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Hear the tale of outlaw Jack Sully at Cultural Heritage Center program

The tale of one of South Dakota’s most notorious outlaws will be told at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

J.G. Swedlund will discuss his book “Rustler on the Rosebud: The Legend of Jack Sully” when the History and Heritage Book Club meets at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The book is a fictional account of the legendary outlaw.

“Some accounts state that Sully was a rustler for nearly 30 years,” said Catherine Forsch, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation. “This was in the days of the open range. Sully told friends that he only took cattle from these big cattle companies who ran their cattle free of charge on the reservation land. Some saw him as protecting settlers’ rights to their own land rather than as an outlaw.”

The foundation is the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society and the sponsor of the History and Heritage Book Club. Everyone is welcome to attend the free program.

Swedlund is retired and makes his home in Denver, but he was born in Winner and raised on a ranch in northwest Tripp County. He and his father were acquainted with the Sully family and he heard Sully’s story while growing up.

“The legend is known to most people in the Rosebud area, if not most of South Dakota,” Swedlund said. “I decided to write the book because I felt there were several misconceptions, and when I researched, found conflicting ideas. Also, I was surprised that there had been no longer narrative about his life and legend.”

There are, Swedlund states in the book’s foreword, different accounts of Sully’s birth and early life. His birth has been recorded as 1839 or 1850 and taking place in Minnesota, Virginia or Ireland. Nothing has been confirmed, Swedlund says.

Sully was in Dakota Territory by 1872, as that is the year he was elected sheriff of Charles Mix County. At the time of his death, the Sully ranch was located near Lucas in Gregory County.

“The New York Times printed that he rustled 50,000 head. That is no doubt an exaggeration, but I have read a good deal of western history, and have discovered no outlaw, rustler or bandit that came close to rustling for nearly 30 years and escaped ‘justice,’” Swedlund said.

Sully was gunned down on May 16, 1904, as he tried to escape on horseback from a posse that had surrounded his home.

Swedlund wrote “Rustler on the Rosebud” because he also saw Sully’s story as that of the little guy against the big guy.

“That is, small ranchers against the large cattle syndicates ruling western South Dakota for 30 years. His battle lasted nearly all that time, quite unusual in western history,” Swedlund said.

“Rustler on the Rosebud” is available at the Heritage Stores at the Cultural Heritage Center and the Capitol.

People who are interested in attending the program but cannot be at the Cultural Heritage Center should call 605-773-6006 for information about how they can join the meeting

About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call 605-773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

About the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation is a private charitable nonprofit that seeks funding to assist the South Dakota State Historical Society in programming and projects to preserve South Dakota’s history and heritage for future generations.

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