For this month’s Legendary Lawman column we once again travel back to the turn of the 20th Century. Many of the lawmen of the time had… well, colorful pasts. Some even spent equal amounts of time on either side of the law. This is not the case with Marshal Seth Bullock. By all accounts his life was one of honor and distinction. Seth Bullock was born in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada on July 23, 1847 to George Bullock, a retired British Major and his Scottish wife Agnes Findley. He had four siblings; three sisters (Agnes, Jessie and Alma) and a brother (couldn’t find his name). By his fifth birthday the family had relocated to Sandwich, Ontario as the Major had aspirations toward politics.
Apparently Seth’s relationship with his father was difficult as he ran away from home at the age of 16 and ended up in Montana living with his older sister for a time. She eventually would talk him into returning home but less than two years later, at the age of 18; he would once again leave home never to return. Sometime between 1867 and 1869 Seth ended up in Helena, Montana. The 1870 census lists a 22-year-old Seth Bullock as an “auctioneer”. Serving as a member of the Territorial Senate for two years (1871-1872) Bullock contributed to the introduction of the resolution that set aside Yellowstone as the first ever National Park.
Following his term in the Montana Territorial Senate, Bullock was elected Sheriff of Lewis and Clark County (1873). Not one to rest on his laurels, Bullock went into business with long time friend Solomon (Sol) Star, opening a hardware store. During his tenure as Sheriff he was wounded in the shoulder while attempting to apprehend Clell Watson. During the hanging of Watson a mob appeared and ran off the executioner (not sure why they would interfere with a perfectly good/legal hanging) and Bullock stepped in to pull the lever, sending Watson to his death. Watson is reportedly the first man to die at the hand of Seth Bullock.
1872 saw Bullock marry Martha Eccles, his childhood sweetheart, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Shortly thereafter he and Sol decided to embark on another business venture in Deadwood, South Dakota. Due to the unsavory element that inhabited Deadwood (miners, gamblers, gunfighters and prostitutes), Bullock thought it best to send his wife and newborn baby girl to Michigan to live with her family. Arriving in Deadwood on August 1, 1876 with a wagon train full of supplies, Bullock and Sol immediately set up a storefront in a tent.
The day following Bullock’s arrival in Deadwood marked the death of Wild Bill Hickock. Hickock was shot in the back of the head by one Jack McCall. Following a makeshift trial by a group of miners, McCall was found not guilty and fled the area. Bullock was appointed town Sheriff some weeks later. Some claim that Bullock was Deadwood’s first law, but it was actually Isaac Brown who was elected after the trial of Jack McCall on August 5, 1876. Brown’s tenure as town marshal was short lived however, as he was killed on August 20th with several other men while traveling between Deadwood and Crook City. Bullock was officially appointed Lawrence County Sheriff by Governor Pennington in March, 1877. He almost immediately appointed several deputies to assist him in “cleaning up” the town.
By all accounts Bullock never killed a man while serving as the Lawrence County Sheriff. In fact, his grandson claimed he could “outstare a mad cobra or a rogue elephant”. Many times he would look down an unruly miner and this would settle things down right quick. As the atmosphere in Deadwood became more friendly (and safer), Bullock brought his family out to join him. Given that he had more time on his hands he decided to try his luck in other areas. He and Sol purchased a spread of land at the divergence of Redwater Creek and the Belle Fourche River and began ranching and raising horses.