Yesterday’s Dakota Datebook told the story of Bismarck’s first cemetery and the 1903 unearthing of 13 bodies, one of which may have been Bismarck saloon owner Dave Mullen. In 1873, Dave Mullen was buried in the Fourth Street Cemetery, also known as Boot Hill cemetery, leaving behind a strange tale concerning his death.
In 1873, feuding between Bismarck’s gamblers and Fort Lincoln’s Seventh Calvary reached a fever pitch. At the center of the rivalry was a gang of roughs and gamblers led by Dave Mullen, who owned a saloon in Bismarck.
The gang found at Mullen & O’Neill’s Saloon was known for causing trouble, especially with the soldiers of Fort Lincoln. Dave himself was known for his short temper; he once hit a soldier with the butt of his gun after this same drunken soldier stumbled into Dave’s oyster stew. As time passed, tempers rose and the entire town of Bismarck waited anxiously for violence to erupt. The night of November 10, 1873 proved to be the breaking point. That night a member of Mullen & O’Neill’s Saloon gang shot and killed Thomas King, a local soldier.
The Bismarck Tribune reported the day after King’s murder, that Dave Mullen “gave his last dose of hush up” as he opened fire on unsuspecting soldiers. Mullen killed Private Dalton of the Seventh Calvary, before receiving a lethal bullet wound to the head. Dave Mullen was killed instantly by the soldiers of the Seventh Calvary.
This isn’t the only version of the story. Two newspapers in St. Paul, MN reported that it was Dave Mullen, not the soldiers of Fort Lincoln, who was the victim of surprise.
According to these papers, on the morning following King’s murder, 25 to 30 soldiers of the Seventh Calvary armed with needle guns woke Mullen and demanded entrance to Mullen & O’Neill’s Saloon. After agreeing he wouldn’t shoot, a drowsy Dave Mullen opened the door wearing nothing but his underwear.
He was met with gunfire, and killed instantly in the doorway to his own saloon. The Mullen & O’Neill gang shot and killed Private Dalton before the men disbanded.
Either way, Dave Mullen was dead, had possibly been killed with his boots on, and was buried in Boot Hill Cemetery. Dave’s rough friends gathered at his funeral to say their goodbyes, and a “parting God bless him (passed) from lips that seldom spoke the name of (God) except to curse.”
It is unknown whether or not Dave Mullen was one of the 13 bodies unearthed on Fourth Street, but this isn’t the only mystery surrounding Dave. We are left with questions like who fired first, Dave or the Seventh Calvary? And did Dave really die with his boots on, as would be appropriate in an Old West tale, or was he killed clad only in his underwear?
By Ann Erling
Saint Paul Daily Pioneer, Nov. 16, 1873
Saint Paul Daily Pioneer, Nov. 12, 1873
Saint Paul Daily Pioneer, Nov. 11, 1873
Saint Paul Daily Pioneer, Nov. 21, 1873
The Saint Paul Dispatch, Nov. 14, 1873
Bismarck Tribune, Oct. 9, 1903