I had been aware of Deadwood, SD, the rough and ready mining town, which sprang up toward the end of the Wild West, due to it’s place in history as the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickock, but really didn’t know the rest of it’s historical significance until I watched HBO’s Deadwood. I had been wanting to visit Deadwood before, but after seeing the show, I knew I had to visit ASAP.
It was September of 2013 and my wife, Erin, and I were taking our first trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills region. After stops at 1880 Town and Wall Drug, we stayed our first night in Rapid City. We got up the next morning and took in some sights in Rapid City; the downtown area, a comic shop, a soda shop, a museum, etc, before scooting down the road to our next stop, Deadwood.
After a quick stop in nearby, legendary Sturgis, we headed off I-90 and into the Black Hills to Deadwood. If you’re unfamiliar with the real Deadwood, it’s probably nothing like you’d imagine. Usually tales of the Old West conjure up images of little prairie or desert towns, with miles of open air in every direction. Deadwood is laid out in a gulch, running lengthwise, instead of out in every direction like a plains town, expanding through the valleys and along the creeks that make up the physical composition of the area. We stayed at the Historic Bullock Hotel, built from 1894-1895 by Seth Bullock and his business partner Sol Star. It operated as a hotel from that time through the mid-1970s, when new owners turned it into a hardware store. In the early 1990s the property gained a new set of owners who renovated it back into a hotel, in the style of the era of it’s origin, but with modern amenities. The Bullock Hotel is one of the few buildings in Deadwood to survive all of Deadwood’s many fires, which claimed many of the town’s historic buildings through the years.
I had first learned about the Bullock Hotel from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, as it is rumored to be haunted. Luckily for me, my wife Erin let’s me book hotels wherever I please, for the most part. Needless to say, she was not happy once she learned we were staying at a haunted hotel (I had no problems). Then her worries were magnified by tales from our paranormal enthusiast sister-in-law, and she woke me up in the middle of the night having a panic attack about ghosts and I got to accompany her outside for a breather. Despite that silliness, I still found the hotel to be elegant and our stay rather enjoyable. There’s so much history in the building it’s a major trip just to tour through the place.
After getting checked into the hotel and waiting out a torrential downpour, we walked door to door to the surrounding stores and businesses, waiting out any additional rainfall under awnings. It was there that we came across the location of the original No. 10 Saloon, aka Nuttal & Mann’s, where Wild Bill was shot. Unfortunately, the original building was lost in a fire in 1879. The building that stands there now was built in 1898 and has served several purposes since then.
After our walk we went to Mt Moriah Cemetery, resting place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and several other of Deadwood’s historic figures. Bill and Jane were easy to find but, unfortunately, I did not come across the graves of Seth, Sol or any other historical figures. It’s a beautiful place, winding roads and trails take you to the top of plateau, surrounded in semi-dense tree coverage.
After our visit to the cemetery we went back to our room to plan our dinner. Hoping to find a local greasy spoon, we settled on Mexican Restaurant in nearby Spearfish, SD. Along the way we came across the Henry Weston Smith Memorial, another interesting piece of Deadwood history, right off of US-85.
Once we returned to Deadwood following our dinner, we went on another walk through town, as it was a perfect, cool, late summer night. We went in the opposite direction of our previous walk, passing the Wild Bill Monument and coming across Gordon Park, before heading back to the hotel.
The next morning we took in a few more sights; some of the other local shops, like the new Saloon #10, they purportedly had the chair Wild Bill was shot in, although I never saw the thing. I didn’t want to leave. I felt there was so much more of Deadwood to see. But, alas, we had more stops to make, a little time to make them, so off we went down the trail.