor and the city council.  It was found recorded in the Register of Deeds office that they purchased the southwest one quarter of section 17-15-8 from Moses Huston and his wife on December 28, 1886.

This quarter section was laid out in streets and alleys, blocks and lots.  It was known as the Midland Place Addition after the Midland Railroad., which later became the Frisco.  The railroad had a roundhouse on this property and it was on this property that the Great Salt Bed was discovered in Ellsworth and Kansas.

Later, another company. the Ellsworth Mining Company was organized in June  1887.  A news story in The Ellsworth Reporter in June 1887 stated::  "A company has been organized in this city to bore for coal, gas, oil, water,  minerals, etc and work will commence soon."  This company had as its officers:  Ira Lloyd, attorney, as president, E.C. Jansen and H.F. Hoseman, as secretaries.

It was found in the Register of Deeds office where they bought the northwest quarter of section 17-15-8 from Joseph Cochrane and his wife, Margaret, to mine coal, gravel, oil or any other type mineral. It stated the Cochranes were to receive 10% mineral rights for the profits on anthing mined on this quarter section.  This transaction was recorded July 23, 1887 in Volume P, page 559.

Then on Nov. 1, 1887, the Cochranes deeded same quarter section to the Ellsworth Salt Mining Company except for the northwest five acres.  This company was listed with one million dollars in stock and headquartered in Wyandotte County KS. This is recorded in Volume V page 165.  It is not known the reason for this transaction as the Ellsworth Salt Mining Company was not mentioned again.

So here lays a new industry apart from the ranchers and cattleman, drovers of the herds of cattle coming up the Chisolm Trail and other points south in Texas to Kansas.  This is a new venture for the Smoky Hill Trail and old 40 highway.

Salt and coal mines on route 40--Ellsworth County KS.

The last chapter of this novella left all of us out north of Ellsworth in the year of 1887, igniting a gas well...I must say, events around this area of the Smoky Hill Trail was hoppin like fleas on a hot skillet !!

The Ellsworth Democrat tells us :" Frank Baker, a civil engineer residing here went up to Salina yesterday and during his stay he had a meeting with H.G. Johnston, another engineer who had the contract and did the boring at Ellsworth to discover the initial immense bed of rock salt. Mr. Johnston informed him that the newspaper was nearly correct with the exception of a few wee minor details.. In boring and before reaching the salt, an artesian vein of water was struck. This meant drilling deeper to go beyond the water supply.

When the salt was reached, it was found dry and hard and difficult as rock to bore through. The salt in Mr. Johnston's opinion is one solid mass and since it is dry will be easy to mine.

Mr. Baker was shown a sample of the salt as it came from the tubing, in it was a small portion of dirt but when placed in water the dirt washed off leaving the crystals white and clear.

Rock salt sells in Kansas City in car load lots of $20.00 per ton and without a doubt, there are tons and tons of salt in this find in Ellsworth County. A professor of chemistry from the Kansas University came out and tested the purity and it tested 97.76% pure Sodic Chloride.

This magnificent mining project was birthed in 1887, but it laid in the cradle of development for three years before it began to be developed. It was in 1890, when the worked started again but this time reorganization named the company, Ellsworth Improvement Company. It was on the quarter section of Frisco RR so the company signed the contract and leases to sink a shaft and mine the salt.

The work on the shaft was an 18' square and timber-shorn as it was dug down through the earth. The gentlemen from Denver who have been negotiating with the city concerning the sinking of the shaft have
closed the and soon we may see machinery on the grounds. The contract was signed by their agent, Attorney G.F. Little. It was then the Ellsworth Improvement Co. donated eight blocks of land in the Midland Place Addition and a perpetual franchise to mine salt under the quarter section of land. The railroad put in 1000' feet of switch to be used. This is intended to move the heavy machinery down the shaft.

Over 100,000 feet of lumber for the shaft and warehouses are on the way from Arkansas. Mr. Carhatt from Denver expects to stay in Ellsworth and look after the company's interests. The machinery arrives just in the nick of time for the time limit had expired but all went well..A 24 foot boiler arrived. The engine bed is to be of stone . A 10x20 double cylinder steam hoisting engine is bolted to this with 22 heavy bolts. The engine is 85 horsepower and has a capacity of raising 4500 pounds of salt at the rate of 800 feet per minute.

By June 12, all the machinery had arrived and been put in place securely. As soon as the timbers are delivered the first 20 feet will be excavated without the use of the hoisting equipment. By the time this dept is reached, the machinery will be ready and the sinking of the shaft will begin.

