In 1876, gold was discovered in the rugged hills of South Dakota. Miners, outlaws and gunslingers poured into the area, and the epitome of the Wild West that we know as Deadwood was born. From that birth, we gained some of our most cherished American stories and tales. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny, and Seth Bullock all sealed their fame in the annals of American history while they lived in Deadwood.
In modern days, you can see the vibrant characters of the late 1800s still walking the streets of Deadwood. Theater troupe Deadwood Alive re-enacts Deadwood’s historical events, such as the Wild Bill Hickok’s cold-blooded assassination and subsequent trial of his killer, Jack McCall. Check out their schedule here to make plans for your visit to see the professional re-enactments of the famous assassination of Wild Bill, which happened during a poker game. An avid gambler and well-known gunslinger, Wild Bill joined the game; the last chair available put his back to the door of Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon (now the Wild Bill’s Trading Post). He was holding a hand of Aces & Eights when Jack McCall stormed in and shot him in the back of the head. Since that day, Wild Bill’s card hand has since been known as “The Dead Man’s Hand.”
Calamity Jane, another famous and ostentatious Deadwoodian, made the history books for her wild ways, quirky nature, and generous heart. There are several different stories about she received her name, none of which is verified. Calamity Jane’s story had her rescuing a General while she was scouting for the army; another version has the men of Deadwood warning each other that to court Jane was to “court real calamity.” She insisted on wearing men’s clothing, something very frowned upon in the 1800s, and worked as everything from a cook, washerwoman, dance hall girl, and nurse to earn her living. One of the things she is most famous for is performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show; another was her acquaintance to Wild Bill. She died at the age of 51, and is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery next to Wild Bill.
In addition to the tall tales and Wild West stories born from the colorful characters in Deadwood’s history, the city possesses multiple venues and locations that are visit-worthy. The Adams Museum and Historic Adams House, Days of ’76 Museum, and Mount Moriah Cemetery are among your top three must-see spots.
What to know when you go:
The Adams Museum is lauded as the oldest museum of history in the Black Hills. It was founded in 1930 by its namesake, W.E. Adams. Closed from November – March, the Adams Museum offers visitors tempting tidbits of Deadwood’s notorious past. In keeping with Deadwood’s eclectic history, the museum holds Potato Creek Johnny’s gold nugget, pencil sketches of Wild Bill by N.C. Wyeth, and the remains of a plesiosaur. Cost of entrance is a donation.
The Adams House, built in 1892 by Harris and Anna Franklin, was sold to W.E. Adams in 1920. Heralded as an exceptional example of Queen Anne architecture, the Adams House was closed up in 1936 after W.E. Adam’s death. It has been left untouched and is a time capsule of Deadwood life in the early 1900s. The Adams House is closed November – March; tickets are an affordable $10.
The Days of ’76 Museum honors the year 1876, the year that gold was discovered in Deadwood. When you go to the museum, you will find a chronicle of how those first pioneers pouring into Deadwood worked, lived, and died. Locomotive engines, horse-drawn buggies, Native American artifacts, black powder firearms, gowns from the 1800s – the Days of ’76 Museum has it all. The museum is open year-round, and ticket prices are $8 for adults, $3 for children 6-12, and free for children 5 and under.
Mount Moriah Cemetery, locally known as “Boot Hill,” rests atop a steep cliff overlooking the city of Deadwood. Their website recommends to plan for at least half an hour to view the graves of Deadwood’s celebrity gunslingers and Wild West legends. Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock are just a few of the instrumental Deadwood citizens buried at Mount Moriah.
Deadwood’s rich history and vast array of things to do make it an exceptional place to visit. Hotels in Deadwood are plentiful, but make your plans early for any big events, such as Kool Deadwod Nites or the Days of ’76 Rodeo. Two excellent places to check out are Deadwood Station Bunkhouse & Gambling Hall, and Gold Country Hotel, both of which are one-stop shops. They have dining, bars, and gaming all in one location! Call now to make your reservations for your next Deadwood vacation. 605-578-3476 or 605-578-2393.