Deadwood Dick: Chasing a Cornish-American Legend

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott digs into old newspapers to see if the Wild West’s legendary character “Deadwood Dick” was a real person or just a myth.

Early in my family history and genealogy work I made, what was for me, a remarkable discovery. I found that I had a significant branch of second cousins in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

I had not known about my Cornish relatives and they were equally unaware of me. It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to meet this grand branch of my family and it was an extraordinary occasion! We spent several wonderful days together and those treasured family memories will now be with me forever. Given all the family photographs, stories, catching up on lifetimes, pub visits, heirlooms, and tromping around parish churches and graveyards, my head was filled with family history. I guess it should come as no surprise that I placed one item in a remote drawer of my “mental filing cabinet,” to be explored at a later date.

Not long ago this tidbit came roaring back into my consciousness and I decided I needed to investigate. The name I had filed away was “Deadwood Dick”; when I was in Cornwall many people had asked me if I was familiar with this famous Cornish-American immigrant. To begin my investigation, I opened up GenealogyBank.com and started searching for historical records containing his name. As usual, I was not disappointed!

I logged in and searched on “Deadwood Dick.” To my surprise I was greeted with more than 3,800 articles in the Newspaper Archive section of my results. I then clicked on the subcategory Obituaries. Quickly I noted that Deadwood had been reported as dead a number of times, including 1906, 1911 and 1920, along with a couple of other dates! As a genealogist I smiled when I read these different death accounts, and also found varying family histories attributed to good old Deadwood.  They ranged from Deadwood being: the nephew of the governor of Illinois; a shop owner in Belle Fourche; and a postmaster in Deadwood, the latter two places both in the Dakota Territory.

So I read on. What I discovered about this Cornish-American immigrant was quite a story! You see Deadwood was the inspiration for dime novels, or what were also known as the yellow-backed series of action books, featuring the exploits and adventures of Deadwood Dick.

But was the legendary Deadwood Dick a real person?

An old article from the Daily People newspaper proclaimed: “Deadwood Dick a Myth.” As they say in the game shows: “Buzz…wrong answer!” This newspaper article was certainly not going to establish that Deadwood was a real person.

Deadwood Dick a Myth, Daily People newspaper article 26 April 1903

Daily People (New York, New York), 26 April 1903, page 6

Soon I found a delightful old news article published by the Jackson Citizen Patriot lamenting “Dime Novels of Our Youthful Days.” Seems no matter what the time in history, we always miss things from our youth—and in this case it was the exciting stories of Deadwood Dick.

Diime Novels of Our Youthful Days, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 August 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 August 1922, page 2

Then I discovered, from an old newspaper article published by the Sun, that Deadwood Dick was the subject of a successful stage play. But still the question remained: was he a real person? I kept on with my investigation.

"Deadwood Dick" at Blaney's, Sun newspaper article 26 November 1907

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 26 November 1907, page 9

I was really enjoying taking a trip into America’s past, through newspapers, trying to discern who and/or what Deadwood Dick really was. Then I found a newspaper article that answered my question: Deadwood was indeed a real person!

I found his story in an article published by the Kansas City Star, entitled: “‘Deadwood Dick’ Cashes in His Chips in Life’s Game.”

"Deadwood Dick" Cashes in His Chips in Life's Game, Kansas City Star newspaper article 16 February 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 16 February 1920, page 20

This account confirmed that a man named Richard Bullock was the original and very real Deadwood Dick. He spent time as a guard on the gold bullion stagecoaches that carried gold ore from the mines of South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska. The article said that Richard emigrated from “England,” the common misnomer in those times for any portion of the United Kingdom.

My additional research has confirmed that Richard Bullock, a.k.a. Deadwood Dick, was born about 20 August 1847 near Saint Columb Major in Cornwall. He was a member of the Methodist Choir before he emigrated from Cornwall in his early 20s to find his future in America.

From choirboy to a man of mythological proportions and the stuff of early action novels!

All I can say is I am sure happy I pulled that memory out of the old filing cabinet and looked for Deadwood Dick stories in GenealogyBank’s newspapers. You just never know what you will find!

Census – Vital Records – Washington State; England; Mexico

Washington State Census, Birth Records, Marriage Records, Death Records; Mexico 1930 Census; and England & Wales Census of 1841 & 1861 are now online.

It’s a great day for Genealogy.

Washington State
Washington State Digital Archives has now put Washington State & Federal census records from 1847 through 1910. Click here to see the list of census records online.

