Once called "The Wickedest Cattletown in Kansas", the city is named for Fort Ellsworth, which was built in 1864. Due to speculation on imminent railroad construction, the population of Ellsworth boomed to over two thousand by the time it was incorporated in 1867. It has since been said, "Abilene, the first, Dodge City, the last, but Ellsworth the wickedest."
Ellsworth was a bustling cattle town for a time during the late 1860s, when the Kansas Pacific Railroad had a stop and stockyards there. Cattle were driven up from Texas to this point, and then shipped to major markets.
Ellsworth honors its heritage each summer during the Ellsworth Cowtown Days festival, including the reenactment of a famous shooting between a mild mannered Sheriff and two renegade outlaws.