Cheyenne-Deadwood Stagecoach's Last Surviving Driver Fred Sullivan

Last updated: March 26, 2009

Library Archives
October 2, 1941

The great west lost another of its pioneers last Sunday with the death of Phillip Fred Sullivan, who died at 2:05 a.m. at a local hospital after a two-week's illness of paratyphoid fever. Mr. Sullivan had reached the age of 85 years, 7 months and 26 days. Not only was Fred, as he was familiarly known by a vast host of friends, one of the earliest of pioneers, but also did he have the distinction of being the last surviving driver of the famous Cheyenne-Deadwood stagecoach lines.

Mr. Sullivan entered the hospital here September 13th, although up to that time he had enjoyed exceptionally good health. His advanced years then began to take their toll and Mr. Sullivan's condition became gradually worse. Relatives were called last week when it appeared his condition was critical, and among those reaching here before Mr. Sullivan's demise were a son, Howard, and wife, of Helena, Mont.; two daughters, Mrs. Florence Freel and her daughters, and Mrs. E. A. Pomrenke and husband, all of Casper. another son, Ralph Sullivan, and family of Windom, Minn., did not arrive until after Mr. Sullivan's death.

Other survivors are two brothers, Dan, of Beloit, Ia., and Frank, of Canton, S. Dakota; and two sisters, Mrs. Maggie Robbins, of Minneapolis, Minn., and Mrs. Mary Garrigan of Sioux Falls, S. Dakota.

Funeral services were conducted at 10 o'clock Tuesday morning from the chapel of the Peet Funeral Home in this city. Rev. Father Miller of St. Patrick's Catholic church of Wheatland, in charge of last rites. Vocal numbers during the chapel services were offered by Mrs. Bennie Updike, Mrs. Bert Gibson, Mrs. Robert Phillips and the Misses Pauline and Elizabeth Bruch.

The remains of this lovable, friendly pioneer were interred in the Lusk Cemetery, borne to their last resting place by Frank Wilson, Ray Wilson, Albion Lind, W. D. Miller, Ed Schroefel and Charles Schroefel. A large host of friends and admirers, testifying to the high esteem in which Mr. Sullivan was held, attended the funeral services. Banks of floral tributes were further expressions of respect and warm feeling toward this pioneer.

Fred Sullivan was born February 2, 1856, at Ripon, Wis. His love of travel and excitement took hold of him when he was a young lad and when but 16 years of age he started west, coming to Dakota Territory in 1870. He had traveled the 860 miles to Canton, S. Dak., by covered wagon. From the day he arrived in this great plains area, he began to experience the dangers, the thrills and the excitement so prevalent in those early years. Perhaps no other man has had a wider range of contact with the many various phases of western life, and none enjoyed it more than Fred Sullivan.

He worked at first on large cattle ranches, he rode the ranges and also engaged in various other work for his first three years in this country. In 1874 he started to drive a stage between Elk Point, Canton, Sioux Falls, Del Rapids and Flandreau. During the winter months this was hazardous work, and often the temperatures stood at 48 degrees below zero.

The following year he was detailed to guide U.S. troops in command of Major Howard and Lieut. Sharpe of Omaha, who were sent to Dakota territory to round up and take 2600 Ponca Indians to Boxeter Springs Indian territory. This expedition required more than two months and when the objective was reached, Mr. Sullivan rested a few days and then started back alone on the trip homeward.

He stopped at Beaver Crossing, Nebr., and there took a job as stage driver in the York-Seward vicinities, remaining on this post for several months, after which he came to Cheyenne, and took a job in a store for a while. Later, Mr. Sullivan accepted a government contract for freighting between Cheyenne and Fort Laramie, then a wild, unsettled wilderness, with the Indians far from friendly in that period. He drove a six-horse team in his freighting operations, and many days were required to make the trip over a trail rough and uncertain and which now can be made in less than two hours over improved highways.

In 1870 Mr. Sullivan started to drive for the Cheyenne-Black Hills Stage and Express line owned and operated by the late Luke Voorhees, and his previous experience placed him as one of the top drivers of the route. The other drivers on the Cheyenne-Deadwood route were Seth Bullock, Tom Cooper, Tim Denny, George Droke and John Weenan. All had preceded him in death.

This line became one of the most famous of all western passenger, mail and express carrying routes, and was widely known for the efficiency and schedule of operation. The distance between terminals was 301 miles and for the most part the stations were located about 15 miles apart. The daily travel was about 100 miles and three days were necessary to make the entire trip. One of the stations was at Silver Cliff, less than one mile west of the town of Lusk.

