In 1855, he moved with his family to Guthrie County, Iowa, where he attended the public schools, eventually graduating from Iowa State Agricultural College (later Iowa State University) and the University of Iowa College of Law in 1874.
A Republican, he served as United States. congressman from in the new 2nd district from 1893 to 1899, and again from 1907 to 1911. Ellis set up his law practice in Panora, Iowa, and was elected to one term as mayor of Panora. He moved his practice to Hamburg, Iowa, where he served as city attorney and then mayor.
In 1884, Ellis moved to Heppner,, where he became superintendent of schools for Morrow County, and then district attorney for the seventh judicial district of from 1886 to 1892.
In 1892, Ellis was elected as United States. Representative for "s 2nd congressional district. He was the first representative for the district, which was created as a result of the 1890 census.
Ellis served on the Ways and Means Committee, and as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Justice and the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands. He served three terms, and sought a fourth in 1898, but the Republican nominating convention nominated Malcolm A. Moody instead.
Shortly afterwards, Ellis was elected as circuit judge for "s sixth judicial district, during which time he moved from Heppner to Pendleton.
He returned to his law practice in Pendleton, eventually moving to Portland in 1914, where he died on January 18, 1915.