One of our favorite types of places to visit has to be old western towns. There are none more famous than the city of Deadwood in South Dakota. We have been traveling through some of the most well known trails of the old west to get here to Deadwood. Back in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, we missed a visit to Doc Holliday’s grave in their cemetery. While we were in Golden, we had all the intentions of going to see Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave but we missed that, too. We are determined to spend some quality time here in Deadwood, where some of the most famous western folk heroes in history made their names.
Just like yesterday, we still are having trouble getting a solid internet reception here. To add insult to injury, our phones think we are back in Ventura so our clocks are now in pacific time. We are headed to Deadwood to find a campground with decent WiFi. If you are reading this post, that means we have found it.
The trip to Deadwood from Spearfish is a quick 13 mile road into the Black Hills. Deadwood was named after all of the dead trees that were found here at the gulch back in the 18o0s when the pioneers found this place. In the 1870s, prospectors came from everywhere to Deadwood after the announcement that gold was found here by Colonel George Custer. It soon attracted people of all types to reach a population of 10,000 at its peak. Even though people came to settle in the town, the town itself was thought to be illegal as it was part of the Black Hills that was granted to the Lakota people by the Treat of Laramie. It set it self up to be one of the seediest, most dangerous and lawless towns in the west.
Just like many other gold rush towns of the west, much of the original structures no longer stand due to various fires that have nearly wiped the town out. The only reason why Deadwood still exists today, is because of the ‘Deadwood Experiment’ that legalized gambling here in the town in 1989 that helped revitalized its economy and tourism.
One of the most famous incidents here in Deadwood is the assassination of ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok by Jack McCall at this location where Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon once stood. Even though Wild Bill Hickok was not a long time resident here in Deadwood, his arrival here and subsequent murder was what put Deadwood on the map.
We had a handful of campgrounds to choose from and we ended up settling with the Deadwood KOA. It is our first KOA on this trip and only our second stay in a KOA this year. Prices here are not cheap as we paid just under 40 bucks a night for a full hookup, pull thru spot.
We chose this place for its WiFi as well as the swimming pool and jacuzzi tub. This weekend being Labor Day, it is the last weekend of the busy season and most places around here will start to shut down come Tuesday.
The water in the pool here is freezing cold. I am sure that is why the pool will be closing in a couple of days as no one else was in it when we showed up.
But that is ok, we will just soak in the jacuzzi tub instead. It is the girls first time in a hot tub since they are usually not allowed. The sign posted says 16 and over but no one is here to enforce it. It beats freezing to death in that cold pool.
By the time we settled into the campground, we took their free shuttle service into town. It runs hourly on the top of the hour, every hour until 10pm each night.
Downtown Deadwood is pretty much a classic tourist trap these days. Every establishment is capitalizing on Wild Bill Hickok’s fame.
The food here is also nothing to brag about. We stopped at the Buffalo Saloon which was supposedly owned by Buffalo Bill Cody himself. It is in a section of downtown that still has some of the original facades of the 1876 city of Deadwood.
Mila is really into Lady and the Tramp right now and ever since she saw the spaghetti scene, she always wants to recreate it with french fries. It is okay with me and french fries are a lot less messy than spaghetti noodles.
Back in the glory days of Deadwood, there were about 16 women for every 100 men. More than 80% of the women who came here were, or became, prostitutes.
In the north end of town, referred to as the Badlands of Deadwood, is where all the brothels once were located. As a matter of fact, some of the brothels were still in operation in the 1980s until federal agents cracked them down and seized all operations.
Although this is not the same building that was standing at the time, this location is where the assassination of Wild Bill Hickok took place. Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall shot him in the back of the head while Wild Bill was just dealt a daisy of a hand in poker. The last thing that went through his mind, besides that bullet, is now known as ‘Deadman’s Hand’ in poker. It is a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. The fifth and kicker card has been in dispute but it is often suggested that it might be the nine of diamonds.
Look at the cool 6-shooter door handles that is on the doors of the current building today. If you are interested, this place is on the market. If you are looking to open a western saloon, I can’t imagine a better place.
A few blocks down the road, you will find the location where McCall was apprehended several hours later on that fateful afternoon in 1876.
On the other end of Main Street is the historic Silverado-Franklin Hotel and Casino. As Deadwood was a lawless town during its initial founding, shortly after the murder of Hickok, a sheriff was chosen to clean up its reputation and his name was Seth Bullock. He was a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s and the Franklin Hotel is where Roosevelt would stay whenever he came to visit Deadwood. Everything now is a casino because of the ‘Deadwood Experiment’ back in 1989. It is kind of a shame as it really cheapens the historical significance. But I guess if it wasn’t for legalization of gambling here, none of these places would still be in business.
The second floor balcony is open in summer afternoons for cocktail hour and as kids are allowed, we made our way up there for some adult beverages.
Everyday at 6pm during the summer time until labor day, a gunfight is staged right on the street below the Franklin. They used real, black powder, cap-and-ball revolvers like the Colt Navy revolvers Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock would have carried. The only difference is that they stuff cream of wheat atop the gun powder instead of lead slugs.
When the pistols went off, they look and sound just like the real deal, loud, smoky and ass kicking. The girls were a little afraid of the loud noises but they couldn’t take their eyes off of them. We were lucky and caught this show just in time as it was their last one for the season.
Tomorrow, we are going to be obnoxious tourists and go on a narrated bus tour of Deadwood. Until then, let’s cruise the hall ways of the Franklin Hotel and see if there are any spirits lingering…
over and out,