Aside from the Indians, the stage drivers and passengers were equally endangered by bandits, and one of the most daring of these attacks came on September 29, 1878, at the Cold Springs station, 40 miles from Deadwood and 20 miles from Jenny's Stockade. The robbers had made a prisoner of the station master and tender and when the stage arrived with passengers and treasure box a battle started. The stage messenger, Gale Hill, was shot, and the others kept the shooting warm until the bandits overcame them. The treasure box, loaded with gold dust and jewelry, was chiseled open and the robbers made away with the contents. During the hold-up, one man, named Campbell, a telegraph operator, was killed.

This hold-up caused excitement and a subsequent chase covering several states as well as the Wyoming territory, but aside from one of the bandits, named Goodall, who also later escaped, none was ever captured for this offense. However, all were known and were either later killed or served long prison terms for other crimes.

This was only one of the many experiences in Mr. Sullivan's life as stage driver. Another time in 1876, Indians attempted to hold up the stage, but Mr. Sullivan outwitted them and finally got the stage and its cargo safely through. During a hand-to-hand battle in this instance Sullivan was hit over the head with a bow by one of the Indians, leaving a scar which he carried to his death.

During his stage-driving career, Mr. Sullivan met and became well acquainted with many prominent and notable persons of the pioneer years. Among these were listed the late Senator John B. Kendrick, Russell Thorp, Sr., "Wild Bill" Hickok, Calamity Jane, George Lathrop, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Seth Bullock, Jack McCall (who killed Hickok and was hanged for the crime at Yankton, Dakota), A.A. Spauch, who now, resides at Manville; "California Joe", Fred Harvey, Joe Elliott, Fred Coats, as well as numerous others. Such Indian chiefs as Sitting Bull, Gray Eagle, Red Cloud, Black Hawk, Wounded Knee, as well as others of less importance, also were among his acquaintances.

In 1879, Mr. Sullivan, after the stage line was discontinued, went back to Dakota Territory and accepted a job as fireman on the Missouri River steamer "Black Hills," which plied between Yankton, Dakota Territory, and Fort Benton, Mont. The following year he worked on the C.W. and S.P. railroad from Yankton Mitchell, Dakota territory.

Early in the 80's, Mr. Sullivan came back to Wyoming Territory, and worked several years in the Silver Cliff mines, and his residence in this locality has dated from that period.

He had some political life to add to the many diversified experiences of the early years in this country, and in 1887 was appointed under sheriff by S. K. Sharpless of Cheyenne. This office he held for three years. He was later elected justice of the peace in Lusk and held this office for two terms.

After his fling at politics, Mr. Sullivan secured employment with the C.B. and Q. railroad and was one of the surveyors while the route was being chosen through northern Wyoming. He worked out of Newcastle on this job and later helped with the building of that town, hauling stone with which the first stone structure was built. It was after this that he came to Lusk to make his home with his family. Mrs. Sullivan had homesteaded on a place about six miles north of Lusk. Since about that time, about 1893, Mr. Sullivan has resided in this locality almost continuously and up until his death operated a cattle-raising ranch.

The Lusk museum, located on the rear of the Standard Service station here, was constructed several years ago of logs which Mr. Sullivan donated from his place. Inside the museum is the stagecoach of which he was driver in the '70's.

One of the outstanding characteristics Mr. Sullivan had for years, was his ability, despite his advancing years, to walk in to Lusk from his ranch. Hale and hearty for the most part, he preferred this to riding with someone in a wagon or automobile, and was often referred to as the champion pedestrian rancher. His trips to Lusk were not infrequent, either, and he could out-walk men many years his junior. In earlier life in the west, Mr. Sullivan attracted widespread attention as a runner and for years was known as "Deer Foot," fastest runner in the territory. He once told friends he had made $1700 at the racing sport.

A year and a half ago, Mr. Sullivan was besieged with influenza and this left him in considerably weakened condition for many months afterwards. However, since last fall he had enjoyed good health again, and frequently visited with friends in Lusk. He seldom forgot to wear the familiar handkerchief around his neck, regardless of where he was or what he was doing, and it was by this emblem that he was distinguished by many who scarcely knew him.

Mr. Sullivan was a staunch follower of the Democratic party and for some years took an active part in its campaigns. He was a true follower of President Roosevelt, and the writer has often enjoyed many political discussions with him during recent years.

He was an easy-going, kindly, considerate individual, with an enviable personality, and for those whose privilege it was to know him, there arose a feeling of companionship and association difficult to describe. His passing brings grief not only to the members of his family, but to one of the widest circles of friends any man has ever had. They will always remember Fred Sullivan with a high degree of respect and admiration, because he was a true pioneer, a real friend and a good man.



The Lusk Herald
October 7, 1971
30 Years Ago - October 2, 1941

Fred Sullivan, pioneer stage driver and a resident of Wyoming since 1870, died Sunday morning, Sept. 28, at the age of 85.




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