"Unlimited capital is controlled by the gentlemen who are the head of this enterprise,"

Earlier in this novella, we have the enterpreneurs from Denver moving into Ellsworth quickly before any other "high dollar johnnies" from back East get wind of this fortune. The files from the city clerk's office tells us::: " A SPECIAL meeting was called by the city council to sign the contract and leases, being : R.B. Krebs, mayor, city councilmen, A.R. Hepperly, C.F. Pohlman, H.F. Sternberg, and A. Patterson, the city clerk being, J. M, Champion."

The Ellsworth paper of 1890, headlines: "THEY MEAN BUSINESS !!" Mr. W.H. Carhartt, secretary of the Monarch Salt Company from Denver is supervising the sinking of the shaft and management of the plant".  On July 3rd 1890, all of the hoisting apparatus, engines, and machinery is in place and ready to sink the shaft. On July 24th, the shaft was down 30 feet when a vein of water was struck flooding the shaft.  The vein of water was cemented over leaving 10 feet of sand in the casing..which had to be pumped out of the shaft to be able to continue drilling for the salt .....the next water will be struck at 300 feet depth.

There are few records of the Monarch mine recorded.  The Ellsworth paper, November 27, 1890, " The Monarch Salt Development Company swooped down on the city council with great plans and requested
$10,000.00 in salt bonds." The city council said they wanted the salt on the ground before any bond money floated...Everyone in town was planning on getting rich and in 1890, 10,000$ was a BIG chunk of money.

January 5th of 1891, the headlines once again : "The Monarch Salt Co. has been drowned like rats !!!"" At a depth of 250 feet, an Artesian vein was hit and the mine shaft filled with  water, the men barely escaped."  All the machinery was lost and the mine shaft collapsed. So now we see another dream turn into a nightmare.

Now, at Kanopolis, just a short two miles to the east of the Ellsworth mine, we hear from another miner...Mr. James Cowie, an ancestor of the Cowie Family of Stirlingshire Scotland who had mined coal in Scotland for generations.  We are to learn the strategy of a new mining company, the Royal Salt. (I am wondering if this is named after the Nobleman of Scotland, hmmm)  Mr. Cowie tells the townspeople he is sorry their mine failed but they just didn't have the expertise of mining and he thinks the shaft was started too small and the pumps were run empty too much which caused them to destruct when needed...So ended the dreams of a few, who knows what fate holds, was the Monarch ((also associated with Nobility) loss an accident or otherwise.. No one will ever know.

The rest of the story is voluminous... The Scotsmen came with their wealth and ingenuity.  By February 1891, the first car load of lump salt was shipped to Jay Morton in Chicago for $8.00 a ton. The Royal Salt Company was producing 500 tons per day.  The shaft from the surface to the bottom was 816 feet.  From 1891 until 1904, there were many infrastructure weaknesses and water leaks and by 1905 the mine gradually was back into production. 

The Cowie family were diligent in the operations of the salt works, and as newer and innovative machinery became invented, the mines were upgraded thru the years.  In 1941, the salt mine caved in and the shaft so deteriorated, drilling could not continue, the machinery was sold and the shaft was filled.

In 1913, yet another salt mine was started by a Chicago Syndicate and they named it The Independent Salt  Company... here we see once more, Daniel Cowie, a later son of the family, serving as the engineer to sink the Royal Salt Shaft.  This time the roadway drifts were east and west and the ventilation shafts were north and south.  They thought this would strengthen the timbering and lessen chance for  cave-ins.

The company purchased mules from the local farmers to pull the wagons.  They mules were taken down the elevator in the mine shaft and trained to be controlled by voice commands.  Sometimes the mules would run away from the men and go to the fartherest point on the dark wall and be very quiet in hopes the miners would not spot them, but the helmet lamps would pick them out and back to work for the mules...the miners would wrap the mules legs from the hoof to the knee, so they would not be cut on the sharp edges of the salt rocks.  The mules were put into the mines in 1916 and all were finally removed and replaced by machinery in 1949.

So now you have read the Novella of Salt is the Cry !!!..those salt mines have provided many many families employment for many years. It is quite interesting to drive around the grounds of the mines and see the old mines and the return air ventilation shaft that had collapsed.  And to drive under the tower that hoists the men and the product back and forth a thousand feet below the ground.

This is but one of many stories from the Tails of the Trails of the Smoky Hills and Route-40..the Low Road to Salina...

I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing.

Rose in Ellsworth


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