The Swearingen Family
Al Swearingen, born Ellis Albert Swearingen, was born just minutes behind his twin brother Lemuel. Al and Lemuel were the oldest children in the family.
Deadwood Ranch was founded by their younger brother Winfield Swearingen. Winfield was a tough young man as well as an expert marksman. He was born in 1846 in Mahaska Co., Iowa where he met his future wife Fannie LaFollett. Winfield and Fannie were married on April 16th, 1867 in in Mahaska Co., Iowa.
The Deadwood Historic Connection
Deadwood, South Dakota
Source of the HBO Series “Deadwood”.In June or July, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok left his new bride a few months after marring her (Hickok married Agnes Thatcher Lake on March 5, 1876), joining Charlie Utter’s wagon train to seek his fortune in the gold fields of South Dakota. Martha Jane Cannary, known popularly as “Calamity Jane”, claimed that she had been married to Hickok and had divorced him so he could be free to marry Agnes Lake. Wild Bill & Calamity Jane were believed to have met for the first time after Jane was released from the guardhouse in Fort Laramie. Jane joined the Utter wagon train in which arrived in Deadwood in July 1876.
Wild Bill HickokMay 27, 1837 – August 2, 1876
He was shot from behind and killed while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota).
Calamity JaneMay 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903
Martha Jane Canary was an American frontierswoman, and professional scout. She was best known for her claim of being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok.
Seth BullockJuly 23, 1849 – September 23, 1919)
Seth was a Canadian/American Western sheriff, hardware store owner and U.S. Marshal.
Al SwearingenJuly 8, 1845 – November 15, 1904
He was a pimp and early entertainment entrepreneur in Deadwood, South Dakota, who ran the Gem Theater, a notorious brothel, for 22 years
Seth Bullock and Sol Star
On August 1, 1876, Seth Bullock and Sol Star (yes, a Jewish cowboy) arrived in Deadwood. Just a bit of history regarding Seth Bullock. That same year, Bullock became a resident of Helena, Montana, where he unsuccessfully ran for the Territorial Legislature. He was subsequently elected to the Territorial Senate, serving in 1871 and 1872 and helped create Yellowstone National Park. In 1873, he was elected Sheriff of Lewis and Clark County, Montana. During his tenure as sheriff, he killed his first man, Clell Watson. Watson had stolen a horse and after a gunfight with Bullock, where he was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Watson was taken into custody. When Watson was being prepared to be hanged, a lynch mob appeared and managed to scared off the executioner. Bullock climbed the scaffold and pulled the lever, sending Watson to his death. After the hanging, Bullock had to hold off the mob with a shotgun. (This was recreated on HBO’s Deadwood, except Watson was hanged on the step of the sheriff’s office.)
Bullock and Star Embark For Deadwood
Around this time, he and Sol Star opened a hardware store in Montana. In the summer of 1876, Bullock and Star decided an untapped market for hardware existed in the gold rush town of Deadwood, South Dakota. The two headed out to the town, arriving on August 1, 1876. Shortly after they arrived, the two purchased a lot in Deadwood and set up shop as the “Office of Star and Bullock, Auctioneers and Commission Merchants,” first using a tent and then a building for the business. On August 2, 1876, the day after Bullock and Star arrived, Jack McCall murdered Wild Bill Hickok by shooting him in the back of the head. Jack McCall murdered Hickok while he sat playing poker. McCall was later found not guilty by an impromptu camp court and released, after which he promptly left town. The demand for law enforcement grew following Hickok’s murder and with Bullock’s background, this made him the logical choice for Deadwood’s first Sheriff.
Swearingen And The Gem Variety Theater
in August 1876, 1½ week after Hickok died, Al Swearingen opened the Cricket Saloon and was ready to exploit the deprivation of Deadwood to the fullest. The Cricket was not what one might consider a large enterprise; in fact the structure was so narrow that the news media referred to it as a hall (8’ wide by 60’ long). The Smallpox outbreak happened on the day the Cricket Saloon opened. Swearingen expanded the saloon and on the evening of April 7, 1877, he renamed it the Gem Variety Theater.
Three months after the saloon opened, it burned down due to a defect in a lamp that was incorporated into a sign Swearingen had custom made. In 1879 another fire that destroyed a large part of the town, badly burned the Gem. Swearingen again rebuilt the saloon within weeks, except for the roof, and added square footage to the saloon, creating a separate dance floor. Not long after, arsonists burned the saloon down again. Chinese immigrants assisted in helping put the fire out. May 1883 a rainstorm flooded the Gem. Swearingen put a drain plug on the upper floor so it would no longer be affected by flooding. In 1894, the Gem burned down again due to an employee using gasoline to clean his suit. Years later in December 1899, another fire burned down the Gem. It broke out in 5-6 locations at the same time. The fire department arrived but they could not locate the wrenches to connect their hoses to the fire equipment. Another fire department arrived but they also could not locate the wrenches to connect their hoses to the fire equipment. In May 1883 a rainstorm flooded the Gem.
Trouble At The Gem Theater
Swearingen lured young girls away to Deadwood under various pretenses, only to coerce them into working for him. The girls would hustle drinks, dance and perform sexual favors. Women who refused were bullied and beaten by Swearingen or by his henchmen. In September 1884, the Black Hills Daily Times published an article titled “Infamous: A Den of Prostitution under the Guise of a Dance Hall, Stock with Innocent and Unsuspecting Girls Engaged through Misrepresentation by its Bestial Proprietor.” Only two days before print a stagecoach brought 11 young girls to the Gem. After the girls expressed no desire to comply with Mr. Swearingen’s wishes, he ordered them to be locked in their rooms. One of the girls managed to escape and soon afterward, Officer Dunn, Colonel Cornel and Marshal Tyler made an inspection of the Gem, resulting in the emancipation of three more young ladies.
It was later brought to light that all of the 11 girls, still in their teens, had responded to a Chicago newspaper advertisement directing young ladies interested in work to meet an E. A. Swearingen. When meeting the girls, Swearingen told them he owned a large hotel, theater and dance pavilion and that they would be waiting tables and participating in other general work. The initial public outcry at these events prompted Al to send for his younger brother, Winfield. He would put on shooting demonstrations in which he would throw small glass balls in the air and blast them with his pistol. Winfield also engaged in betting the customers that he could out-shoot them (with targets) and usually won. While these demonstrations and contests put money into Winfield’s pocket, they also worked wonders to deter anyone who might think of starting trouble with him, or his brother, Al. If Al had a problem with somebody, it was common for Winfield to show up a short time later.
The “Deadwood Connection” to Deadwood Ranch
In 1885, when word of the discovery of silver and gold in Colorado arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, Winfield told his wife there was a new, big opportunity in Colorado and that they were going.
Shortly after the 1899 fire at the Gem Theater, Al Swearingen relocated to Leadville, Colorado to join up with his brother Theodore who had a saloon there. Al remained in Leadville for 4 years. As the crow flies, Leadville is not far from Basalt..
Did Al meet up with Winfield in Colorado?
Did Al ever come to visit Winfield on Deadwood Ranch?
Winfield, his wife Fannie and 2 daughters packed up and started out to Colorado in 1885. They lived on the ranch by at least 1886, just after the Ute Indians were relocated from the Basalt area and onto a newly established Indian reservation in Southern Colorado. This is evidenced by one of the “water rights” filed by Winfield in 1886. The Swearingen’s were the 1st family after the Indians left to occupy the property.