I’m a sucker for history trips. Put it in a textbook and I might read it, but drop me on location so I can see it and smell it and touch it – I’m in love.
So when my honey, Joe, told me that Deadwood, South Dakota was part of our road trip plan, I couldn’t wait!
Deadwood: Final resting place of the notorious “Wild Bill” Hickcock. Town stage to other colorful characters like Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Poker Alice, and Potato Creek Johnny.
I was in Deadwood and ready to get my pioneering on! Ok, so we spent the first night gambling…
Behold the Midnight Star:
Deadwood, is oddly a bit of a celebrity pit stop. After filming Dances With Wolves nearby in the Black Hills, actor Kevin Costner actually opened up a casino in Deadwood called the Midnight Star. He also established Tatanka, an educational and interactive destination in Deadwood that depicts the story of bison and their role in Native American history. (Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to Tatanka, but I intend to go back to Deadwood someday.)
The casino is one of many that line the downtown streets of Deadwood. There’s the historic part on the end, and then as the street ascends it is casino after casino with little tourist shops in between. I had actually never gambled in an establishment before. Gotta tell you, it felt good letting Kevin Costner buy me wine for the night! 😉
The street level of the Midnight Star is where all the slots reside, and where Joe and I planted our butts dreaming of coin machine winnings and never returning to work again!
The upstairs contains costumes and memorabilia from several of Costner’s films including his recent History Channel special on the Hatfields and McCoys. But look what Joe and I found!
And now the story of Deadwood’s Elite:
The next day we visited the Adams Museum and took a Deadwood Tour, you guessed it, courtesy Kevin Costner again!
Sparing no expense, we traveled in style!
The streets of Deadwood today.
Leading downtown, is the “Original Saloon #10,” the supposed bar that Wild Bill was shot and killed in while playing poker. However, several of the bars in Deadwood do reenactments in the afternoon daily. You could, if you wanted, witness Wild Bill being killed more than once in the town of Deadwood.
Take a look at the handles on the doors!
Alright, alright…Wild Bill, originally named James Butler Hickok, was born in Illinois and started his career as a peace officer. When the Civil War broke out, Hickok took more determined authority and entered the army, acting as a scout and spy. From there, the stories unfolded and James became Wild Bill, a man so quick with his pistol, you best not upset him.
History tells us that Hickok was a great shot, but we can also denounce he was a bit of drinker and probably a little trigger happy. The man actually shot his own deputy after a street duel with another man. Hickok heard footsteps behind him, turned and shot, only to discover it was one of his own.
He moved to Deadwood in the late 1800’s, after bumming for years as a personal guide, spokesperson, and even theatrical member of the Buffalo Bill show. Deadwood at the time was a mining town, everyone looking for gold and no law to intervene on who’s gold it was. Hickok didn’t come to mine however, he came to gamble. But after only 3 weeks in Deadwood, Jack McCall shot Hickok in the back while playing a game of poker. He’s now buried on the top of Mount Moriah Cemetery (also known as Boot Hill Cemetery).
Buried next to Wild Bill is Calamity Jane. I admit, I didn’t know much of her story before coming to Deadwood. I heard the name and expected courageous tales of bravery and feminism! I was wanting to love her!
In truth, Jane was a hard edged woman, known as much for her drink as her accuracy with a shotgun. She was the only woman who waltzed into a bar and outdrank the men every time with 100 proof whiskey. When she ran out of money for liquor, she occasionally *eh hem* entertained men at the brothel owned by Poker Alice.
Other characters include Canadian born Seth Bullock, who actually created the resolution that was later adopted to establish Yellowstone National Park. He also befriended and rode with with Theodore Roosevelt as one of the Rough Riders, and is known for being Deadwood’s first sheriff – an official appointment that chronicled the changing face of Deadwood as slum to Deadwood as annexed town.
No story is complete without a villain, and Deadwood had it’s fair share to choose from. Before government officials began to settle in, and before Bullock was sheriff, there was Al Swearengen. Al was the saloon owner of one the most notorious establishments in Deadwood, The Gem Theater.
Raking in upwards of $5,000 – $10,000 a night, Al operated a whorehouse, gambling establishment, and dealt opium too. He was a cruel man, advertising jobs for women as maids. Once they arrived, they learned the truth about his theater and were often too poor to return home. They were forced into prostitution.
The area of The Gem and other brothels became known as “the Badlands.”
Deadwood the TV Show:
When Joe and I got back from vacation, I immediately requested season one of Deadwood from our library. The show has an amazing cast and really portrayed the town well. The set and costumes are spectacular.
I’ll warn you, there’s a lot of swearing. But it’s to signify the way they talked in a town overrun with gamblers and thieves for its inhabitants. Most of the words they would’ve spoken don’t make much sense in today’s terms, so the show is modernized with that liberality.
I highly recommend checking out the show, and it is my new guilty pleasure. The actress who plays Calamity Jane is slowly winning me over again; we’ll see.
What do you think of the boomtown Wild West world of Deadwood? Would you want to travel there? How about live there in the 1800’s? If you could go back in time, who would you want to hang out with?