Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Deadwoods' Famous Characters

Deadwood, South Dakota a mining town with a notorious history. Even more notorious were it's people. Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Charlie Utter to name a few. Here is a brief history of Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock-

Seth Bullock
Seth Bullock was born at Sandwich, Ontario, Canada on July 24, 1847 and came to the United States about 1867-8, locating at Helena, Montana. According to various census records, his father George, a retired British Major living in Canada. His mother was Agnes Findley who was born in Scotland.

Seth had at least three sisters ( Agnes, Jessie and Alma) and a brother. Lieut. Frederick F. Kislingbury married Seth's sister Agnes in 1867. Kislingbury was an explorer who died with Greely's expeditition to the North Pole. Agnes died in 1878, and Frederick Kislingbury married her sister, Jessie.

In the 1870 U.S. Census the then 22-year-old Seth Bullock was living with a grocer and his family in Helena, Montana. Seth's occupation was listed as "auctioneer."

Seth was quickly chosen a member of the Montana legislature, after moving to that state. The Seventh & Eighth Sessions of the Montana legislature, held at the capital city of Virginia, from December 4, 1871 to May 8, 1873 under Benjamin F. Potts, governor, notes among the Members of the Council: "Seth Bullock - Lewis and Clark and Jefferson counties."

Seth Bullock married Martha [Marguerite] Eccles in 1874 in Salt Lake City. She was born about 1849 in Ohio, with her parents being both born in Pennsylvania. In 1876 Seth took his wife and children to Michigan, where they stayed while he traveled to Deadwood to set up a business.Seth and Martha Bullock had three children: Margaret ("Madge"), born about 1876 in Montana; Florence ("Floy"), b. October 3, 1878 in Tecumseh, Michigan; and Stanley, born October 1, 1880 in Lawrence Co., SD .

Seth was engaged in hardware and mining supplies business. After the gold discovery in the Black Hills, with his partner, Sol Star, he moved his stock to Deadwood, arriving there August 2, 1876. In 1880 Seth, his wife Martha, and two daughters, "Madge" and "Floy," were living in Deadwood, South Dakota. Seth was a hardware merchant at this time.

Seth Bullock was made sheriff of the provisional government in what is now known as South Dakota. He was also sheriff of Lawrence County after its organization and rendered effective service in clearing out the rough element. When Theodore Roosevelt was ranching in North Dakota [Theodore Roosevelt was a Deputy Sheriff from Medora, North Dakota around that time] they formed a close friendship, which lasted through life.

As President of the United States, Roosevelt appointed Bullock U.S. Marshall for South Dakota. Captain Bullock promoted and built the fine monument to Roosevelt that stands upon Mount Roosevelt, a few miles north of Deadwood.

In South Dakota there are two men who claimed the distinction of having introduced alfalfa into the state, namely Seth Bullock of the Black Hills region in the western part of the state and W.W. Bell of Valley Springs, in Minnehaha County. It is claimed that Bullock introduced it in 1881, while Mr. Bell claimed to have introduced it from Stockton, California in 1879.

In 1888, Seth Bullock of Lawrence Co. was a member of the Republic Central Committee in South Dakota.

Seth was a Spanish American War Veteran, who served starting about 1898. In 1920 his widow, Martha, applied for his pension. He was a captain in the 3rd Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry.

Seth Bullock died September 23, 1919, at his home in Deadwood, South Dakota after an illness of several weeks (of cancer) and is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Lawrence County, South Dakota

Ellis Albert "Al" Swearengen

Born Oskaloosa, Iowa, July 8, 1845 – died Colorado, 1904) He was a pimp and early entertainment entrepreneur in Deadwood, South Dakota, running the Gem Theater, a notorious brothel, for 22 years, and combining a reputation for brutality with an uncanny instinct for forging political alliances.

Swearengen and his twin brother, Lemuel, were two of ten children of Daniel Swearengen and Keziah (often called Katie) Swearengen of Oskaloosa. Unlike so many of Deadwood's residents who left home at a young age to make their fortunes on the wild frontier, Swearengen remained at home well into his adult years, arriving in Deadwood in May, 1876 with his wife, Nettie Swearengen.

Nettie would later divorce him on the grounds of spousal abuse, and Swearengen would marry two more times, both marriages ending as the first.

Swearengen was one of the first Deadwood residents not to be a prospector or miner; he represented the beginning of a second wave of residents, attracted there by the promise of riches to be stripped not from the earth, but from the prospectors and miners.

(In the picture above Al Swearengen is the third from the right behind the bar)

He built a small saloon called the Cricket Saloon, which featured as entertainment in its close spaces local miners engaged in what were advertised as "prize fights", although no prizes were actually awarded. Within a year, Swearengen had accumulated enough money to build the much larger and more opulent Gem Variety Theater, which opened on April 7, 1877, featuring the now traditional "prize fights" in addition to stage shows, and, mainly, prostitution.

The Gem bought in an average of $5,000 a night, sometimes as much as $10,000 (between $140,000 and $280,000 inflation adjusted for 2009). When it burned down along with much of the town on September 26, 1879, Swearengen rebuilt it larger and more opulent than ever, to great public acclaim. Swearengen's talent for canny alliances and financial payoffs kept him insulated from the general drive to clean up the town, including the otherwise successful work of Seth Bullock, until the Gem burned down once again in 1899.

He remarried the same year to Odelia Turgeon. It appears that the Methodist church in Deadwood - which also took a moralist crusade to clean up the town - specifically targeted the Gem Theater. According to his recently rediscovered obituary, Albert Swearengen was found dead in the middle of a suburban Denver street on November 15, 1904. He apparently died of a massive head wound and was not hopping a freight train as is often reported.

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1 comment:

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Fascinating history! :)
I just love looking at the old photos.