Wild Bill’s Deadwood

Like many Old West towns, Deadwood was founded by fortune seekers looking to make a living from the Black Hill’s gold. But what sets Deadwood apart from other Old West towns is the legendary outlaw reputation that is second to none.

The town was so rough, outsiders referred to it as the “wickedest place on Earth.” At one time there was an estimated 20,000 desperate souls seeking riches. Almost all were men who carried a loaded pistol, a bottle of whiskey or both which often led to tragedy. This place was so dangerous it was often said that a man took his own life in his hands just walking down its streets.

The dusty streets in the late 1800s writhed with the surliest outlaws, the world’s best gun slingers, women of the illest repute and con men always ready to take the last dollar out of an honest man’s pocket. Many individuals became legends in Deadwood from Wild Bill Hickok to Calamity Jane, and these are the stories on which Deadwood hangs it hat.

Today’s Deadwood is not much different, as the day we visited the streets were roaring with outsiders on metal ponies. But, today it’s the businesses who are attempting to extract your last dollar. Nearly 20 casinos, a half dozen tour companies, over-priced hotels and specialty gift shops have replaced the con men and hucksters. The formula remains the same however. Draw outsiders in for a good time, pour whiskey down their gullet and send them to the nearest one armed bandit or faro dealer.

We had mixed feelings about the timing of our visit as we inadvertently planned our day in Deadwood at the unofficial start of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The streets were jammed packed with interesting characters clad in leather chaps roaring in on Harleys and Hondas, classics and customs and everything in between.

The city buzzed with excitement and anticipation of what would surely be a drunken prelude to next week’s official Rally. This is the kind of party I would love to observe and in which I’d love to partake, while Victoria would prefer to watch on television news. But we both agree that it’s a great place to people watch wearing sunglasses (“you eyeballin’ me?”) and a great place to gamble ($2 minimums and free draft beers.)

But because the bikers took up all of Main Street (and one hotel waitress suggested they wanted to avoid “firing fake guns for fear of real retaliation”), many of the reenactments we were looking forward to were cancelled. This week we would see no mock gunfights in the streets, no cheat-filled outdoor faro games, and, perhaps most sadly, no murder of Wild Bill Hickok, which is supposed to be very well done.

Of course when you visit you must see the Adam’s House Museum exhibition which provides the most well-organized collection of Old West characters you may find. And make the trek, by car, up Mt. Moriah for the self-guided tour past Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and many other important Wild West character’s graves to the most beautiful view of downtown Deadwood available to the public at the brown rock overlook.

If you’re into gambling or love Wild West history, this is a must see.