20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota

Larry Holzwarth - August 26, 2018

It could easily have become another western ghost town, having burned nearly to the ground on three separate occasions. But it rebuilt each time, its citizens restoring their home and businesses. Its history is liberally littered with the famous and the infamous personages who called it their home, though some were there but a short time. Al Swearingen, George Hearst, Seth Bullock, James Butler Hickok – better known as Wild Bill – Bill Cody and many more legends walked its muddy streets. So did Martha Jane Cannary, about whom even the spelling of her name is disputed, who became famous as Calamity Jane, creating a personal history of which there is little proof, and much debate.

Deadwood was named for the dead trees found in the gulch in which the illegal settlement began in the 1870s. The Black Hills had been set aside as the land of the Lakota people, but when gold was discovered during an expedition to the area led by George Armstrong Custer the white settlers and prospectors poured into the region. By the time of Custer’s demise in the Montana territory there were nearly 5,000 settlers and prospectors in Deadwood. Law was a matter of personal opinion, and the town quickly developed a reputation for lawlessness. Gambling, prostitution, liquor, and narcotics were all freely available in the town during its heyday as a mining town, a period which was relatively short.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The mining camp known as Deadwood Gulch, in a photograph taken in 1876. National Archives

Here are some true events and persons which made Deadwood, South Dakota, one of the legendary towns of the days of America’s Wild West.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
This drawing appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and was described as “Sunday Scene in Deadwood in September, 1877. Wikimedia

The Black Hills Gold Rush

Rumors of gold in the Black Hills had been bandied about for decades before George Armstrong Custer’s expedition confirmed its existence around French Creek near present day Custer, South Dakota. As miners and prospectors poured into the area placer gold – gold which had eroded from a vein – was discovered near Deadwood and Whitewood Creeks in the fall of 1875. By the following spring the mining camp of Deadwood Gulch was becoming the town of Deadwood, and with nearly all of the land around the creeks where the gold was discovered claimed by miners, other services began to appear in the camp, including saloons, brothels, and gambling halls.

The source of the placer gold which was easily extracted by the prospectors was found in nearby Lead by four men in April, 1876. The party established their claim, which they named Homestake, and began mining the gold the following year. Over the next century and a quarter roughly 10% of the gold supply in the world was extracted from the Homestake mine, which remained in operation until 2002. At the time of its closing it was the largest and deepest gold mine in the United States, producing more than 40 million troy ounces of gold over its lifetime. By contrast, the placer deposits around Deadwood and Whitewood Creeks were quickly exhausted.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The Gayville section of Deadwood Gulch, as it appeared in 1876. Wikimedia

Colorado Charlie Utter

Charlie Utter was born near Niagara Falls and spent most of his youth in Illinois before moving west, where he at some point met and befriended James Butler Hickok. Charlie was a trapper and sometime guide in Colorado when he heard of the gold strike in the Black Hills, and with his brother Steve he organized a wagon train to transport what he believed to be needed commodities to the mining camps. These included prostitutes and gamblers to relieve the more successful prospectors of their gold. The brothers departed Georgetown, Colorado, in the spring of 1876, and when the wagon train arrived at Cheyenne, Wyoming, they were joined by Hickok and several more hoping to strike it rich in Deadwood.

A working woman and self-claimed former army scout named Martha Jane Cannary joined the group as it passed through Fort Laramie. Known as Calamity Jane throughout the territory, Cannary had a penchant for dressing in men’s clothes, and had in the past worked as a cook, a dance hall girl, a prostitute, a teamster, and other assorted professions. Years later, army officers testified that her claims to have served as an army scout were false, and that she had never served the army in any official capacity. When she joined the Utter’s wagon train she met Hickok for the first time, despite her later claims to have known him for many years.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
A cabinet card photograph of Wild Bill Hickok taken in 1873, three years before he made his fateful trip to Deadwood. Wikimedia

Hickok and Utter become business partners

At some point during the journey from Fort Laramie Hickok and Utter became partners in the wagon train. Utter had known Wild Bill for many years, and was aware of the latter’s propensity for getting into trouble over cards and drinking. Utter took it upon himself to look after Hickok once the wagon train arrived at Deadwood. Both men were dandies in their manner of dress and grooming, though Utter took it a level beyond that of Hickok, bathing daily, and always maintaining a meticulously groomed appearance. Utter never allowed anyone to enter his tent when encamped, and in which he kept luxurious blankets, rather than the coarse woolen blankets common on the frontier.

