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Buy a 'Wild West' town for less than half a million dollars

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Gallery: Town of Swett for sale for $399,000
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Swett Tavern, the heart of the town.

Swett Tavern, the heart of the town.

If you've ever dreamed of owning your own town, you'll find your shot south of the Badlands.

For $399,000 you can own Swett, a teeny tiny town of just two residents --owner Lance Benson and his wife—about 70 miles outside the Badlands in South Dakota. The price tag includes more than 6 acres of prairie land, a garage-turned-tire-shop, a home, three trailers and the pride of Swett, its bar. (Click here or on a photo to go to a slideshow.)

Swett Tavern, a local watering hole that’s been a gathering place for decades, carries the town’s name for good reason: It basically is Swett.

The town’s owners have changed a handful of times. Its grocery store came and went, along with a 1932 post office, owned by a farmer named Swett. Most of its population, which only ever amassed about 40 people at its peak in the 1940s, fled to bigger cities. Their homes are gone now too.

But the tavern has stayed, a stone’s throw off Highway 18 with its back against the tall prairie grasses, for “as long as anyone can remember,” says listing agent Stacie Montgomery of Coldwell Banker Lewis Kirkeby Hall.

Click a photo to go to a slideshow.

Click a photo to go to a slideshow.

Gerry Runnels' grandfather drank there, his father played keno there and he, at the tender age of 7, first learned to play pool there.

"This place is pretty much where the highway ends and the Wild West begins," 47-year-old Runnels told the Rapid City Journal, the newspaper from Swett’s nearest city -- almost three hours away by car.

The tavern regularly brings in local cowboys, pheasant hunters and wheat growers. It had a reputation of being a rough-and-tumble kind of place, but Benson cleaned that up when he bought the town in 1998.

Now "you can come in and have a meal with your family rather than defend your family," fourth-generation patron Ray Runnels, Gerry's 27-year-old nephew, told the Journal. (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow with pictures of the tavern and the rest of Swett.)

Quotability runs in the Runnels family. Gerry also told the Journal that when a visiting Seattle friend  observed that Swett looked like "a good place to be killed," Runnels replied: "You could be killed anywhere, Randy. You could get killed at home feeding your furless cats. At least here it will be exciting." And an Oklahoman passing through town said that "you need a Bowie knife to get in this place and a chainsaw to get out," Runnels claimed.

Benson loves the town, but decided to sell it, along with his home, to focus on his traveling concession business, he told the Journal. Yahoo Homes could not reach Benson for comment.

Although you can buy Swett, you really can’t walk around calling yourself mayor. Swett is unincorporated, and it’s likely to remain that way. According to South Dakota state code, you need at least 100 people or 30 registered voters to register as a municipality.

There is one loophole: You can incorporate with just one person by forming a municipality for historical and educational purposes.

But the only tidbit of much historical significance that Montgomery could dig up was the town’s fleeting salute on the TV show “Hee Haw” in the 1970s. Its population at the time: 7.

Click here or on a photo for a slideshow and more details.

Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host, and managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.

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