Starting in the late 1870s, black settlers from Kentucky would depart a train in Ellis and travel by foot and wagon on what became known as the Ellis Trail.
They would go together — over the Arian Hills north of Ellis and toward a new start for their families. The destination was Nicodemus, the first and now only town in the western part of the country that was established and settled by black people. Travel along the trail was 35 miles to its stopping point in Graham County, 20 miles east of Hill City.
As a tribute to the settlers and the establishment of the town, the Nicodemus Historical Society is sponsoring its second rendition of “The Ellis Trail: A living history tour” Saturday. The event is a guided bus tour that will start by traveling from Nicodemus to the Ellis train depot. From there, they will follow the trail back to Nicodemus.
“Last year, we made it an official tour,” Nicodemus historian Angela Bates said. “We’ve done things in year’s past like re-enactments and other things leading up to the trail being started.”
A descendent of the small northwest Kansas town that now has a population of less than 25, Bates has surveyed and gone along the trail for research purposes and as a tour guide. One of the newer discoveries she made and that will be part of the tour is Sleepy Hollow — which she already knew about — and Happy Hollow. Both hollows were resting stops for the settlers, something Bates thought there was just one point.
“For years, I thought Sleepy Hollow was Happy Hollow, and somehow the name got changed over the years,” Bates said.
The tour was occupied by approximately 40 to 50 guests last year, and Bates is expecting nearly the same number this year. Along with following the trail, the tour will consist of re-enactments portraying the settlers at different points.
The first will be of the settlers getting off the train in Ellis and starting the journey. Lunch will be served at the McKenna Center in Palco, and the tour will conclude in Nicodemus.
The Ellis Trail tour this year is part of celebrating Nicodemus’ 20th anniversary since being designated as a national park. The National Parks Department also is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
Bates hopes the Ellis Trail will be designated as a National Historic Trail in the future.