Friday, August 15, 2014

History of Deadwood, SD

First, if you find the history of trains fascinating and you haven’t had a chance to read my article on Railroads Building the West, I invite you to visit Anna Markland’s site

Last week, hubby and I went on a motorcycle trip to South Dakota. I’d like to share some history of a town that we explored. The Black Hills of Dakota is a fascinating place to visit and so much of our western history can be relived there. We rode into an old western town that I couldn't resist writing about, Deadwood. 
The U.S. Government signed a treaty, giving the Black Hills ownership to the Lakota Sioux nation in 1868, ultimately leading to the US Cavalry killing 146 men, women and children near Wounded Knee Creek, which brought the Indian wars to an end. In 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills opening the door to miners rushing across a gulch filled with gold, hence, Deadwood was born. Overnight, the town boomed into a lawless, gold seekers’ utopia, attracting gamblers, outlaws, and gunslingers. 
Deadwood, SD 1874

One famous gunslinger was Wild Bill Hickok, looking for his fortune like everyone that rode into Deadwood. Along with him came Calamity Jane, a beer guzzling, foul-mouthed woman, spitting tobacco and wearing men’s clothing. Rumor was, she claimed to be in love with Wild Bill. Anyway, that’s another story in its own.

High above the Black Hills of Deadwood is Mount Moriah Cemetery, well worth a visit. Both Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried there, as well as other legends that left their legacies in the tiny Black Hills town of Deadwood. One person being, Jack McCall, the infamous murderer in Deadwood. As the story goes, McCall was drinking in the Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon where Hickok was playing cards. Without hesitating, he walked up and shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, shouting, “Damn you! Take that!” 

There’s a reenactment of the killing of Hickok and the capture of McCall during the summer evenings in Deadwood. 

   Buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery high above Deadwood.
Calamity Jane's grave

 Deadwood barely survived three fires that nearly turned it into an Old West Ghost Town. When gambling was legalized in 1989, Deadwood was once again reborn.

During the old western days, Deadwood was famous for its gold-filled creeks and gambling halls, including its hospitality. Prospecting and prostitution went hand and hand. Arriving in Deadwood via a wagon train was the infamous Madams Mustache and Dirty Em. The entire town folks lined the streets, clapping when the wagons rolled through. Brothels occupied the town of Deadwood until 1980. Federal authorizes shut down the remaining brothels, but not without a protest from the local supporters by a Main Street parade like the one the old timers gave Madam Mustache and Dirty Em.

There was a series on HBO called “Deadwood” that ran for three seasons. This show portrayed life during the harsh, early days of Deadwood.

Have you been to Deadwood? Or, the Black Hills of Dakota? What did you think about the HBO series “Deadwood”? I'd love to hear from you,



  1. Interesting place, Deadwood! I misses the series on HBO. I'll look for it on DVD. Glad you had a great trip! Zoom, zoom!

  2. Thanks Shelia for stopping by, hope your summer is a good one.

  3. Never been there, always wanted to! Thanks for the peek!

  4. I can't believe they didn't close the brothels until 1980. Wow! A very interesting blog, Judy. I love history.

  5. Thanks D'Ann and Sandy for stopping by.
    I know, Sandy, when I read the research to my hubby he had the same reaction.

  6. I love Deadwood. I'd enjoy a trip there because of the history. It's amazing how much these towns changed over the years. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Melissa, thanks for stopping by. There's so much more history I haven't mentioned that stories start to form in a writer's brain - you know how that goes.

  7. So what about Wild Bill and Calamity? Are rumors true...or are there deep, dark secrets to their lives?
    Thanks for the Deadwood tour!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Marianne, I doubt we'll ever know the true story of Wild Bill and Calamity's relationship - there's lots of speculations. Wild Bill did have a wife that's rarely mentioned, yet, Calamity Jane is the one buried next to him!


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