It was, by many accounts, one of the most legendary relationships in the Wild West, a decades-long friendship between a small frontier marshal who helped tame the lawless gold rush town of Deadwood in its infancy and a U.S. president who changed the course of human history.
And, as thousands of Black Hills residents and visitors celebrate America’s Independence Day weekend, hundreds are expected to gather on a remote mountaintop July 6 to celebrate a century of friendship in the shadows of a little-known tower dedicated to camaraderie and mutual respect among men.
Although Seth Bullock was unofficially an early-day lawman for the town, in 1877, a year after his arrival, Bullock served a brief stint as Deadwood’s sheriff. It was during that time that a heart-broken Teddy Roosevelt, in the wake of the deaths of both his mother and wife on the same day, had escaped to the badlands of North Dakota. The two met up on the Dakota Territory plains when the future president was bringing a horse-thief known as Crazy Steve to Deadwood for trial.
Bullock would later be named a captain of Troop A of Grisby’s cowboy regiment, but was confined to training in Louisiana when Roosevelt made his famous charge up San Juan Hill. Nonetheless, the Oyster Bay Roosevelt and the Dakota cowboy would remain lifelong friends. In fact, Roosevelt would come to refer to Bullock as “my ideal typical American.”
By 1900, then-Vice President Roosevelt convinced President William McKinley to name Bullock the first supervisor of Black Hills National Forest. In 1905, Roosevelt appointed him U.S. marshal, a position reconfirmed by President William Howard Taft and for a year under President Woodrow Wilson.
Before arriving in Deadwood in August 1876, just days before an outlaw named “Crooked Nose” Jack McCall gunned down noted lawman Wild Bill Hickok in a saloon, the Canadian-born Bullock had previously lived in Montana and served a stint in its territorial legislature. He would later build several successful businesses, including the Bullock Hotel, which still stands on Deadwood’s Main Street, and he is credited with founding the town of Belle Fourche.
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Roosevelt thought so much of Bullock that the president, fearing his own sons would become Eastern dandies, would send them to the frontier marshal for a summer, where Bullock would teach them how to hunt and shoot a rifle, build a campfire, and take care of their horse before they took care of themselves.
Such was their enduring friendship, that while in the midst of European travel filled with royals, pageantry and all manner of formal affairs, the former president telegraphed Bullock in Deadwood and told the marshal that he was thoroughly bored with the endless finery, fashion and polite conversation and begged his friend to visit him in London. Bullock subsequently mounted his horse, rode it to Pierre, then boarded a succession of trains before arriving in New York City, where he sailed a steamship across the Atlantic to England.
When the 26th president unexpectedly died Jan. 6, 1919, Bullock was devastated and immediately set out to set in stone his admiration and respect for Roosevelt. Shortly before his own death from cancer later that year, Bullock and a full complement of Deadwoodians dedicated Friendship Tower atop Sheep Mountain, which soon came to be called Mount Roosevelt. It was the first monument in America dedicated to the statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist and writer.
In honor of that long-lasting relationship and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Friendship Tower, the City of Deadwood and the U.S. Forest Service are hosting a ceremony at 10 a.m. July 6 at Mount Roosevelt. The festivities will include dignitaries, a presentation of colors, a Masonic cornerstone re-dedication and patriotic music.
Because on-site parking is extremely limited, those wishing to attend are asked to meet at the Deadwood Welcome Center between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. for free trolley service to the trailhead. Participants are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs to the event. A complimentary lunch will be served following the program.