Washington State Birth Records for: Adams County 1893-1907, 1910-1915, (several delayed birth returns: 1942); Benton County 1905-1907; King County 1891-1907; Spokane County 1890-1907; Whatcom County 1891-1907; Whitman County 1890-1907

Washington State Marriage Records for:
Adams County Marriage Records; Asotin County Marriage Records; Benton County Marriage Records; Chelan County Marriage Records; Clark County Marriage Records; Columbia County Marriage Records; Ferry County Marriage Records; Franklin County Marriage Records; Garfield County Marriage Records; Grant County Marriage Records; Grays Harbor County Marriage Records; Island County Marriage Records; Jefferson County Marriage Records; Kitsap County Marriage Records; Kittitas County Marriage Records; Klickitat County Marriage Records; Lincoln County Marriage Records; Mason County Marriage Records; Pacific County Marriage Records; Pend Oreille County Marriage Records; Pierce County Marriage Records;
Skagit County Marriage Records; Skamania County Marriage Records; Snohomish County Marriage Records; Spokane County Marriage Records; Stevens County Marriage Records;
Thurston County Marriage Records; Walla Walla County Marriage Records; Whatcom County Marriage Records; Whitman County Marriage Records; Yakima County Marriage Records.

Washington State Death Records for:
1860 Mortality Schedule; 1870 Mortality Schedule; 1880 Mortality Schedule; Adams County Death Return; Brinnon Cemetery – Jefferson County 1895-2003; Cowlitz County Death Returns 1898-1907; Ferry County Register of Deaths 1899-1911; Odd Fellows #1 Memorial Park Cemetery and Mausoleum Listings; Spokane County Death Returns 1888-1907; Washington State Death Records; Whatcom County Death Returns, 1891-1907; Whitman County Death Returns 1891-1907.

GenealogyBank has long runs of Washington State newspapers online including:
Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA). 10/2/1903 – 12/30/1922. Variant titles: Fairhaven Herald.
Bellingham Herald (WA). 9/4/1999-Current
Chinook Observer (Long Beach, WA). 8/15/2002-Current
Chronicle (Centralia, WA). 10/31/2002-Current
Columbian (Vancouver, WA). 5/27/1994-Current
Daily Herald (Everett, WA). 8/16/2005-Current
Daily Record (Ellensburg, WA). 10/23/2006-Current
Eastside Journal (Bellevue, WA). 12/4/1999-1/13/2003
Hokubei Jiji (Seattle, WA). 10/14/1916 – 2/28/1918
King County Journal (Bellevue, WA). 1/8/2003-1/20/2007
Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA). 3/15/1891 – 12/31/1922. Variant titles: Daily Olympian; Morning Olympian Tribune
News Tribune (Tacoma, WA). 1/1/1992-Current
Olympia Record (Olympia, WA). 5/13/1902 – 12/31/1922
Olympian (WA). 3/12/2001-Current
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA). 1/1/1986-Current
Seattle Times (WA). 1/6/1985-Current
Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, WA). 8/2/2007-Current
South County Journal) (Kent, WA). 12/3/1999-1/11/2003
Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA). 7/3/1994-Current
Tacoma Daily News (Tacoma, WA). 8/25/1890 – 12/31/1898
Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, WA). 2/21/2006-Current
Wenatchee World (WA). 4/2/2006-Current
Yakima Herald-Republic (WA). 12/11/1997-Current


International – Mexico; England & Wales
FamilySearchLabs has now added the 1841 Census of England & Wales (complete); 1861 Census of England & Wales (complete) and the 1930 Census of Mexico (17% complete).

FamilySearchLabs has the index to the 1841 Census of England & Wales and 1861 Census of England & Wales online for free – but the links to see the images take you to a pay site – FindMyPast – where you need to sign up to view the census page images. The Family History Library has similar arrangements with other providers where the indexes are free but there is a charge for the page images. See FamilySearchLabs for the details.
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1870 Census now online

FamilySerachLabs has now gone live with the 1870 Federal Census.

That site now has the 1850; 1860; 1870; 1880 and 1900 census indexed and available online. These indexes are free.

These are All New Indexes and Images.
I was using the various online census indexes to search for some of my relatives. There was a dark blotch on the page and it was difficult to make out the name. So, I went to the 1900 Census Index at FamilySerachLabs and was very surprised to see that the same image on this page was crystal clear – no blotch. Why – I asked? Answer – FamilySerachLabs made the extra effort to create all new digital images of the census pages.

The 1870 census is available in two formats:
Indexed and Searchable – search every name in the census for these States:

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Dakota Territory, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

Browsable – lets you look at the digital images of each page in the census for All States except Kentucky, Vermont and Virginia.

FamilySearchLabs will be putting the rest of these census images & indexes online shortly.