Friday, May 24, 2019

Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election.

In response to the Deadwood movie being released on HBO on May 31, I have been posting newspaper stories from the early years of Deadwood. Here are links to parts #I, #II, #III, and #IV

Today I will look at the disputed election of 1878. 

Seth Bullock had been appointed Lawrence County sheriff in 1877. By court order, the office required an election, and in November, 1878 Bullock was the nominee for the Republican party ticket. His opponent was John Manning, Democrat, then sheriff of Lead City. The Democratic party in Lawrence County at that time was known for being corrupt.

As noted before, the Black Hills Daily Pioneer championed Bullock's candidacy, "Seth Bullock's long experience in discharging the duties of the office, both in Montana and Dakota, render him entirely competent and equal to any emergency," and portrayed Manning as a coward. "
The sheriff [Manning] in person pursued according to our gentleman who witnessed the whole proceeding, in a manner best calculated to aid the escape of the robbers." (Black Hills Daily Pioneer, October 27, 1878, p. 4.)

In an election day article as to "How they [the candidates] feel about now, the Pioneer said with customary pomposity and lack of clarity, "Seth Bullock's vote will take the mote from evil eyes whose planning will only seem to turn the beam away from Johnny Manning." The paper predicted, "Bullock's majority will surprise the minority."

The loser?

"Perishing gloomily,
Spurred by contumely,
Poor, weak humanity,
Tripped by insanity,
    This is his fate;
With hands crossed humbly,
As if praying dumbly,
    The crushed candidate."

(Black Hills Daily Pioneer, November 5, 1878, p. 4.)

1884 Map of the Lawrence County region surrounding Deadwood. Sturgis is to the east.

The preliminary results of the election were reported in the Black Hills Daily Pioneer, November 7th, pages 3 and 4.

At that time the election stood at Seth Bullock 1874 and John Manning 1941 with some ballots outstanding from Deadwood Precinct. Several oddities appeared in the precinct by precinct breakdown.

Partial returns from Galena showed Bullock losing 55 to 62. The final returns had Bullock losing 35 to 62, with 20 of Bullock's votes gone.

Partial returns from Rochford precinct showed Bullock leading by 45 votes. The final returns had Bullock winning, 31 to 22.

According to he paper, in South Deadwood, all of the votes were counted with the exception of "172 scratched republican tickets. "

And from the Sturgis City Precinct: John Manning 73, Seth Bullock 0.

Sturgis City, had been around for two years. It was originally named "Scoop City" for scooping up all of the business from nearby Fort Meade. Not only did Bullock fail to garner a vote, the voters were also unanimous for other Democratic candidates. The reports (mentioned below) painted this as corruption.

The final tabulations were presented in the November 9th edition of the Black Hills Pioneer. Seth Bullock 2446, John Manning 2485, with Manning winning by 39 votes.

Yankton, about 400 miles from Deadwood, was at that time the capitol of the Dakota Territories. They noted the claims of cheating.

Daily press and Dakotaian, Wednesday, November 13, 1878, Yankton, SD, p. 2:


Deadwood Times 7th.

If half the reports are true regarding the repeating, stuffing and illegal voting at Sturgis, that precinct will be counted out. It is said soldiers and transcient [sic] bullwhackers voted there as though they had been born on the spot forty years ago, and that some of the rounders voted early, often and late as though they had a license to do so.

Sandy, the Sturgis hack driver between Deadwood and that city says he saw one man cast three ballots within one hour, and can swear to it. Other parties, whose names we did not learn, report seeing the same thing done by other villains in that camp, and there is probably no doubt as to the truth of the existence of this demoralized condition of affairs at Sturgis on last Tuesday.

Seth Bullock was elected sheriff on Tuesday by the legal and qualified voters of Lawrence county, and the republican party should see to it that he is not defrauded out of his office by fraudulent and illegal votes. The election at Sturgis City was a swindle and faror, [sic] and there is enough evidence of a positive and direct and unquestioned character to throw the vote of that precinct out.

The severest penalties of the law should be applied and an example made of that precinct that will teach repeaters and illegal voters a lesson that will deter them hereafter from interfering to prevent the free and legal choice by the people of their county officials.


Back in Lawrence County, the Republican party requested a recount.

Black Hills Daily Pioneer, Tuesday, November 12, 1878, p. 1:

A Recount Asked For.

During the progress of the official canvass of election returns, yesterday, B.C. Wheeler, Esq., presented a petition asking a recount of the votes cast in Central, Golden Gate, and Lead precincts. Also a petition accompanied by four affidavits praying that the precinct of Sturgis city be thrown out.


The request was denied. Later that month, Bullock visited Yankton.

Daily press and Dakotaian, Saturday, November 23, 1878, Yankton, SD, p. 5:

Seth Bullock, of Deadwood, arrived last night from the Hills, and will remain for a few days. In reply to enquiries upon the subject, Mr. Bullock confirms our previous conclusions that the republican county and legislative tickets in Lawrence county were defeated by fraudulent proceedings on election day.


Manning would be defeated in 1880 and would win a second term as Lawrence County sheriff in 1882. Seth Bullock never again ran for office. 

Next entry: Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.


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