The discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 set off one of the last great gold rushes in the country. In 1876, miners moved into the northern Black Hills. That’s where they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold...and Deadwood was born.
As we "rode" into town, we had the feeling of traveling back in time to the 1880s.
Ignoring motorized vehicles and concen-trating only on the buildings, we had the impression that we could walk into one of the hotels and find people in the lobby who would claim to have been present at that famous card game on August 2, 1876. In that game, Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok from behind while playing poker at the Old Style Saloon #10. When he died, Wild Bill was holding a pair of aces and eights, and that group of cards has become known to poker players all around the world as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
Other former gold miners might tell about having known Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary), a tobacco-spitting, beer-guzzling, foul-mouthed woman who preferred men’s clothing to dresses ending their tales with the reminder that she is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery near Wild Bill.
I was hoping to walk into one of the hotels and find a lobby that looked every bit the part of those times when the notable poker game was being played or in which tales of the mining field were being passed along to eager listeners.
But those hopes were not realized. Entering the lobby of one of the old hotels, we were met with an array of slot machines.
Chancing upon an older theater, we had these same rushes of enthusiasm that we could connect with the life of days gone by.
Finding the theater open was a pleasant surprise. However, this joy was short-lived. One step into what was once the lobby and we were confronted with four rows of slot machines.
Deadwood has survived three major fires and numerous economic hardships, pushing it to the verge of becoming another Old West ghost town. But in 1989 limited-wage gambling was legalized and Deadwood was reborn.
All of the buildings in the downtown area are required to conform with the city’s authentic 1880’s architecture, but inside the structures, a casino licensee can place a maximum of 30 slot machines. I thought I read that there were some 80 casinos in this town of about 2000 people.
So we chose to focus on the architec-ture. Here is the courthouse (right).
The Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Passenger Station.
The Wild Bill Bar is located at the site of the original saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot. There were mannequins in the windows of the second story. Decades ago the women in the windows...were not mannequins.
The town is built on the side of a hill, so several of the homes appear to hover over the downtown.
At the end of this narrow street is a stairway to the street and homes above.
So while the gaming industry has rejuvenated Deadwood, we'll focus on the history and character of the archi-tecture.