The wagon train, which also carried the notorious madam Madame Mustache – so-called because of a fine line of dark hair upon her upper lip, arrived in Deadwood in July, as was announced in the Black Hills Pioneer edition of July 15. Utter set up a business to deliver mail to and from Cheyenne, at the cost of twenty-five cents per letter. Hickok set himself up as a gambler, spending most of his time in saloons, of which Deadwood already had several. Calamity Jane often followed Hickok, who had little use for her, and made his disdain for her and her appearance well known about town. Not until after he was dead would Calamity Jane claim that they had once been married, yet another of the many falsehoods she created about herself and her career.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
After this original stone marker for Hickok’s grave was damaged by vandals and souvenir seekers it was replaced with a bronze marker, faithful to the original. Library of Congress

The Murder of Wild Bill Hickok

On August 1, 1876, Wild Bill was gambling at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon when a drunken Jack McCall joined the game and began losing heavily. When McCall lost most of his money and could no longer cover his bets, none of the other players would extend him any credit. Hickok told him to get something to eat and offered him some money to pay for a meal. Although McCall took Hickok’s money he apparently considered the manner in which it was offered to be insulting. Hickok and the others continued the game. McCall sulked over his perceived insult until the following day.

The next day Hickok was drinking at the bar in Nuttal and Mann’s when he was invited to join another game, at which the only open seat had its back to the door. Hickok’s habit was to face the door, and he twice asked to exchange seats with another player, who refused. While they were playing, McCall entered the saloon and shot Hickok once, in the back of his head, with the bullet exiting through the victim’s cheek. McCall fled, tried to steal a horse but fell from it, and was found hiding behind a butcher shop. Hickok was killed instantly, although some attempts were made to revive him. He had been playing stud poker, and his four displayed cards were black aces and eights, but there are varying reports of what his hole card had been. Nuttal and Mann’s later became Saloon #10.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Calamity Jane, seen here at Hickok’s grave in the 1890s, claimed to have pursued his killer while wielding a meat cleaver. Wikimedia

The Trials of Jack McCall

The day after murdering Hickok, McCall was brought before an impromptu court of leading businessmen and miners filling the roles of judge, jury, and prosecutor. McCall presented the defense that he had acted in revenge, since Hickok had killed his brother years earlier. McCall claimed that Hickok had killed his brother while in Abilene, which may have been true, according to some accounts. The court debated for just over two hours before finding McCall not guilty of murder, despite the fact that Hickok never saw his killer approach and had no opportunity of defending himself. McCall was allowed to go free, and fearing for his safety in Deadwood, the killer left for the Wyoming Territory.

In Wyoming he openly bragged about killing Hickok, and when word of how the event transpired reached authorities there, he was arrested and charged with the murder again. Federal authorities cited that there was no double jeopardy because Deadwood was itself an illegal entity (on Indian land), and thus had no authority in the law. McCall was tried for the murder in Yankton, Dakota Territory, and found guilty of murder, for which he was hanged on March 1, 1877. Hickok was buried in Deadwood’s Mount Moriah cemetery. McCall was buried in Yankton, the rope still around his neck.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
General George Crook led his troops in pursuit of Indians from the Little Big Horn on what they named the Horsemeat March. Library of Congress

The Horsemeat March

Residents of Deadwood were shocked to learn of the disaster which befell Custer and his command at the Little Big Horn in the summer of 1876. General George Crook chased the withdrawing Sioux into the Black Hills in the immediate aftermath of the battle. The troops were poorly equipped and with inadequate rations, struggling through often muddy conditions as the summer wore on. This led them to butcher horses and mules which grew lame on the march for their meat. The expedition became known as the Horsemeat March in the lore of the troopers who endured it. Many troopers were lost to disease and starvation as the march went on.

