A Note from Cottonwood Corners

The Dakota Territory was an organized incorporated territory of the United States which was established on March 2, 1861.  It existed until November 2, 1889 when the states of North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union.

The Fort Randall Military Post had already been established on June 26, 1856.  The post was established to provide military protection to settlements, open roads, and to guard and escort travelers and emigrants across the plains.

It began as an important outpost on the American frontier — at the boundary of the plains and prairie — and ended as a common garrison surrounded by the settlement of homesteaders whose usefulness was replaced by later forts in the Upper Missouri River Basin.  Most of the soldiers at Fort Randall lived a monotonous military life.

It was into this area which Jack Sully eventually found his way from Minneapolis.  In 1862, he wended his way into Dakota Territory in the area of Fort Yankton.  By 1866, Sully had numerous times drifted up and down the Missouri River in Dakota.

On October 13, 1880, the Press and Dakotan (Yankton) reported that the sheriff of Charles Mix County offered a reward of three hundred dollars for the arrest of John Sully (alias John Gillon, alias Jack Jones) and Frank Edwards (alias Frank Clark).  Two hundred dollars was offered for the arrest of either one of the parties.  Both men were wanted for grand larceny and it was well known that they often found refuge in the Wessington Hills area of Jerauld and Hand counties.

During the forty-two years (1862 to 1904) that Jack Sully was known to have been in the Dakota Territory, he was on the “wanted list” of state and federal law officials throughout most of that time.  Repeatedly, he was quite successful in evading arrest and conviction.

Many times a posse came looking for Jack, only to learn that he had “left the country.”  They searched for him, but never found him.  He used the Missouri River breaks and Whetstone Creek to his advantage.  He was able to elude the law.  He must have known that sooner or later they would get him; however, he “wanted to die with his boots on.”

During the winter and spring of 1903 and 1904 he was free, and then came John Petrie’s posse.  U. S. Marshall John Petrie met with Jesse Brown, former Lyman Co. Deputy Sheriff and U. S. Marshall for four years, in Chamberlain on May 15, 1904 and explained the plan in detail.   Petrie planned on ten men besides Jesse and himself.

Jesse did not like the plan and told John so.  He thought the whole thing was wrong in the first place.  He felt they could never keep the plan a secret and should they be lucky enough to get to Jack, they would never take him alive.

Jesse begged to be relieved of his duty on this trip.  He was denied the request.  He had a strange feeling that kept nagging at his conscience.  Never before when he went for a suspect did he have this feeling.

Early on the 16th of May, Petrie and a deputy in a surrey led the way, the rest following on their saddle horses.  They traveled through Oacoma and climbed the high bluffs to the south and west.  Once on top, they followed the old Indian trail all the way south.

Soon they were in the Iona country and came upon a young boy herding cattle.  The young lad was Carl Godager.  Petrie asked Carl if he knew him.  Carl said he knew him and A. P. Long, John Ham, and Jessie Brown, but not the rest of the posse.  John asked Carl if he knew what they were doing.  Carl replied that he “supposed it was a posse going after Jack Sully.”  Petrie’s face got red and Jessie laughed, and John left in a hurry.

They traveled to the Ham ranch and on to the Diamond ranch where they had Benjamin join them.  At this point the final instructions were given by Petrie.  The posse would split; half would go on one side and half on the other.  The posse was now a few men larger than when they left Chamberlain.  Petrie was to lead half to the north and west of the Sully ranch and Jessie was to lead the other half to the south and east of the ranch.

Ben Diamond then went to the Sully ranch and told Jack to surrender.  There were twenty or more men surrounding the place, all armed with high power large caliber rifles.

The instructions to the posse members were to not shot Jack.  If he ran, they were to shot the horse.  If they thought they might hit Jack, the instructions were — “don’t shot.”

Jack did not surrender.  He mounted his horse and headed down the ravine to the southeast and started up the hill on the other side past a wild plum thicket.  Jessie hollered out loud and clear, “Halt.”  Again he hollered, “Halt in the name of the law.”    Once more Jessie hollered; however, at the same time one of the posse fired a shot.  This was followed by a barrage and Jack fell to the ground.  At least nineteen shots were fired, one hit Jack in the middle of the back.  The horse had been hit at least four times.

Jack was mortally wounded in front of his family and small children near their home on the morning of May 16, 1904.  They heard the shots and saw him fall from his horse.

Petrie told Jessie that he would have to go back to Chamberlain with him.  Jessie, who was the last remaining Sully posse member alive in the 1950s refused.  He rode out on his horse to the X Diamond X ranch.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on January 25, 2023