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September 22, 2023: Deadwood

In 1874 this gulch was uninhabited by the white man and was in Indian Territory. If a white man was here, he was trespassing based on the Treaty of Fort Laramie signed in 1868 and was prosecuted under Federal Law of the US Government.

However, late in 1887, gold was found by two prospectors in what is now called Deadwood. They asked family and friends to come join them. They lived in tents.

By Jan 1886 all gold claims were gone. So claim jumping became common. There was no law here.

We witnessed a shoot out on the street. Apparently there weren’t as many on the street in the Wild West as Hollywood would lead us to believe. There were killings for sure in this lawless land but they were more clandestine.

Gold is heavy and sinks to the bottom. Often they would find gold dust which is smaller than the head of a pin. Gold dust could be used as money.

Panning for gold is back breaking work. Pan, pick, shovel, and maybe a mule. After a long day of planning, the miners wanted three things: drinking, gambling and female companionship.

Businesses sprung up to serve the miners’ needs. A man opened a bar and the miners could have ONE dance with his wife or daughter. But they had to buy another drink before they could get another dance. Soon, a competitor came to town offering more female companship.

Our guide recommended a book called Black Hills White Justice.

By 1876, the population was 4,000 – 6,000. One could smell Deadwood before arriving in Deadwood. Some reported knee deep muck on the main street. Soon stagecoach routes were established.

There were so many white people trespassing that the government was overwhelmed. They were no longer able to control the border. (Sound familiar?) By 1877, the US government was able to obtain enough signatures from adult male Indians to amend the treaty. (In 1980 the Supreme Court determined that this move was illegal.)

There was a great fire in 1879. It started in the bakery and advanced to the adjoining hardware store containing 8 kegs of gun powder. Some people left. Others rebuilt.

These are the only buildings that remain from before the fire.

Kevin Costner purchased the old Phoenix building and renamed it Midnight Star. The Phoenix had been the first building to rise out of the ashes from the 1879 fire. It was quite modern with an indoor outhouse.

In a gulch one must also expect floods. In 1883 there was a flood. Deadwood is the widest place in the gulch but still very narrow. Homes were built up on the sides of the gulch.

Wild Bill Hickok was shot here in Saloon #10. He married 3 months before arriving in Deadwood.

His friend, Colorado Charlie, asked Wild Bill to join him by taking women out of Fort Laramie to Deadwood. The Fort asked them to take these prostitutes away from the military men. One of the women was Calamity Jane. She had a major thing for Wild Bill. Colorado Charlie further encouraged him to come to Deadwood where he allowed him to pan for gold on his claim.

Wild Bill Hickok worked the claim about three hours a day for a short time, and then he quit. Gambling was easier. He always sat with his back to the wall so he could see anyone who came in. On that fateful day, Charlie Rich was sitting in that seat. He said, “Get out of my seat.” Charlie was having good luck and didn’t want to move so Wild Bill sat down in another seat.

On July 12, 1876, he was shot by Jack McCall. He was holding a hand of two pairs consisting of black aces and black eights with a queen of diamonds forever known as Dead Man’s Hand.

In front of Saloon #10.
In the evening we attended a reenactment of the trial of Wild Bill’s killer, Jack McCall, in the Deadwood theatre.

Brothels were popular here and only outlawed in 1980. The houses had either a green door, purple door, red door, or beige door. The madams and their girls were well liked and community minded. They were in the phone book and even sponsored Little League teams.

At one time, there were 250 Chinamen here. Many had worked on the railway. As a group, they were very industrious. They did laundry, were cooks, food, or tended brothels. They left in the 1920’s likely as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Buffaloes and casinos are numerous in Deadwood.

This is a rope weaving that hangs from the ceiling of a bar.
Artwork consisting of buffalo nickels.

Speaking of money, once the sun went down, we decided to spend $20 each at the casino. I played the electronic slots and ended up with $18.72. Rob played electronic 21 with a very flirty electronic dealer. He ended up with $22.00. So we netted 72¢ and I found 6¢ on the ground. Boy, do we feel lucky!!!

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