On September 8, Crook dispatched troops to Deadwood to pick up additional supplies which he had requested to be transported there. The following day this command attacked an Oglala village it encountered near Slim Buttes. Reinforced by additional troops, the troops drove the Oglala from the village, and discovered a cache of dried meat which the Indians had been preparing to provide food through the coming winter. Following the battle at Slim Buttes troops from Crook’s command entered Deadwood and were resupplied, ending the Horsemeat March, but not the continuing war with the Sioux.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Calamity Jane occasionally worked as a prostitute in and out of Deadwood, as well as a dishwasher and cook in brothels. Wikimedia

The Queen of the Blondes

Shortly after the gold rush which brought Deadwood’s population to nearly five thousand people there appeared an establishment on Sherman Street run by Mollie Johnson, who became known about town as the Queen of the Blondes. Mollie employed at least three young blonde women in her establishment, which was a brothel and saloon. Mollie was both Madam and a working prostitute, and was one of Deadwood’s best known business persons, with the brothel she operated referred to as a naughty house by the local press, or as a house for naughty men. She was just one of several madams who plied their trade openly despite the growing presence of other women.

In the early days of the camp, prostitution was practiced in the tents and mining shacks. As the town grew and prospered several elaborate brothels were established, which competed with each other as much in the recruiting of women as in the appeal to men. The Queen of the Blondes maintained high standards of appearance and cleanliness among her employees, and demanded the same of the male customers who patronized her businesses. As with other businesses which lost their buildings in the fire of 1879, Mollie rebuilt and remained in operation. Sometime around 1883, Mollie Johnson left Deadwood and vanished from history.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Part of Deadwood about a decade after the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. Library of Congress

The beginning of law and order

When Hickok was murdered the leading businessmen of the town decided that a more aggressive policing of the growing town was necessary. They turned to a recent arrival, who had been a sheriff in the Montana Territory, and had come to Deadwood to establish a hardware store. Seth Bullock thus became the first sheriff of the town. One of his earliest tasks as the new sheriff was to inform Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp that the town did not need his services as sheriff, and Earp returned to his office in Dodge City. Bullock used the profits from his hardware store and proceeds from his job to purchase ranchland in what soon became Belle Fourche.

Bullock eventually lost the hardware store to fire, and rather than rebuild it he and his partner built a 63 room luxury hotel on the site, which they dubbed the Bullock Hotel. Seth Bullock met and became close friends with Theodore Roosevelt during one of the future president’s many visits to the Dakota Territory, and their friendship led to several appointments for Bullock as Roosevelt rose in political influence, including Bullock becoming the first supervisor of the Black Hills Forestry Reserve. Bullock was instrumental in founding the town of Belle Fourche and the completion of the railhead there which made the town the largest livestock railhead in the country.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The Gem Theater and Dance Hall about 1878, one of Deadwood’s most notorious establishments. Wikimedia

Al Swearengen

Al Swearengen arrived in Deadwood in the spring of 1876, intent not on mining gold but on taking money from the miners. His first venture was a tent theater and brothel, which he called the Cricket. At the Cricket Swearengen hosted prize fights for the entertainment of his patrons, though the winner of the fight received no prize. Often they were forced to fight by Swearengen to pay off gambling debts and bar tabs. Calamity Jane worked for Swearengen beginning shortly after her arrival in Deadwood in July of 1876, as a dancer and as a recruiter of young women to work in the brothel which Swearengen operated out of his saloon.

