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Pale Horse Revelations #48 - Seth Bullock


Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

Since the last couple of entries focused on outlaws, it seems only appropriate that we flip the script this week and take a closer look at one of the "good guys" of the Old West. He was one of the central characters in HBO's hit series, Deadwood (portrayed by Timothy Olyphant), yet never achieved the same level of fame as contemporary Old West lawmen such as "Wild Bill" Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and Pat Garrett. Together, let's get to know Seth Bullock.

Bullock was born on July 23, 1849, in what is now Ontario, Canada on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. By all reports, his childhood was not pleasant. His father, George Bullock, was a strict disciplinarian who often beat Seth for minor infractions. Seth left home at age sixteen to live with his sister in Montana. Just two years later, at the age of eighteen, he set out on his own.

He arrived in Helena, Montana in 1867. He was elected to the Territorial Senate and served in 1871 and 1872. During his term, Seth helped create Yellowstone National Park.

In 1873 he obtained his first job as a lawman when elected as sheriff of Lewis and Clark County, Montana. During his tenure, Bullock, killed his first man, a horse thief named Clell Watson. This was, perhaps, a defining moment in Bullock's life. So much so, that the producers of the aforementioned series, Deadwood, recreated it as the opening scene of the pilot episode.

Bullock pursued Watson after the man stole a horse. He eventually caught up to Watson and the two engaged in a gunfight. While Bullock was wounded in the shoulder, he still emerged victorious and took Watson into custody.

Watson was convicted and sentenced to hang. However, on the day of the event an angry mob arrived in town and ran off the executioner. Determined to see the sentence carried out, Bullock climbed the scaffold and pulled the lever himself, sending Watson to his demise. Bullock then held off the mob with a shotgun.

Bullock was not only a lawman, but also a successful businessman. Shortly after the hanging of Watson, Bullock, along with his friend and business partner, Sol Star opened a hardware store. In 1876 they decided to relocate to Deadwood where they could take advantage of the goldrush. There, they purchased a piece of land and opened their mercantile business. They operated out of a tent at first before eventually obtaining a permanent storefront.

Deadwood was a near lawless mining camp when Bullock and Star arrived. Just days after they arrived, the famous gunfighter and lawman, Wild Bill Hickock was murdered by Jack McCall. Following the murder the demand for law enforcement grew too loud to ignore. Because of his background, Bullock was appointed as the town's first sheriff by Governor Pennington in 1877.

Bullock served for a period of nine months and took his job serious. Despite several run-ins with Al Swearengen who ran the town's most notable brothel, Bullock managed to run the town effectively and did so without killing anyone. Bullock lost his job in 1877 as the result of a special election held in Lawrence County, where Deadwood was located. John J. Manning won that election, thereby becoming Deadwood's first elected sheriff. Bullock ran against Manning again in 1878 with the same result.

In 1884, while serving as a deputy sheriff in Medora, North Dakota, Bullock met Theodore Roosevelt. The two would become lifelong friends. This friendship would prove very beneficial for Bullock. In 1905 Rosevelt appointed Bullock to the position of Marshal. He was appointed a second time in 1909 by President Taft. Bullock's friendship with Rosevelt led to Bullock becoming captain of Troop A in Grigsby's Cowboy Rangers. This was a volunteer cavalry regiment similar in composition to Rosevelt's famous Rough Riders. While the Rough Riders saw action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, the war ended before Troop A completed training in Louisiana. As Vice President, Rosevelt appointed Bullock as the first supervisor of the Black Hills Reserve.

Bullock was one of eighteen officers selected by Rosevelt to raise a volunteer infantry regiment to serve in France during WWI. Congress approved Rosevelt to raise these troops, but President Woodrow Wilson refused to use them. As a result, the unit was disbanded without ever seeing any action.

While he certainly benefited from the friendship, not all of Bullock's success can be attributed to it. He continued to be a very successful businessman. He and Sol Star purchased a ranch where Redwater Creek and the Belle Fourche River converge. They renamed the ranch the S&B Ranch Company. Bullock is credited with introducing alfalfa farming to South Dakota in 1881. He later partnered in the Deadwood Flouring Mill and invested in mining. Bullock and Star would eventually expand their business interests to the towns of Spearfish, Sturgis, and Custer.

The two men were instrumental in the founding of the town of Belle Fourche. They began by offering the railroad forty acres of free right-of-way across their property. The railroad jumped at the opportunity as their original plans to run through Minnesela were stymied by a speculator with an unreasonable asking price for the right-of-way. Bullock and Star then offered free lots to anyone moving from Minnesela. The new town of Belle Fourche would become the largest railhead for livestock in the United States. It also usurped the position of county seat from Minnesela.

In 1894 Bullock and Star's hardware store in Deadwood burned down. Ever the opportunists, the two decided to build the town's first hotel in its place, rather than rebuild the hardware store. Named the Bullock Hotel, it was a three-story luxury hotel with sixty-three rooms. It continues to operate to this day and now incorporates a casino.

Seth Bullock died of colon cancer on September 23,1919 at his home in Deadwood. He is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetary along with Hickock and Calamity Jane. And that brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

  As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found on the "Contact the Author" page of this website and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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