I just returned from a reader/author event in Deadwood, SD. If you’re an author, this is the event for you. If you’re a reader, this is definitely the event for you. If you want to visit the Black Hills and wonder what else there is to do, check out Wild Deadwood Reads. I’m really hoping that this event will be scheduled for next year.
As a history buff, Deadwood is a dream. History oozes from the bricks, whispers through the pines, and stares you in the face. Other than Bill Hickok meeting his untimely end in Deadwood and a few tidbits about Calamity Jane, I really didn’t know a lot about Deadwood’s history before I left for this event. So, being the curious type, I started searching on the Internet. (All the subsequent information is gleaned from the official site of the town of Deadwood.)
In 1875, a miner named John B. Pearson found gold in a narrow canyon in the Northern Black Hills. This canyon became known as "Deadwood Gulch," because of the many dead trees that lined the canyon walls at the time. The name stuck and Deadwood was born…kinda. It wasn’t until the gold rush into the Black Hills in 1876 that the town was established.
|Deadwood circa 1876|
Deadwood’s early history matches that of most frontier gold towns—wild, fairly lawless, and with a male population that vastly outnumbered that of the “fairer sex.” Saloons, gambling establishments, dance halls, and brothels were all considered legitimate businesses and were well known throughout the area. However, by 1877, Deadwood was evolving from a primitive mining camp to a community with a sense of order. The community organized a government, hired a sheriff to keep law and order, and began the transition from frontier to civilization. That transition almost came to an abrupt end when a fire on September 26, 1879 burned most of the business district. Rather than quit, the community set about to rebuild and passed laws requiring only certain building materials to be used for all construction. (Most of Deadwood’s historical district is constructed of brick and mortar for this reason.)
In 1890, the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad connected Deadwood to the outside world. Prior to that, in March 1878, Paul Rewman established Western South Dakota's first telephone exchange in Deadwood. Yes, you read that right—the telephone was in Deadwood. A flood in 1883 almost destroyed the town and another fire in 1894 took out a lot of the older timber constructed buildings, yet Deadwood continued on. Today, it is a tourist destination, a gambler’s paradise (perhaps harkening back to its much earlier days), and a gem of a city set in the stunning beauty of the Black Hills.