March 2012 – The Cornish Cowboy

Buffalo Bill, Jessie James, Wild Bill Hickock, Deadwood Dick and Billy the Kid, all famous figures from the American Wild West of the mid to late 1800s, and all featured in numerous movies. John Bullock of Rithros, near St. Columb in Cornwall, was a foreman at the Retew clay-works near Austell. He was married with five sons all of whom would work under their father when they became old enough to do so. On Sundays, their only day of rest, the whole family worshipped at Queens United Methodist Free Church. One of John Bullock’s sons Richard (pic), who was born 20th August 1847, sang in the choir at the Church.

Life for the Bullock family was not all work and church services; they all had a great interest in shooting. By the time he was eighteen, Richard, known to his friends as Dick, was a crack shot. One of his close friends, Ned Hocking of Fraddon, told the story of their first pigeon shooting match, which took place at St. Stephen-in-Brannel at the annual Feast Week. On their way to the contest, Dick told an old man whom they saw working on the road that they would show him the first and second prizes on their way back. The old man laughed at their boyish confidence, however a few hours later, as he was getting ready to go home, the two young lads came along the road and proudly showing off the first and second prize.

Another surviving story is that Dick’s dog once flushed out four partridges, two of which flew left and two of which flew right. Dick apparently shot all four birds, two with one barrel and two with the other.

On Christmas Day 1873, the twenty six year old Richard Bullock married his sweetheart, Susie Poad. At the church service, Dick caused a great deal of amusement by singing, ‘Unto us a child is born,’ because his son Maurice had been born a few days before the happy couple had tied the knot.

Times were desperately hard in Cornwall in those days, and no more so than for the miners and clay-workers that had to support their families on very low wages. Thousands of Cornishmen took the plunge and decided to seek a better life in America, New Zealand, or Australia. Dick had seen many of his friends leave the country to improve their fortunes and so kissed his wife and child goodbye, and promised to return before long with pockets bulging with gold and silver.

He found employment in the Black Hills of South Dakota working in a gold mine. Crime was rife in the locality and the stage coaches which carried the gold away from the mines were often held up by outlaws.

Our intrepid Cornishman decided to do something out it and volunteered as a bullion guard for the Homestake Mine, then owned by Senator George Hearst, the father of William Randolph Hearst who went on to build a large newspaper empire. The gold was carried aboard the Deadwood Stage which ran from Cheyenne to Deadwood via Laramie. It passed through Buffalo Gap, Lame Johnny Creek, Red Canyon and Squaw Gap, all notorious haunts of bandits such as Curly Grimes, Peg Leg Bradley and Dunk Blackburn, not to mention the raiding parties of Sioux Indians which were a constant problem.

The Deadwood Stage could boast a passenger list (pic) that through the years included Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock. Years later, when Wild Bill took his Wild West Show on tour across Europe, he also took the Deadwood stage with him, and once visited Redruth, where the Cornish people were treated to a display of gun fights, rodeos and Indian attacks.

This strongly built coach with its red painted body, yellow wheels and doors which were painted with landscapes must have made a wonderful sight as it rattled along the stony roads of the old west. It could carry nine people inside and eight outside and still have room for luggage.

In 1882, when Richard Bullock started riding shotgun, one of the first robbery attempts was by a gang of outlaws led by the notorious Lame Johnny, who apparently didn’t make it back to his creek after the incident. He had coolly stepped out onto the track at ‘Hurricane Falls,’ pistol in hand and called for the coach to stop. Dick dropped him in his tracks. This sharp shooting soon earned him the nickname, Deadwood Dick, and his exploits were widely reported in the newspapers at the time. Richard, quite proud of his achievements, send the press cuttings back to his family in Cornwall, where they must have been amazed that he had changed from shooting partridges to gunning down bandits.

The former Methodist choirboy decided to leave his employment and travel further afield, and as an official and sometimes unofficial lawman, went wherever his services were required. It was not long before his exploits were being written into the history of the Wild West, often in the 10 cent publications which were very popular at the time. Author, Edward L. Wheeler, having seen the newspaper reports, made Deadwood Dick a larger than life figure. When the first silent films hit the movie screens closely followed by the talkies, the Deadwood Stage became synonymous and gave birth to the song ‘The Deadwood Stage’ sung by Doris Day in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane.

Unlike Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock and other famous wild west figures, whose graves at Deadwood Cemetery have become a tourist attraction, Dick Bullock spent his final years in the company of a couple of other ‘Homestake’ bullion guards, W.R. Dickinson and Herbert Eakin at Thorncroft Sanatorium, Glendale, California, financed by his old employer Mr. Hearst. Dick, died there aged 73 in 1921 having never returned to his family in Cornwall.

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