Calamity Jane recruited women in Nebraska and Wyoming for her boss, who paid her in liquor and hard money. It was Swearengen’s habit to pay for the young women’s transportation to Deadwood, where they were led to believe they would be working as waitresses, dancers, and other occupations. Once in Deadwood with little or no money nor place to stay, Swearengen forced them into prostitution. With few other options, most of the women were forced to comply. Swearengen paid them just enough to allow them to live, and kept them until they could no longer meet their quotas, when they were unceremoniously fired.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The Deadwood Coach, carrying what appear to be businessmen in the coach and on the roof, circa 1889. Library of Congress

The Gem Theater and Saloon

Swearengen’s operations at the Cricket were so lucrative that he was able to close it in 1877, opening the much larger facility which he called the Gem Variety Theater in the spring of that year on Wall Street where it intersected Main. He continued the entertainments which he had featured at the Cricket, on a much larger scale, and recruited a band to play nightly, advertising the services offered at the Gem. Swearengen was well known for the ruthlessness with which he treated the young women whom he brought to his establishment on false pretenses, including beatings and making them more tractable by providing them with opium.

The Gem often brought Swearengen as much as $10,000 a night, funds which he used to increase his power in the town and his influence over the emerging government. Many of the women he brought to Deadwood ended up on the street after their usefulness to him was over, forcing them to continue a life as a prostitute and often an addict until disease or starvation brought their lives to an end. There was also the constant threat of beatings and even falling victim to murder at the hands of Swearengen’s men. Despite efforts by the town leaders to clean up the vice in Deadwood, Swearengen remained for a time immune, protected by his henchmen and his money.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Seth Bullock was unable to penetrate the alliances formed by Al Swearengen with other businessmen and politicians which protected Swearengen’s activities from the law. Library of Congress

Violence at the Gem Theater

Prostitutes at the Gem Theater had more to fear than just Al Swearengen and his men. The patrons were for the most part miners, prospectors, gamblers, card sharps, and transient gunslingers. Many of the latter were often hired to protect the gold shipments leaving Deadwood and the Homestake in Lead, en route to Denver. Prostitutes were often beaten by the patrons, either in drunken rages or simply for the sport of it, and Swearengen’s men only erratically intervened on their behalf. The gambling floor was often the scene of drunken brawls and gunfire; it was a rare night when violence did not occur in the theater, and there were numerous fatalities there.

That Swearengen was a violent man is attested by the fact that all three of his wives divorced him, all of them citing physical violence on his part. In the summer of 1879 the Gem was damaged by fire, and then mostly destroyed in the fire which burned down most of Deadwood in September of that year. Swearengen rebuilt it both times, making in larger and more opulent each time. In 1899 it burned down yet again, and Swearengen lacked the funds to rebuild. Broke, he left Deadwood. He was found dead on a Denver street in 1904, his corpse revealing a severe head wound. Two months earlier his brother had been shot five times (with $200 in his pocket) but not robbed, indicating the attackers may have believed he was Al.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
This version of the Bullock Hotel, replacing one destroyed in the firs of 1894, housed Deadwood’s last working brothel on the second floor. Wikimedia

The Great Fire of 1879

In the early days of the construction of Deadwood, few buildings were erected of brick or stone. The tent and pole structures which marked the arrival of the camp were quickly replaced with wood frame buildings, with the Black Hills providing an abundant supply of lumber, mostly pine. On Thursday, September 25, 1879, a coal oil lamp was knocked over in a bakery on Sherman Street. Deadwood had by then a fire brigade of volunteers, and they arrived at the scene quickly, only to find the bakery completely engulfed, and the fire already spreading to adjoining buildings. Many of the wood frame structures were lined on the inside with canvas, helping to insulate them. The canvas burned quickly.

