A Note from Cottonwood Corners

As soon as Jack Sully was shot near his home on the morning of May 16, 1904, a gathering began to assemble on Sully Flats.  Earlier, Ben Diamond rode up to the ranch house and called for Jack.  Jack was inside with his daughter, Eva, and two younger boys, George and John.

They had just finished enjoying a pancake breakfast when Ben came to warn Jack that a posse of 20 men had surrounded the home and he was to surrender.  Mary Sully, Jack’s wife and sons Claude and Sam were visiting east of the river.  Two of Jack’s older children, Mildred and Frank, were in Chamberlain attending school.

After Ben rode up and called for Jack and he came outside, Ben dismounted and explained the situation.  The twenty or more men which surrounded the home were all armed with high powered, large caliber rifles.  Jack was told that “there were very many accurate shooters, and they have the place completely surrounded.”  (The “accurate shooters” statement was not true!)

Jack did not surrender.  He saddled his horse, Jim, mounted up and raced down the ravine to the east where he crossed the creek and started up the hill on the other side. When Jesse Brown warned Jack the third time to halt, one of the posse fired a shot and Jack fell to the ground, wounded.  Diamond must surely have known that Jack would ride past the “Stock Grower Posse” that was hidden in ambush 100 yards from where he would pass.

Although they had been told not to shot Jack, forty shells were later picked up in the ravine which had been fired by the ten members of the posse.  They had been told to only shoot the horse.  If they thought that they might hit Jack, they were told not to shoot.

The exact identification of all the posse members hiding in the plum thicket is unknown.  However, it is known that Jesse Brown who was the Lyman Co. Deputy Sheriff, Deputy Sheriff Irish of Brule County, and Harry Ham were hiding in the ravine.  John Simpson, in his book West River, Volume Two published in 2015 wrote:  “To this day, the Gregory County Legend states that the fatal shot was fired by Harry Ham, as he was the only one who could shoot straight and had every reason to silence Sully.”

Simpson also wrote:  “Jack Sully died in the arms of his young daughter Eva.  That fateful day would haunt her every day for the rest of her life.  To the very end of her nearly 100 years on this earth, she was convinced that Harry Ham had fired the fatal shot that had killed her dad.  Rita Amondson, a nurse at the Gregory Nursing Home where Eva spent her last days said that Eva relived the dreadful death of her father every day of her life.”

“At a recent history conference,” Simpson wrote, “I asked Harry Ham’s grandson, ‘Do you believe your grandfather shot Jack Sully?’  He replied, ‘The neighbors all tell me that my grandfather was the only person in the posse would could shoot straight enough to hit Sully.’  In leaving he said, ‘You know, Mr. Simpson, that my grandfather made peace with the Sully family before he died.’”

Mary and Jack had eight children, Louise, Eva, Mildred, John Jr., Frank, George, Sam, and Claude.  Jack’s first wife, Louise, who died in childbirth in 1875 at the age of 19, is buried in the Sully Cemetery located 6 miles south and 7 miles west of Platte.

“New Postoffice of Sully Established in Gregory County” was the headline in area newspapers in June of 1905.  The new post office, named Sully, was being established at the site of a new town of that name which was being located near the scene of the killing of the famous outlaw.  Peter Yearly had been appointed postmaster at Sully and he predicted a great future for the new town.

The post office officials in Washington, D. C., did not approve the name “Sully” for the new post office and town which was being developed in the middle of Gregory County.  That must have been an interesting conversation as officials discussed the application.

The name approved by the postal authorities was “Lucas.”  The origin of the name might have been the Lucas Townsite and Land Company which was established by S. F. Lucas.  According to another version, the town was named after Fred Lucas, who owned the land and laid out the town.

The Lucas post office was established on June 13, 1905 with Peter Yearly as the first postmaster.  The official records do show that “the proposed name for the office was ‘Sully’” with no explanation as to why it was not approved.  It operated until being discontinued on December 17, 1985 at which time mail went to nearby Burke and it was designated as a “Place” for address purposes.

In October and November of 1905, weekly and daily newspapers across South Dakota reported that:

“The opening of the great Rosebud reserve to settlement has brought about a great change, of course, but perhaps in no section greater than the rough bit of country known as the ‘Sully Flats.’”

Dr. James Buchan, a well-known and important physician for many years in Yankton drew a good number at the Land Office.  The doctor built a twenty-five room sanitarium (hospital) within sight of the Sully grave.  It was completed by the middle of November and was formally opened on Thanksgiving Day.  A fine meal and dance was a part of the celebration.  The dance lasted until late the next morning.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on February 1, 2023

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