Deadwood: The Town, The TV Show, My New Guilty Pleasure

I love Deadwood.

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!

So who was this Wild Bill fellow and what made him so important?  Besides the fact that he’s portrayed by the handsome and honey-voiced Keith Carradine on the HBO series Deadwood?

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?

19 responses

  1. Hi Jess! Thanks for another great travelog! We also enjoy visiting Deadwood. Last year while we were there, Big and Rich (the Country Singers) were there (they have filmed music videos there and one of them, I think Big Kinney, is part owner of one of the casinos) and put on a free concert! It was November and the concert was in the outdoor stadium by the railroad station. I waited outside (freezing my bunns off!) for an hour but it was worth it! We were right in front of the stage – maybe 10 feet away! An exciting little town!

    1. Yah, it’s tiny, but it’s just really cool and different than other towns. Everybody we talked to was really nice and our tour guide was hilarious.

      We got to hear some music while we bummed around, but I don’t know who it was – probably a local. Fun place!

  2. I am so enjoying your road trip through the Wild West – and I have learned so much, too!

    1. Think you’ll plan your own trip out west? I had a blast. I loved being on the road and seeing new things each day. We did so many different activities: from hiking, to museums, to shopping, to memorials, and oh the food! LOL We’re already busy brainstorming what we want to do next summer!

      1. Actually, yes, I would love to take a roadtrip out west! Mt. Rushmore is on my list, as is Yellowstone. Not sure how exciting the hubs and kids would find this, but I might be able to convince them if I work the angles properly. Golf, if I can somehow incorporate golf into it I think I might have a winner 🙂

        1. LOL. Awesome! You have a game plan, so I hope it means you get to go! Enjoy!

  3. I loved the HBO series which ended much to soon in my opinion. We took a family trip to Yellowstone/Jackson Hole this summer and fell in love with that part of the country. Many more trips in the future, including a visit to Deadwood. The show Hell of Wheels is good if you like stuff from that time period.

    1. Ok, first, YES Yellowstone/Jackson Hole are gorgeous. We were only in Jackson Hole area briefly. Actually met up with my dad and brother around Jenny Lake and sat on a lodge patio overlooking the Tetons! Wow!

      Second, Deadwood is a phenomenal show, and I know it only lasted 3 seasons, but I’m betting they didn’t have anywhere else to go. We don’t know all that much about the history then, and if they kept going, they’d have to introduce a ton more characters is my guess. But maybe not. I’m happy with it as long as I have it.

      Third, I started watching Hell on Wheels when it premiered and wanted to like it SO BAD. I love the actors in it, they’re great. But I feel like nothing ever happened! It took so long before the plot got going and I stopped caring. If you think it’s worth it, I’ll give it another go. I love Colm Meaney, even if he plays the bad guy.

  4. I SO love road trips and yours is so much fun to relive with you! My Hubs loved Deadwood, the TV show. I’ll have to encourage him to watch it again. The old west is fascinating. I’d love to go to SD, CO and all the western states one day. I’d want to meet Annie Oakley and have her teach me how to shoot. I’d join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and I would have hunted down General Custer to tell him to get the hell away from Little Big Horn!

    1. ROTFL – I just adore you, Marcia! I can see you in the Wild West show with a roaring crowd of fans! And Custer would do well to watch himself if you were on his case!

      Thanks for the fun comment!

  5. Wish I had known about Costner’s casino when I visited last summer. I did stop in one and proceeded to lose $1 in the penny slots, but I have no idea of the name of that casino. And I know what you’re thinking: I’m a real badass gambler. I know, right?!

    1. Bah hahahHAhhAa


  6. My parents will love this post!! I’m going to share it on Facebook so they’ll see it. 🙂

  7. What fun, Jess! I’d love to travel there. You’ve totally sold me on it with this post. 😉 Seems to me like a fun place to hole up for a solo writing retreat… Or duo retreat, if you want to get the room next door and talk shop over dinners???

    1. And over gambling and free wine???

  8. I love history. (It’s my bachelor’s degree.) This sounds like a fun, fabulous trip to me. You did a great job, Jess, of making me feel like I’m there or want to be there. I would love to get in on that August/Jess weekend deal. Sounds lovely!

    1. All WANA’s welcome, Julie! It would be a fun little haunt to visit for a writer’s retreat and you’d love all the history that’s available.

  9. […] Ellie Ann Soderstrom: The Best TV Shows in the World Tiffany A. White and Amber West:  Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday: Suspense & Stilletos Diane Capri Reveals Karla Darcy (Shhhh! Secrets!) Jess Witkins: Deadwood: The Town, the TV Show, My New Guilty Pleasure […]

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