Seth Bullock

Seth Bullock

Deadwood was a lawless, rowdy camp. The day after Seth Bullock’s arrival, wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall, who was later found not guilty by an impromptu camp court and released, after which he promptly left town. After the event, the demand for law enforcement grew, and Bullock’s background made him the logical choice for Deadwood’s first sheriff.

Bullock took his job seriously, deputizing several residents and tackling the job of civilizing the camp. Despite (or perhaps because of) a reputation for fearlessness and an uncompromising nature, Bullock managed the task without killing anyone. Bullock met his match, however, in Al Swearengen, proprietor of the notorious Gem Theater, Deadwood’s most notable brothel. Swearengen had a knack for making money from vice and shrewdly invested some of his profits in cultivating alliances with the camp’s wealthy and powerful.


Seth Bullock

When appointed sheriff, one of Bullock’s first duties was to confront Dodge City Deputy Marshall Wyatt Earp, who was possibly interested in the sheriff’s job. Bullock told Earp that his services were not needed and that he should leave. A week later Earp left Deadwood to return to Dodge City.

Having attained some stability in Deadwood, Bullock brought his wife Martha Bullock and daughter to town from her parents’ home in Michigan, where they had been living during this period. They had one daughter, Margaret, at the time of Martha’s arrival in Deadwood, and they subsequently had another daughter, Florence, and a son, Stanley.

Bullock and Star purchased a ranch where Redwater Creek met the Belle Fourche River and dubbed it the S&B Ranch Company. Bullock is also credited with introducing alfalfa farming to South Dakota in 1881. Later he became a deputy U.S. Marshal, partnered with Star and Harris Franklin in the Deadwood Flouring Mill, and invested in mining, the local growth industry. Bullock and Star eventually expanded their business interests to the towns of Spearfish,Sturgis, and Custer.

Bullock met Theodore Roosevelt, then a deputy Sheriff from Medora, North Dakota, in 1884 while bringing a horse thief known as Crazy Steve into custody on the range, near what would become the town of Belle Forouche. The two quickly became lifelong friends, Roosevelt later saying of Bullock, “Seth Bullock is a true Westerner, the finest type of frontiersman.”

Bullock’s influence on the economy

Bullock and Star contributed further to the economic development of the region by convincing the Freemont, Elkhorn and Missourt Valley RailRoad to build a track by offering them 40 acres (16 ha) of free right-of-way across their land when a speculator purchased the right of way to Minnesela and demanded a high price from the railroad. The railroad built a station three miles (5 km) northwest of Minnesela in 1890, and Bullock and Star were instrumental in founding the town of Belle Fourche, offering free lots to anyone moving from Minnesela. Belle Fourche became the largest railhead for livestock in the United States and the county was changed from Minnesela to Belle Fourche.

Bullock and Star’s hardware store in Deadwood burned down in 1894. Rather than rebuild, they built Deadwood’s first hotel on the site — a three story, 64-room luxury hotel with steam heat and indoor bathrooms on each floor, at a cost of $40,000. The Bullock Hotel continues to operate to this day, now incorporating a casino.

Rough Riders

Bullock’s friendship with Roosevelt led to him becoming a Captain of Troop A in Grigsby’s Cowboy Regiment of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war; although the troop never left training camp in Louisiana before the war ended, Bullock still earned the title of captain. When Roosevelt became Vice President under President William McKinney, he appointed Bullock as the first forest supervisor of the Black Hills Reserve. After Roosevelt was elected president, Bullock organized 50 people (including Tom Mix) to ride in the inagural parade in 1905. Bullock was then appointed U.S. Marshal for South Dakota for the next nine years. Roosevelt also selected Bullock as one of 18 officers.

Congress gave Roosevelt the authority to raise up to four divisions similar to the Rough Riders; however, as commander and cheif, President Woodrow WIlsonrefused to make use of the volunteers and the unit was disbanded. After Roosevelt’s death in January 1919, Bullock created a monument to him with the aid of the Black hills pioneers, dedicated on July 4, 1919, on Sheep Mountain, which was renamed Mount Roosevelt.

Seth Bullock’s Death

Seth Bullock died of cancer shortly thereafter, on September 23, 1919. He is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, along with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane, with his grave facing Mount Roosevelt. Bullock’s grave is more than 750 feet away from the main cemetery grounds.  Seth now keeps his eye out at the Bullock Hotel, it is said that his ghost is known to be seen often.