Deadwood

Tuesday July 21, 2020

Deadwood was born in 1876, when a rush of gold miners and fortune seekers descended on the Northern Black Hills in hopes of making a better life for themselves. The town was practically lawless in these early years, and the men and women who first came to Deadwood were people of fortitude and strength-folks who didn’t mind a little struggle on the road to fame and fortune.

Though many gold rush towns died almost as soon as they started, Deadwood was different. The nearby mines went through booms and busts, but the gold kept coming. Generations of miners toiled underground, and when their shifts were over, they came to Deadwood saloons, brothels and gambling halls to unwind and relax. It didn’t matter that this was all mostly illegal; Deadwood had always been a town on the edge of the law, and the people who came for a good time didn’t mind bending a rule or two.

Things changed in 1989. After more than a century of gambling on the down-low, Deadwood became the third place in the United States to allow legal gaming. The card tables and slot machines came out from the back rooms, and the town boomed. Fueled by the new tax revenue, the town began an ambitious historic preservation effort that contines today.

1898 Victorian brothel, bar and gambling hall. Deadwood’s last house of prostituition closed following a raid in 1980.

Although Wild Bill Hickok is Deadwood’s most famous resident, he was in town less than a month before he was shot down by Jack McCall, on August 2, 1876. The former gunfighter and lawman was famous long before Deadwood. He arrived by wagon train from Cheyenne in the company of Carlie Utter and Calamity Jane.

Despite talk of prospecting for gold, Wild Bill didn’t stray from the Badlands, a section of Main Streed known for its bars, brothels and gambling houses. He was playing poker in Nuttal & Mann’s (Saloon No. 10) when Jack McCall walked in and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. Bill was holding two pair, Aces and Eights, which became known as Dead Man’s Hand.

Calamity Jane was born Martha Canary in 1856 near Princeton, Missouri to Robert Willson Carnary and Carlotte M Burge. Martha was the oldest of six children born to Robert and Charlotte. Little is known about Martha’s childhood other than the family’s relocation from Mercer County, Missouri to Virginia City, Montana Territory in 1865. Within two years of this move, Martha and her siblings were left orphans with the passing of her mother in 1866 and father in 1867.

Parentless in a wild frontier, Martha Carary relocated to the Wyoming Territory where she worked as a dance-hall girl, waitress, laundress, and prostitute at the railroad camps and military posts along the Union Pacific Railroad.

When not on the open road, Calamity Jane could be found at the local saloons, drinking, chewing tobacco, and being the boisterous life of the party. Calamity Jane also had a good-hearted and caring side not often seen by the general public. When the small pox epidemic hit the Black Hills and Deadwood, she helped people with the illness without concern for her own well-being.

Calamity Jane’s life of adventure ended at age 47. Weary and ailing, Martha boarded a train headed for Terry, South Dakota. Upon arrival, she rented a room at the Calloway Hotel and died on August 1, 1903. Aged beyond her years, she died of a combination of imflammation of the bowels and pneumonia.

5 thoughts on “Deadwood

  1. I haven’t been to Deadwood in 40 years. The place looks good although the Bud Light sign in the window of Saloon No. 10 is a bit ironic. Seems like the place should be serving stronger stuff. Glad you made it.

    Liked by 1 person

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