Seth Bullock, 1893. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
Theodore Roosevelt was born into a wealthy Knickerbocker family, attended Harvard, and wore pince-nez style glasses. However, his hunting exploits, brief tenure as a Dakota rancher, and advocacy for the strenuous life led to him being closely associated with the American West. One of his connections to the romantic ideal of the Wild West, a connection he seems to have cherished, was a friendship with the lawman, hardware store owner, and leading citizen of Deadwood; Seth Bullock.
Bullock was born in Ontario, Canada in 1847, grew up in Michigan, and moved to Montana Territory in 1867. While working as an auctioneer and commission merchant, Bullock first displayed his lifelong interest in politics, community leadership, and law enforcement. He was a solid Republican and was elected to the Territorial Council, served on a Helena fire engine company, and was sheriff of Lewis & Clark County from August 1873 until 1875. During his time as sheriff, Bullock carried out the first legal hanging in the territory. He became a close friend and business partner with Solomon “Sol” Star and they made plans to set up shop in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory after gold was discovered by Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s 1874 expedition. The partners arrived in Deadwood in August 1876 with plans to open a hardware store, run an auction house, and build a fireproof storage facility. Bullock supposedly started the new business venture the night they arrived by auctioning off chamber pots. The next day one of the most infamous events of the American West took place; Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed by Jack McCall. Star & Bullock Hardware began in a tent but quickly moved to a building at the corner of Main and Wall streets. The store would be Bullock’s base of operations for the next two decades.
Bullock continued to be civic minded and sought to bring law and order to the chaotic mining camp. He participated in several ad hoc committees that addressed local issues and was appointed sheriff of Lawrence County in February 1877. The hardware store was a success and Star & Bullock would eventually expand to several locations in present day South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Bullock’s business interests would grow to include banking, mining, and ranching. His ranching operations, primarily raising horses, near the confluence of the Redwater and Belle Fourche Rivers provided a lasting legacy when 120 acres were sold to a townsite company. The town of Belle Fourche was founded in July 1891 and briefly became the county seat in 1894.
There is confusion surrounding the first time Bullock met Theodore Roosevelt. Bullock was a notorious storyteller and, in later years, his stories often included his famous friend whether or not Roosevelt had actually been present. According to a letter Roosevelt wrote to his son Kermit, he first met Bullock in 1892 while traveling from Medora, North Dakota to Deadwood. Both men also told a story about arresting a horse thief during Roosevelt’s time as a deputy sheriff of Billings County which would place their first meeting in the mid-1880s before Bullock’s move to Deadwood.
During the Spanish-American War, Bullock joined the Third Volunteer Cavalry Regiment under Colonel Melvin B. Grigsby. He recruited eighty-four men from the Deadwood area and led Troop A as a captain. Grigsby’s Rough Riders spent the war at Camp Thomas, Georgia. Bullock’s friendship with Roosevelt grew during this time. He campaigned with Roosevelt in 1900 and joined him on a two month western trip in 1903. Bullock also introduced Roosevelt’s sons to the West by hosting them in Belle Fourche and guiding them through camping, fishing, and hunting trips. After Roosevelt became president, Bullock was appointed superintendent of the Black Hills Forest Reserve and became the United States Marshal for South Dakota in December 1905. He was reappointed by President Taft and served for eight years.
After Roosevelt’s death in January 1919, Bullock worked with the Society of Black Hills Pioneers to commemorate his friend. He selected a site three miles north of Deadwood on Sheep Mountain, which was renamed Mount Roosevelt, and supervised the construction of a thirty-five foot tower on the summit. Around one thousand people attended the dedication of the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Monument on July 4, 1919. Bullock would pass away less than three months later from the effects of colon cancer. He was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery among other Deadwood pioneers.
Wolff, David A. Seth Bullock: Black Hills Lawman. Pierre, S.D: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2009. Print.