After the fire spread across the street it ignited a hardware store, in which gunpowder was stored, leading to an explosion and raining embers landing on the roofs and porches of other structures. Even the few buildings built of brick found their roofs and interiors bursting into flames. The only method to stop the fire was to destroy buildings in the path of its spread, in the hope of containing the blaze. In the end more than 200 buildings, $2 million worth of goods and property (about $48 million today) were destroyed and much of the population homeless, penniless, and hopeless. There was only one fatality, a deaf man who slept through the fire alarms.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The coming of the railroad called for a celebratory parade in 1888. Wikimedia

The aftermath of the Great Fire

When Deadwood burned, the majority of the population were left stunned and often homeless. Many residents had moved their personal property out of the path of the fire, leaving it unprotected and subject to looting, which of course led to fights and gunfire. The authorities ordered the saloons which had not burned down closed, after observing the increase of drunken behavior in the days after the fire, as broken men turned to liquor to assuage their sorrows. The fire destroyed records of the earliest days of the camp, as well as changing the appearance of Deadwood forever. New structures were built primarily of brick and mortar.

Deadwood survived another major fire in 1894, which destroyed a large portion of the central business district. According to the Pioneer Times the fire started in a boarding house on Main Street, “patronized by a careless and heedless element.” Once again the city was rebuilt, though in the aftermath of each fire many of the population left to try their luck elsewhere. Deadwood also faced the threat of forest fires, which appeared in the fall of 1893 and endangered the town, as well as the nearby town of Lead. True to its name Deadwood has faced the disaster of fires many times in its history, and each time has rebuilt from the embers.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Many of the details of Calamity Jane’s life were created by her, unsupported by evidence, and contradicted by her contemporaries and later historians. Wikemedia

Who was Calamity Jane?

There are many myths and legends surrounding Calamity Jane, most of them created by her, and many of them in conflict. She claimed to have been married at one time to Wild Bill Hickok, the only evidence of which is a bible which contains their names and those of witnesses, produced many years after Hickok’s death. She claimed to have been a scout for the army, a claim refuted by officers who were on the same campaign, who denied she had any involvement with the army, other than working at a comfort camp near Fort Hays, Kansas. She was married twice, and evidence is that she had two daughters, but the letters allegedly from her to her daughters are disputed as it is evident that she could neither read nor write.

What is known is that she died after becoming ill on a coal train to Terry, South Dakota. She was taken to the Calloway Hotel in Terry by the train’s conductor, who paid for the room since Jane was destitute. After she died her funeral arrangements were undertaken by four men, though another account claims her funeral and burial arrangements were prearranged by Calamity herself. In death as in life myth and falsehoods are mixed irretrievably. Jane was buried in Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery, alongside James Butler Hickok. The full truth about Calamity Jane will likely never be known, and for many people her legend is too entertaining to consider any alternative.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Nat Love, one of several to claimed to be the original Deadwood Dick, a name created by a writer of pulp fiction for one of his characters. Wikimedia

Deadwood Dick

The original Deadwood Dick was an entirely fictional character, created by Edward Lytton Wheeler in a series of cheap novels, known as dime novels, in the late nineteenth century. Wheeler never visited the Black Hills, never walked the streets of Deadwood, and spent most of his career as a writer of dime novels and plays in Philadelphia. In the months after the Custer defeat at the Little Big Horn, the general public was entranced by the Black Hills, and Deadwood Dick became wildly popular. Wheeler wrote more than thirty novels featuring the character, about half of which also featured Calamity Jane, after Wheeler met her through Buffalo Bill Cody.

The moniker – probably due to its alliteration – became popular as well, and several real-life characters chose to adopt it, most of them either con artists or political aspirants. Probably the most well-known Deadwood Dick of his day was Frank Palmer, who actually went to Deadwood and supported himself there by gambling. His obituary claims he was dubbed Deadwood Dick by fellow gamblers, though the nature of gambling at the time, during the heyday of Deadwood’s lawless years, makes such a friendly christening unlikely. Deadwood Dick was reinvented as a film serial in the 1940s, as a masked hero a la the Lone Ranger, in pursuit of law and justice on the Dakota frontier.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
The small town of Deadwood was one of the first of its size to become illuminated with Edison’s electric lightbulbs. Wikimedia

