If you love Wild West history and have a fondness for gambling, drinking, eating and shoot-’em-up tales, you better stop for a while in Deadwood, South Dakota. The town may have a name that makes you think “it ain’t workin’ anymore,” but that would be far from the truth.
Consider a brief history of the start: It was the summer of 1874 when General George Armstrong Custer led an expedition to the territory in search of a suitable location for a fort. But on August 2nd of that year, two prospectors found GOLD, and the rest was, as they say, history.
Soon after, wannabe business men set up gambling casinos, drinking establishments, and places where ladies of the night could ply their trade — all along Main Street (the “Bad Lands” of Deadwood, as it was called). And then the prospectors came, along with some unsavory folk and a few politicians.
Today Main Street is known for good eatin’ places (sometimes attached to casinos), shopping, and a nightly street dramatization (in the summer tourist season) of a famous shoot-out. People line up three feet deep on the sidewalks waiting for the nightly drama to begin at 6:00 p.m.
It seems that Wild Bill Hickock was shot from behind while playing poker by a ruffian named Jack McCall. McCall was acquitted by a jury the very next day. But later, he was tracked down and hanged by authorities of the Dakota territory. Today, you can watch a re-enactment on Main Street — that is, if you get there early enough to find a place with a view of the action. And the whole shooting match is clean enough for kids, families, and old folks like us.
While in Deadwood, you can shop for cowboy boots, western antiques, and magnets to take home and put on your fridge. But you might also want to pay your respects at Mt. Moriah Cemetery to Wild Bill Hickok and the infamous Calamity Jane. Calamity was a larger-than-life person, dressing in men’s clothing instead of saloon girl finery. And she had the reputation for saying whatever she pleased however she pleased. On the other hand, she may not have been all bad: it’s said that during the smallpox epidemic, she had a heart for helping others. Perhaps she died with a good reputation after all.
Although Wild Bill was a married man, it’s Calamity Jane who’s buried beside him in Mt. Moriah — maybe to spend eternity with him? Well, who knows?
You can wander through Mt. Moriah on your own, but plan to climb up to the location where Wild Bill Hickok was put to rest and pay your respects to the man who reportedly said, “Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?” (We don’t know if Mt. Moriah granted him this wish, but lots of people want to see his grave nonetheless.)
If you’re touring South Dakota, Deadwood is centrally located for an overnight visit. You can drive to area towns of Sturgis, Lead, Central City or even north to Spearfish Canyon with Deadwood as the center for lodging, casinos, and restaurants and bars.
So, even though Deadwood can make a great pass-through to other places, we think it deserves a stop on its own. With good food, shopping, gamblin’ places, and a shoot-out on Main Street, Deadwood is alive and kickin’!
Happy trails, podnuh,
Rusha & Bert