Few towns capture the chaos and lawlessness of the American frontier as well as Deadwood, South Dakota. The illegal settlement sprung up in the 1870s as a mass of grifters, drunks, and criminals sought fortune during the Black Hills Gold Rush. The community quickly gained a reputation for rampant crime, constant murders, and a surge in illicit acts including gambling and prostitution. The pinnacle of the town’s boom is depicted in HBO’s critically acclaimed series “Deadwood,” spanning three seasons (2004-2006) and concluding with a feature film (2019). Today, the town has embraced its legacy, offering a wealth of activities through their Deadwood: Heroes and Villains package.
Pay Your Respects at Mount Moriah Cemetery
Perched at the top of Deadwood Gulch, Mount Moriah Cemetery offers picturesque views of the town and an opportunity to visit the final resting place of the most famous inhabitants of the Wild West. A short uphill climb will lead visitors to the grave of Wild Bill Hickok, renowned gunslinger, buried immediately next to Calamity Jane, a scout famed for her boldness and aversion to traditional gender norms. The cemetery also offers insight into some of Deadwood’s minority groups, with signs highlighting both the Jewish section as well as the Chinese burial grounds.
Learn About History at the Days of '76 Museum
Beginning in 1924, the Days of ‘76 celebration has served to commemorate the original settlers of Deadwood, having first established the town in 1876. Alongside a bustling parade and PCRA-accredited rodeo, the Days of ‘76 Museum stands as a catalog of the lives and stories of these first settlers. Attractions include the largest horse-drawn carriage collection in the state, composed of over 50 vehicles, the Firearms Exhibit, showcasing over one hundred of the weapons used by early Deadwood inhabitants, and a section of artifacts used in the daily lives of local indigenous tribes.
Take a Deadwood Stagecoach Ride
Of all the technology used by early settlers of the Wild West, the stagecoach may have been most vital. Crucial for the transportation of supplies and integral to long-distance travel, the image of wagon trains stretching across the vast plains is a quintessential piece of the colonial story of the Great Plains. Visitors to Deadwood can experience the town from the back of a fully-functional, life-sized stagecoach piloted by a certified local tour guide. The half-hour tour will take passengers down the main street as their guide points out different historic settlements and highlights the role of the stagecoach in the lives of Deadwood’s first settlers. Visitors can buy tickets at the Deadwood Welcome Center.
Check Out a Few Oddities at the Adams Museum
Established in 1930 by former mayor and prominent public figure W.E. Adams, the Adams Museum is the oldest history museum in the Black Hills. While the property offers a huge amount of personal possessions from Deadwood inhabitants, including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, there are several unusual exhibits on display. There are a number of oddities throughout the museum, ranging from a taxidermied two-headed baby cow, a fossilized plesiosaur unearthed in 1934, and the Thoen Stone, a mysterious slab of sandstone containing the purported last words of 1830s-era miner Ezra Kind.
Watch a Reenactment of Wild Bill Hickock's Death
Many men attempted to put an end to Wild Bill as he careened about the west, but it was in the settlement of Deadwood that he finally met his fate. On Aug. 2, 1876, he entered Saloon No. 10 to take part in a poker game. Unbeknownst to him, a local named Jack McCall entered the bar behind him with a score to settle. He approached and fired a bullet into the back of Wild Bill’s head, killing him instantly. The cards in Bill’s hand were two pairs, aces and eights, now commonly referred to in poker as the Dead Man’s Hand. Visitors to Deadwood can witness a reenactment of the murder at the modern-day Saloon No. 10, incorporating audience members into each of the four daily shows.
Explore the Adams House
Though Deadwood held a reputation for attracting delinquents and drunkards, the Adams House exhibits a level of opulence that one may not have expected from the town. Built in 1892 by the wealthy couple, Harris and Anna Franklin, the designer included state-of-the-art amenities including hot and cold running water and even electricity. Upon Anna’s death, the house was sold to W.E. Adams, where he raised two daughters with his wife Mary, though all three women died early deaths. Adams remarried Mary Mastrovich Vicich, a 44-year difference between the two, and upon his death, his widow departed for California. The house is unique in that Mary left almost every single one of her possessions behind, including a half-full jar of cookies preserved in the kitchen.
Patrol the Town Like an Old-Fashioned Lawman
Those seeking further insight into the rich history of Deadwood should take part in the Lawman’s Patrol, a 45-minute stroll down the town's historic Main Street. Adorned in late-1800s Wild West attire, the tour guide plays the role of Con Stapleton, first marshall of the Deadwood settlement. The tour provides a wealth of information into the local community, highlighting prominent landmarks and structures, the role of gold in Deadwood’s social hierarchy, and the resurrection of the town after the devastating 1879 fire. The tour takes place along the town's historic Main Street and can be booked through the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce.
Watch Jack McCall's "Trial"
The murder of Wild Bill Hickok sparked a fervor throughout the community, with McCall being captured and held on trial the very next day. The justice system in the Deadwood community was ill-defined at the time, as it was an illegal settlement on Native American land, and he was found not guilty after a short hearing. Unfortunately for McCall, his luck was short-lived, as he was recaptured in Wyoming and brought into official Dakota Territory land, where he was re-tried and put to death. The original case played a major role in the first season of HBO’s "Deadwood," and a reenactment of his trial can be viewed each night from Monday through Saturday at the town's Historic Masonic Temple Theatre.
Tour the Historic Broken Boot Gold Mine
While the neighboring town of Lead was home to one of the largest mines in all of North America, Deadwood was not as lucky with their mining endeavor. Opening in 1878, the two owners of Seim’s Mine had difficulty striking any major veins of gold, instead finding the mine rich in iron pyrite, also known as fool’s gold. The sale of fool’s gold, a major component to sulfuric acid, kept the mine afloat until 1904 when it was forced to close. Aside from a brief resurrection during World War I, the mine lay dormant until 1954, when it was leased out, underwent renovations, and rebranded Broken Boot Gold Mine to become a tourist attraction. Today, tours are held daily every half hour, with a gold panning tutorial offered next door.
Take a Spooky Tour of the Bullock Hotel
Fans of the occult can search for the spirit of Seth Bullock, noted sheriff and lead character in "Deadwood." The property is the oldest hotel in town, constructed by Bullock and his business partner Sol Star shortly after a fire in 1894 devastated the settlement. Beginning in the basement of the hotel, guests are introduced to eyewitness accounts of the haunting as presented by NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries," followed by a foray through the pits of the hotel up to the top floor. The tour guide stops at multiple points along the way, recounting tales of past encounters from staff members and hotel guests.