Antoine Bijou, a French Canadian, established a trading post in 1813 on the east side of the Missouri River below a long stretch of rugged and rough hills which came to be known as Bijou Hills. He was doubtless the first white man to settle in that section of the Louisiana Purchase.
These bold and irregular hills along the river were noted by all Missouri River travelers who were headed for the northwest. Records show that the first scattering of settlers in the Bijou Hills area began to settle in the area during the 1860’s and 1870’s.
As early as 1858, that part of what would later become Dakota Territory and Charles Mix County on the east side of the Missouri River, became the home of a few white men. By 1861, a small group of contractors and their employees were located on the east side of the river at White Swan, across the river from Fort Randall.
They furnished supplies to the garrison at Fort Randall which had been established in 1856. After the establishment of Fort Randall, it did not take long for settlements to be started farther up the river.
Dakota Territory was established by congress on March 2, 1861. Governor Jayne arrived in Yankton on July 29 and he immediately issued a proclamation calling for an election on September 16th of a delegate to congress and members of the territorial legislature. Legislative districts also had to be established.
Polling places were established at the house of F. D. Pease on “Pease Island” and at Fort Randall. Records show that eighty-five votes were cast in the district; however, the vote for delegate to congress was rejected for irregularities.
White Swan had been established on July 13, 1859. Slowly, residences were established along the river and inland below what was referred to as the “Military Road.” That area above the road was considered uninhabitable. Charles Mix County was created by the legislature on May 8, 1862 and organized in 1879.
The earliest record of Jack Sully being in South Dakota that I have been able to locate is 1867. The Charles Mix County 1906 Atlas compiled by E. Frank Peterson of Vermillion, SD reported that there were 19 residents living in the old part of Charles Mix County that year. Frank Chamberlain came to the county with his family (father, mother, sister, and himself) in 1867.
At that time, there were only fifteen other residents living in the old part (land between the river and the Government Trail — sometimes referred to as Military Road). The area above the Government Trail was thought to be uninhabitable in 1867. Those 15 and their residence are listed by name in the 1906 atlas. Jack Sully was living at the mouth of Platte Creek and John Kinkaid lived nearby. He later became identified with the Sully gang that roved up and down the river for many years.
The third written record of Jack in Dakota Territory that I am aware of is his election to the position of sheriff of Charles Mix County. The Charles Mix County 1906 Atlas reports that John (Jack) Sully had been elected sheriff of Charles Mix County in the October 8, 1872 general election. Although there were only 55 eligible voters in the county, he received 61 votes and his opponent received 1 vote.
In the same election for county officials, one other candidate received more than 55 votes. J. D. Flick who was seeking the position of councilman received 62 votes.
No record has been found to explain the discrepancy between the number of votes received for the two candidates and the number of eligible voters. There is one statement in the 1906 atlas regarding the election of a delegate to Congress in Washington, DC. It might be a clue as to the attitude toward electors and the selection of individuals for political positions.
It seems as though it involved a considerable number of soldiers from Wheeler (just above White Swan on the east side of the river) and the Whetstone Agency (on the west side of the river — not in Charles Mix County and not eligible to vote). The Charles Mix County 1906 Atlas reports: “But little question was raised as to the legality of the votes . . . Soldiers, half-breeds, and hangers-on around the agency were brought over and voted. Even Indians were temporarily dressed in citizens clothes and voted.”
The atlas goes on to explain: “The vote on county officers was confined to the voters living within the county, 55 of whom appear to have voted. Nevertheless 61 votes appear to have been put in the ballot boxes for Sully for sheriff. But elections were easily handled by men of nerve in those days.”
On January 20, 1873, at a special meeting of the County Commissioners, John Sully was appointed sheriff. However, it does appear that his tenure in that position was limited to less than eight months (228 days). On September 6 of that same year the County Commissioners appointed William Holbrough collector and sheriff. He received 1 vote against Sully in the October 8, 1872 election. No record is available explaining the action of the County Commissioners.
We’ll never know for sure! Today, we can only wonder if this was Jack’s decision or was it made by someone else.
Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on November 2, 2022