Solomon Star – A Natural Deadwood Leader

Sol Star

Solomon Star was one of the most astute businessmen in Deadwood, South Dakota. Photo courtesy Adams Museum.

Solomon Star, more familiarly called “Sol,” was born in Bavaria on December 20, 1840, to Marcus and Minnie Friedlander Star.  When he was just ten-years-old, he was sent to live with his Uncle Joseph Friedlander, an Ohio garment merchant, where he worked in his uncle’s business and went to school until 1857. He then went to work as a clerk in a general store. When the Civil War broke out he went to Missouri, where he again worked in the retail business.

Next, he headed to Montana where he opened a store in Virginia City in 1865, which he operated until 1872 when he was appointed by President Grant to be Receiver of the Land Office at Helena, Montana. While in Helena, he met Seth Bullock and the two started up not only a hardware store but a lifetime friendship. While living in Montana, Star also distinguished himself in public service as a territorial auditor and personal secretary to the governor.

When gold was discovered in the Black Hills and the mining camp of Deadwood began to boom, the pair saw an irresistible opportunity for their hardware business. They soon loaded up their goods in wagons lead by ox teams and started across Sioux territory to Deadwood.

Arriving in the bustling mining camp on August 1, 1876, with their wagons filled with hardware goods, including picks, pans, shovels, dynamite, cooking utensils, and more, Seth and Sol immediately set up their hardware store in a tent. Later, the entrepreneurial pair bought a lot and built a false front building at the corner of Main and Wall Streets to house their business and soon expanded to also carry furniture, wallpaper, lamps, and other household items in addition to hardware.

Star and Bullock were both involved in the political life of Deadwood almost from their arrival. Bullock, who had been in law enforcement in Montana, became the first Sheriff of Lawrence County and subsequently, a United States Marshal for the region. Both served as councilmen for the city. In 1878, Star was appointed as the city’s postmaster, a position he held for three years. Unfortunately, during his tenure as a postmaster, there was a scandal involving misappropriation of government money which forced him to resign. Though Star was ultimately acquitted of any wrongdoing, the whole affair had marred his reputation and he spent the next several years working hard to restore his image as an honest public servant.

Star & Bullock Hardware Store on the corner of Wall and Main Streets, 1877. Colorized

Star & Bullock Hardware Store on the corner of Wall and Main Streets, 1877. Touch of color LOA.

The pair continued to expand their business activities, including investing in some of the area mining ventures. In 1879 they bought several individual homesteads from area farmers and ranchers, combining them to create the SB (Star and Bullock) Ranch in nearby Belle Fourche. Primarily run by Bullock, an avid horseman, the SB ranch engaged in the livestock business, as well as horse breeding, and the first crop of alfalfa planted in the Dakota Territory. In 1880, they formed the Deadwood Flouring Mill Company with Harris Franklin, and Star took on the role of its manager.

Star was just one of many Jews in Deadwood, though the town had no official synagogue or Rabbi. However, a lay leader named Nathan Colman conducted Jewish services for the community in various locations, for which Star was an avid participant. Interestingly, about one-third of all of Deadwood’s early businesses were owned or occupied by Jewish merchants.

Continuing with his political ambitions, Star was elected Mayor of Deadwood in 1884, a position he held until 1893.

During this time, when the territory was actively pushing for statehood in 1889, he became a member of the State Assembly and was chosen as the president of the first Republican state convention held in South Dakota to nominate its state officers.  In 1893, he was elected as a state Senator. After his two year term, he was again elected as Deadwood’s Mayor in 1896.

In 1899, he was elected as the Clerk of the Court for Lawrence County, a position that he held until his death in 1917.

Solomon Star in later years.

Solomon Star in later years. Photo courtesy City of Deadwood.

A 1901 publication, The Great Northwest and its Men of Progress described Sol Star thusly:

“Some men have a genius for popularity. With no effort on their part they become a sort of social or political center from which there seems to radiate an aroma of good fellowship, permeating the entire community. Frank and generous; genial in disposition; every ready with a helping hand for a fellow in distress; jovial and social, yet, in serious matters keen and penetrating; sound in judgment; full of resources in emergency; energy unbounded, and a public spirit ready for war in the interests of his town, country, or state. These are some of the characteristics of a naturally popular man.

The combination is not common, it is true, but it exists now and then, as if to demonstrate the possibilities of human nature. Solomon Star, of Deadwood, S.D., comes very near to this ideal, if his fellow-citizens who know him best are fair in their estimate of him.

From the very outset, with no public desire on his part, he became a leader. No public gathering was complete without his presence; no enterprise began without his active influence; no delegation left the “Hills” to a convention but Sol. Star was the animating spirit and “set the pace.” Without assuming superior wisdom or ability, he was spontaneously accorded a leadership, if not even a guiding hand. He never sought to use his popularity for his personal advantage, but for his friends he was a great power.

His peculiar influence in the Black Hills spread his name throughout the territory of Dakota , from Bismark to Yankton.”

Seth Bullock and Sol Star

Sol Star, left, and Seth Bullock on the Redwater Bridge, Belle Fourche at the time of a horse sale on the Star & Bullock Ranch, 1880s

Although some said that Star made at least one trip back East in search of a wife, he never married and lived alone at his ranch until his death on October 10, 1917.

His funeral was reportedly the largest and most extravagant ever held in Deadwood, some saying suitable for a President. Star’s body was transported to St. Louis, Missouri where he was laid to rest in New Mount Sinai Cemetery.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2019.

Also See:

Black Hills Historic Characters & Tales

Deadwood Timeline

Deadwood Vintage Photo Gallery

HBO’s Deadwood – Facts & Fiction

Rough & Tumble Deadwood

Seth Bullock – Finest Type of Frontiersman