Mount Moriah Cemetery, fondly known as Deadwood’s “Boot Hill,” contains the final resting places of some of Deadwood’s most notorious and infamous characters. Read on to learn more!
Deadwood’s Boot Hill
A “Boot Hill” cemetery is one where the folks buried there are said to have died with their boots on. Mount Moriah Cemetery, located high above Deadwood, certainly qualifies as a “Boot Hill.” With notorious Wild West legends like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock laid to rest under it’s serene and peaceful forest, Mount Moriah is a beloved local and tourist stop.
A Victorian Cemetery
The cemetery was developed in 1878 by Lawrence County. Situated directly above Deadwood Gulch, you can look across the gap and see Homestake Mine far on the next hill over. It was constructed during Victorian times, and the County used a cemetery layout popular at that time: the outer perimeter was oval and the grounds were divided into four sections, with Potter’s Fields at the outer north and south. As with many things in the Victorian era, symbolism was often ascribed to shapes: ovals and circles in cemeteries represent the hope of eternal life after death.
Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane
There are nearly 3,500 burials at Mount Moriah; early on, many bodies were exhumed from Deadwood’s first cemetery and moved to Boot Hill. Two of those included famed Wild West gunslingers Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. The two were buried next to each other, supposedly as an eternal joke on Wild Bill. Calamity was a foul-mouthed, tobacco-chewing woman who preferred men’s pants to feminine skirts. As the story goes, Calamity publicly confessed her love for Wild Bill; being a married man, Bill was apparently not interested. When their bodies were moved, the city of Deadwood supposedly exercised their sense of humor and placed the graves next to each other so Calamity could be next to Wild Bill for all eternity, an everlasting tongue-in-cheek testament to her adoration and his mortification.
A Tourist Attraction
Mount Moriah Cemetery has changed hands three times to-date in its lifetime. Lawrence County held the property deed for approximately 14 years; in the 1890s, Deadwood citizens became concerned about the lack of upkeep at the cemetery and created the Deadwood Cemetery Association. The cemetery was deeded over to the Association by Lawrence County; for 46 years, the Association handled the cemetery’s upkeep and burials. As Deadwood grew, burial sites became scarce, plots being either filled or purchased by families. Once again, Mount Moriah’s upkeep began deteriorating due to lack of funds. The Association deeded the cemetery over to the city of Deadwood in 1938, and the city began to advertise the cemetery as a tourist attraction. In 1949, Mount Moriah became a closed cemetery; the city chose to ban vehicular travel and promote foot travel. Up until the mid-1980s, the decision was made to introduce a $2 entrance fee in order to help boost cemetery funds. Mount Moriah has managed to avoid inflation, and that is still the entry fee for adults (children are free).
Ghosts of Deadwood Past
Like most cemeteries, Mount Moriah has its share of ghost stories. If you’re a ghost hunter, you may find the ghosts of Deadwood past at Mount Moriah Cemetery. There have been reports of people hearing disembodied voices and children laughing; people have also mentioned the feeling of being watched. There are certainly several tragic death stories in Deadwood’s history, one of which was a smallpox epidemic from 1878-1880, taking the lives of many Deadwood children. Be sure to bring your cameras when you visit, you never know when you might capture a ghost!
Mount Moriah Historic Cemetery is a beautiful example of a classic Victorian cemetery, and a cherished landmark of Deadwood’s colorful history. While you’re staying with us at our Gold Country Inn & Gambling Hall or Deadwood Station Bunkhouse & Gambling Hall properties, don’t forget to put Mount Moriah into your travel plans. When you go be sure to schedule at least half an hour to walk the foot paths. (But take our word for it – you’ll want to linger longer!)