Roadside America

Deadwood, South Dakota

I’ve written about the Bullock Hotel, but Deadwood, South Dakota deserves an article all its own. I visited Deadwood on a trip that took me to Sturgis, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, among other places. I’m a huge fan of the old West, so I loved HBO’s series Deadwood (2004-2006), even if the dialogue was ridiculous. Even today, its population is tiny, but it’s the only city in the country that’s designated a National Historic Landmark District.

It’s rare to find a city with so much history, despite surviving predominantly off tourism. Nearly every hotel, bar, and restaurant in Deadwood doubles as a casino. My friend and I visited in early spring, so it was practically a ghost town. I imagine it’s flooded with tourists in the summer, especially when people come to nearby Sturgis for its annual motorcycle rally.

We stayed at the Bullock Hotel, named for Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood. It’s one of the most famous haunted hotels in the United States. In 1992, it was featured on Unsolved Mysteries and is reportedly haunted by a host of spirits. The hotel has an entire guestbook where visitors can share stories of their ghostly encounters, although we didn’t experience anything unusual.

It’s interesting to think both Deadwood and Tombstone, Arizona are considered part of the “Wild West,” despite being in vastly different climates and separated by thousands of miles. Deadwood began in the 1870s on land granted to American Indians in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. After Colonel George Armstrong Custer announced gold had been discovered in the Black Hills, settlers began illegally migrating to the area.

Deadwood is perhaps most famous for being where Jack McCall shot and killed Wild Bill Hickok during a poker game. Born in Illinois, Hickok was a jack of all trades but mostly excelled in telling wild and outlandish stories about himself. Hickok was killed at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon, later renamed No. 10 Saloon. The current Old Style Saloon No. 10 is not at the same location as the original.

If you’re not interested in drinking or gambling, there’s still plenty to see and do. Deadwood is home to several wonderful museums, including the Adams Museum on Sherman Street. Its displays include a feature on prostitution in Deadwood, which was tolerated (despite being illegal in the State of South Dakota) until 1980. Mount Moriah Cemetery is another wonderful place to visit. It is the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Sol Star (business partner of Seth Bullock), Seth Bullock, Potato Creek Johnny, and other figures from the Old West. It is on a hill overlooking the town, offering scenic views of the area.

If you ever find yourself in the Black Hills, immerse yourself in history in Deadwood. Its casino-lined streets may look more modern than you’d expect, but the spirit of the Old West lives on.

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