Alive and well: Deadwood, South Dakota

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.

Colorful Main Street, Deadwood, South Dakota

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.

Two re-enactors pose for a shot — after firing fake shots on Deadwood’s Main Street taking down Jack McCall.

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.)

Markers help with finding famous people buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery
Side-by-side graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in Deadwood’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

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

22 thoughts on “Alive and well: Deadwood, South Dakota

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’re right! He looks pretty young, doesn’t he? Deadwood is an interesting place — and glad we got to the cemetery for Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. Legends, for sure. Thanks for taking a look and commenting! I appreciate you!

      1. anotherday2paradise

        The first time I heard about Deadwood was in the 1950’s as a kid in England when Doris Day had a hit with that song from Calamity Jane, “Oh the Deadwood Stage is a-rollin’ on over the plains …….. whip-crack away.” I loved singing along. 😃

  1. gallivance.net

    Rusha, we’ve been out west many times, but somehow missed Deadwood. It looks like a fun town for a stopover. There are so many fabulous places to see in the west, and the history and characters are woven into the American psyche.

    I must admit, I’m a sucker for walking around old graveyards, and personally, consider it a part of any visit to famous towns like Deadwood. As to your point about the grave location for Calamity and Bill, unless things were different then, these types of arrangements didn’t happen by accident. There must be a juicy story there. ~James

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’re right. There probably is a juicy story or some big reason that the city fathers wanted to put the two together in the cemetery. They certainly are an attraction, even if hard to access. Deadwood wasn’t our favorite of western towns. It’s a bit of faded glory and tourist trap combined. But it’s there. And the 6:00 shoot-out and cemetery make it well worth a pass-through, at least.

  2. Jane Lurie

    Delightful post, Rusha. We passed through here during our trip to the Badlands Nat Park. This whole area is full of fascinating things to see. Good to read about another sassy Jane. 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    It’s been years since Peggy and I have been to Deadwood, Rusha. But I do remember the gravesites of Calaminty Jane and Wild Bill. In fact, I have shots of Bone up there. He likes old graveyards. 🙂 Fun post. –Curt

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It’s an interesting and somewhere there’s a story about why Calamity is buried beside Wild Bill, but I couldn’t find it. Oh, well. Makes it easy for tourists to see both with one climb!

  4. Pit

    I really think we need to go there, especially as my wife is a very distant relation of Wild Bill. And believe it or not, she still can’t sit in a restaurant with her back to the door! Guess why! 😀

  5. thegenxtravels

    A fun town to visit!! Took my youngest and a friend of hers about 15 years ago, they were asked to participate in one of the street shows! They were so excited!! They didn’t do much but just loved being part of it!!

  6. kzmcb

    I have LOVED this. I’m such a fan of westerns, with John Wayne being my favorite western actor.
    I’ve read it twice, already.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Deadwood really is a great little western town. I wanted to pull on some leather boots, a vest and cowboy hat while we were there, but it was way too hot!! Loved the cemetery, too. Thanks for reading twice!!!

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