The Pilcher Electric Light Company

In 1879 in far off New Jersey, at a place known as Menlo Park, Thomas Edison demonstrated the first practical electric light bulb, a means of illumination which offered safety benefits over the use of coal oil and candles for illumination. An enterprising and far-seeing Deadwood citizen, Judge Squire Romans, teamed with two others to bring the new marvel of electric illumination to the frontier. After gaining the necessary right of ways and bringing an Edison generator to the town, Romans obtained fifteen lighting fixtures to demonstrate in Deadwood. The demonstration was a success and the Pilcher Electric Light Company was born, determined to illuminate the businesses, homes, and streets of Deadwood.

At the time, the equipment necessary to provide the electrical power to the lights was still unreliable, and the bulbs often flickered as the voltage varied. Lights increased and decreased in illumination, and at a time when electricity was still little understood by most it was considered both magical and a bit dangerous. But its advantages were seen by many. Thus only four years after Edison demonstrated the practicality of electric lighting Deadwood, more than 1800 miles to the west of Menlo Park, had electric lighting installed in its streets. The town was illuminated before several neighborhoods of major eastern cities received electric lights.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood and its more famous citizens have been portrayed on film and television for decades, including Carol Burnett and Calamity Jane in 1963. Wikimedia

Deadwood in film

Because of its association with several legendary western heroes, Deadwood has appeared in film regularly since the silent film era. Calamity Jane has been portrayed by Jean Arthur, Yvonne deCarlo, Doris Day, Anjelica Huston and Ellen Barkin, to name just a few. Her character has been romanced by Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, and Howard Keel, among many others. Hickok was also portrayed by Josh Brolin, Robert Culp, Forrest Tucker, Jeff Bridges and Sam Elliott. Other characters from Deadwood’s history have been regularly portrayed in film and television, including Bill Cody, Al Swearengen, Charlie Utter, Seth Bullock, and many others.

The town has also appeared in comic books and animated shorts, including an episode of Quick Draw McGraw, which featured a gunslinger named Wild Bill Hiccup. Hickok is indelibly linked with the town in which he is buried, though he spent just a few short weeks there in the summer of 1876 before he was killed. Likewise, Hickok and Calamity Jane are forever linked in the mythology of the west, through the depiction of their relationship in film and on television, though the best evidence indicates that they only met when Jane joined the wagon train which carried Hickok to Deadwood and his destiny.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Another Deadwood parade, in celebration of the building of the largest gold and silver reduction works in the world in 1888. Library of Congress

Deadwood becomes civilized

In the mid-1880s, the mining of gold shifted to deep shaft mining as the placer lodes were played out. Individual prospectors moved on to other strikes, and other ores, such as copper in Montana and silver in Nevada. Labor organization began to make itself apparent. The civilizing influence of mothers and children, schools and churches, and political reform began to drive out the gunslingers, pimps, drug traffickers, and other evil influences. Deadwood became a town of prosperous businesses, supported by its own narrow gauge railroad, electric lighting, and relative law and order. The threat from the Sioux vanished, and they became part of a burgeoning tourist industry, fed in part by interest generated by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Frontier Deadwood did not go easily into the dark night. When Calamity Jane returned to the area in 1903 she found employment and shelter at one of Dora DuFran’s brothels for a time. Dora continued to operate brothels in Deadwood and nearby Belle Fourche until 1909, when she left the town and moved to Rapid City following the death of her husband. In 1889, the Dakota Territory became the states of North and South Dakota. The following year saw the death of Sitting Bull and the final pacification of the Sioux. Deadwood, no longer just a mining town but with many miners residing there, became a business and commercial center.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood’s City Hall, the symbol of legal authority, in 1890. Library of Congress

Deadwood’s Chinatown

During the 1870s a section of Main Street in Deadwood was referred to by white residents as the Badlands. It was the section of town which was mostly populated by Chinese immigrants. Many of them went to Deadwood because recent actions in the gold fields and mines of California had limited their ability to work there. Others came after working for the Central Pacific Railroad. Some worked in the placer gold fields, establishing their own claims, as did Fee Lee Wong. Others established service industries, including launderies. The Chinese launderers filtered the water used to wash miner’s clothes, recovering the gold dust which washed off.

