Seth Bullock's Cowboy Brigade

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Text by Mark Slocum - Director of the Minnilusa Historical Association and Pioneer Collection at the Journey Museum & Learning Center - Rapid City on

“Seth Bullock’s Cowboy Brigade” March 4, 1905 taken by George Price at the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

In the late winter of 1905, Seth Bullock and sixty cowboys from Dakota and surrounding states had their 15 minutes of fame on the national stage. On the inauguration day of President Theodore Roosevelt, March 4, 1905, the cowboys rode their horses down Pennsylvania Avenue in the greatest spectacle of any inaugural parade to date. They were the stars of a celebration that included over 35,000 participants and lasted over three hours. Captain Seth Bullock and his cowboys symbolized the rugged “West” but each face had a story of their own.
 

seth bullock
Seth Bullock: First Sheriff of Lawrence County. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

Twenty years earlier, Bullock and Roosevelt first met on Seth’s ranch near Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Bullock, a U.S. Marshall at the time, spotted three disheveled men and discovered the outfit was Theodore Roosevelt (deputy sheriff of Medora County, ND) with captured horse thief “Crazy Steve.” This meeting, along with their individual achievements and shared experiences serving in the Spanish-American War, fostered a shared respect and a lifelong friendship that included hunting trips, meetings, letter correspondence.  Roosevelts’ sons even took trips to the Black Hills to learn about the West.

As years passed, Roosevelt left behind his rough and tumble days out west and moved east to continue his career in politics. After Roosevelt’s return from the Spanish-American War, the leader of the “Rough Riders” was considered a national hero. He was elected Governor of New York, and in 1900 was elected U.S. Vice President to Republican candidate William McKinley. McKinley was assassinated just six months into his second term. Behind closed doors, Theodore Roosevelt took the solemn oath of office and became the youngest person to hold the office of President of the United States on September 14, 1901.

teddy roosevelt portrait
Theodore Roosevelt portrayed on invitation to March 4, 1905 Inauguration. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

Roosevelt was elected to a second term, and his March 4, 1905 inauguration was a celebration to remember. To congratulate him, Bullock conceived the idea to lead a brigade of western cowboys in his inaugural parade. Roosevelt loved the idea.

Bullock put out a call and hundreds answered. Of them, sixty were accepted from the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Iowa and Oklahoma. The participating men were expected to pay their own way, which was estimated to be around sixty dollars each, as well as provide their own equipment and horses. Men from all around were excited to pay respects to “Their Teddy,” so in late February 1905 the men gathered in Belle Fourche and Deadwood to take the Chicago, Burlington & Quincey Railroad for the 34-hour train ride to Washington, DC. With the horses sent a week ahead, the cowboys made national news in papers across the country. Some of the headlines included “The Boys in Washington,” “Cowboys Capture Chicago,” “Cowboys to Visit New York,” and “Off for Teddy’s Roundup.”

The group consisted of colorful characters such as Devil Dan Roberts and Black Hills poet Robert Car, but the most recognizable and undoubtedly most famous was a young Tom Mix. Mix heard of Bullock’s boys and rode all the way to from Oklahoma to Omaha, Nebraska to meet up with the outfit headed for the nation’s capital. Mix later became known as Hollywood’s first western action star and appeared in over 250 silent films. Before fame, Tom worked for the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. The ranch had a Wild West show where he displayed his incredible shooting, riding and roping skills that led to his film career.

tom mix
A 25-year-old Tom Mix (11) poses with the rest of Seth Bullock’s Cowboys. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

tom mix and other cowboys
Tom Mix poses other Cowboy Brigade Veterans Captain H.W. Wyttenbach and John “Jack” Hale in Sturgis, SD. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

A less well known member of the brigade who has a significant connection with the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection is Ed Hanschka, a 25-year-old a blacksmith and miner from Deadwood, South Dakota. He appears in the photograph as the only man with cigarette in his mouth wearing a beautiful beaded buckskin jacket with beaver trim. Over one hundred years later and that same jacket is a highlight of the Association’s collection. Brought to the museum in 1992 by grandson of William Straub, the jacket has ties to the early fur trade in South Dakota.

Ed Hanschka
Ed Hanschka (14) poses in the Beaded Buckskin and Beaver Hide Jacket with the rest of Seth Bullock’s Cowboys. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

The coat was made for family friend, William Straub, in the 1880s by the Lakota wife of Narcisse Narcelle. Narcisse was the son of prominent fur trapper and trader, Paul Narcelle, whom was employed by the American Fur Company at Ft. Pierre. Straub, a rancher on Elm Creek, received the gift and held on to the jacket until loaning it to Ed Hanschka for the inauguration in 1905.

fancy cowboy jacket
Beaded Buckskin Beaver Hide Jacket.  Richard Singer Collection. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

The coat is unique in that it incorporates a European style, Sioux materials and design and an Eastern Sioux motif.  Its superb craftsmanship continues to amaze visitors to the museum from all over the world. 

jacket detail
Close-up Beaded Buckskin Beaver Hide Jacket with floral motif.  Richard Singer Collection. Image Courtesy of the Minnilusa Historical Association Collection at the Journey Museum and Learning Center

When the Cowboy Brigade arrived in Washington, spectators described men wearing leather holsters, long barreled guns, buckskin trousers, gaily decorated shirts, handkerchiefs around their necks and broad brimmed sombreros. They were escorted by admiring crowds everywhere they went and explored the town before the inauguration.

On inauguration day, the celebration was known as the largest and most diverse in history which included soldiers, coal miners, Rough Riders, students, cowboys, and Native Americans.

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Theodore Roosevelt’s Inaugural Parade. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress Collection

Bullock arranged the men into units that would march in unison and break off, then march back in line again. The crowds went wild.  After passing the viewing stand of Theodore Roosevelt, each one was invited to personally greet the President. The Newark Daily Advocate quoted the men making comments such as, “Teddy, I wouldn’t have missed seeing you for all the money from hell to Texas!” and “This is the proudest day of my life and will be until I am president,” in which Mr. Roosevelt replied “I hope you will be.”

After the big day, the boys were invited to the White House for a special meal with the President. The next day, the cow-punchers (a slang used to describe cowboys) put on an exhibition in a nearby baseball field where they entertained a crowd by riding bucking broncos, hosting a roping contest, and holding a mock horse thief hanging. The show concluded with a presentation of a fully equipped horse and costume to Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and a horse auction to raise money for the long trip home. Afterwards, twenty cowboys took a trip to see New York City, and they soon scattered back to their ranches and homes in the West.  

Although each of these sixty men left their own individual legacies in the West, they had one thing in common that they were honored with until the end of their days - they were Seth Bullock’s Cowboy Brigade.

For more information, visit journeymuseum.org.

In The Moment

Interview with Mark Slocum, Executive Director, Minnilusa Historical Association and Pioneer Museum, Rapid City


Host: Lori Walsh

 

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