Elkhart was inhabited by a few Indians in 1846 who hunted the abundant wild game of the area. In October, 1846 Isaac Walker Cory arrived with his family and settled in an area that came to be known as Cory Grove. Isaac wrote his father and brothers back in Elkhart, Indiana urging them to join him.

Elkhart was laid out in 1853 by J. W. Cory and named for Elkhart, Indiana. The town failed to prosper in that location, and the post office was moved one mile north to the settlement of Ottawa. in 1901, the Des Moines, Iowa Falls, and Northern Railroad platted a new Elkhart at the city's current location, and many buildings were moved from Ottawa west one mile to the new site. Elkhart was incorporated July 27, 1904.