By 1898 there were 11 restaurants listed in the Deadwood city directory, seven of them owned by Chinese. Other Chinese were employed in white owned businesses and as house servants, gardeners, waiters, blacksmiths, cooks, and as prostitutes in the brothels. Some opened opium dens, with the opium trade until 1899 controlled by Al Swearengen. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, severely limiting Chinese immigration to the United States, and the Chinese men living in Deadwood and elsewhere in America found their prospects for marriage limited. Deadwood’s Chinatown did not survive into the 21st century, and little remnants of the Chinese community remain.

20 Events and People of the Real Deadwood, South Dakota
A photograph of Deadwood taken in the last decade of the nineteenth century shows the growth sustained in less than a quarter century, Library of Congress

Deadwood in the twentieth century

Prohibition shut down the formerly legal saloons in Deadwood, as it did in the rest of the country, but had little effect on the actual drinking business, which continued to flourish. Gambling too became illegal during the 1920s, but as elsewhere the gaming business continued to roar, albeit behind closed doors. Rising moralism and reform threatened the prostitution business in newspapers, pulpits, and political venues and by the 1940s it too was under attack, though legal gambling returned with the repeal of prohibition. In 1947 gambling was again made illegal. The state cracked down on the brothels and prostitution in the 1950s, closing most of them, though at least one remained open into the 1980s.

Through the 1960s-70s, Deadwood relied on its past and the attraction of other nearby landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore, to build upon tourism. The death of Wild Bill Hickok and the legends of Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and many others were exploited by the town and the region to attract visitors to the area. In 1964 the city of Deadwood was designated a National Historic Landmark. In the 1980s Deadwood restored legal gambling, and casinos and gaming halls returned to the town, which retains its historic character while offering modern entertainment and services. The city which once contained nearly 10,000 residents is populated by less than 1,300 (as of the 2010 census), but still offers plenty of characters.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Gold in the Black Hills”, by Parker Watson, 1966

“Good Little Bad Man: The Life of Colorado Charlie Utter”, by Agnes Wright Spring, 1987

“Calamity Jane’s Diary and Letters: Story of a Fraud”, by James D. McLaird, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Autumn-Winter, 1995

“Gunfighters of the Real West”, Ducksters.

“Jack McCall and the Murder of Wild Bill Hickok”, by Black Hills Visitor Magazine.

“Slim Buttes, 1876: An Episode of the Great Sioux War”, by Jerome A. Greene, 1982

“Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women”, by Michael Rutter, 2015

“Seth Bullock: Black Hills Lawman”, by David A. Wolff, 2009

“The Real Deadwood’, by John Edwards Ames, 2004

“Deadwood: The Golden Years”, by Watson Parker, 1981

“Swearengen likely murdered, research indicates”, by Tom Lawrence, Black Hills Pioneer, July 24, 2007

“The great fire of Deadwood”, by Kaija Swisher, Black Hills Pioneer, April 18, 2014

“Deadwood History Written in Flames”, by Deadwood Magazine, 2002, online

“The Calamity Papers: Western Myths and Cold Cases”, by Dale L. Walker, 2004

Albert Johannsen, The House of Beadle & Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels: The Story of a Vanished Literature, 1950

“Wild Bill Hickok: The Man and his Myth”, by Joseph G. Rosa, 1996

“Pioneer Days in the Black Hills”, by John S. McClintock, 1939

“Deadwood’s Lost Chinatown”, by Bill Markley, True West Magazine, June 1, 2006

“The Town that Took a Chance”, by Geoffrey Perret, American Heritage Magazine, April/May 2005