Deadwood is a town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is rivaled only by Tombstone, Arizona as America's most storied town from the wild frontier days.


Dead man's hand

In 1876 "Wild Bill" Hickok, a legendary gunfighter, was shot in the back of his head while he was playing poker. Legend has it that Hickok was unable to find a seat in the parlor where his back would be against a wall, thus preventing any sneak attacks from behind. As a result he sat with his back to the door and was later killed by Jack McCall. Legend has it that Wild Bill's hand when he was murdered was a pair of aces and eights, a hand that has become known as the Dead man's hand due to Hickok's unfortunate luck. The fifth card is a matter of debate, with some people claiming that it had not been dealt or that it was possibly a five or nine of diamonds.

In 1874, famed Army commander George Custer led an expedition into the area and announced that he and his men had discovered gold nearby, in what is today Custer, South Dakota. Two years later brothers Charlie and Steve Utter led a wagon train into Deadwood containing essential business supplies - prostitutes and cards - which led to a boost in industries such as booze, gambling parlors, and brothels. During this time notorious gunfighter "Wild Bill" Hickok helped the Utter brothers by scouting out any troubles the train might encounter. That same year "Wild Bill" was shot in the head while playing poker at the Saloon No. 10. His killer, "the coward Jack McCall", was captured, tried by a group of miners, freed, re-captured, re-tried by a court, and hanged. Legal proceedings have, thankfully, grown somewhat more standardized in the years since that famous crime.

Historical marker, Deadwood

Another legendary event was the Horsemeat March of 1876, in which General Cook led an expedition pursuing a band of Sioux natives fleeing the site of Custer's last stand, the Battle of Little Big Horn. General Cook and his men set off in pursuit with reduced rations in order to give a quicker chase, but they did not predict that the Sioux would burn the grass behind them. As a result, both the horses and the men had no food and the men eventually were forced to shoot their own horses for food.

Two major fires struck the town in the late 19th century. In 1879, nearly the entire town burned to the ground, including the popular brothel known as the Gem Theater. The owner, Al Swearengen, rebuilt the Gem bigger and more extravagantly than its predecessor. The town lost many of its residents, itinerant miners whose only possessions were destroyed in the fire, but Deadwood eventually recovered. Swearengen's command of vice led him into conflict with Sheriff Seth Bullock, a stern Western lawman and another of the town's earliest residents. The town began to flourish again, but was devastated once more by fire in 1894. Sheriff Seth Bullock and some of the other residents stayed and rebuilt even stronger than before, but this time, Swearengen left town. He was last seen as a penniless drunk, killed while trying to catch a train to Colorado.

The town's storied history was the inspiration for the HBO hit TV series Deadwood, which centered around Bullock, Swearengen, and the struggles of Deadwood to rise from a lawless miners' camp to a community and a civilization. The show incorporates many of the town's early residents and events including the depiction of a man who survived for half-an-hour after being shot in the head by a prostitute.

In 1989, Deadwood legalized gambling, making it the third place in the United States to legalize gambling after Atlantic City and the state of Nevada, albeit at more limited stakes than its predecessors.

Keep in mind that despite its high aspirations, Deadwood is still a very small town (fewer than 2,000 people) in a sparsely populated area.

Get in

Deadwood lies 42 miles northwest of Rapid City on US Route 14A. If you're driving from Rapid City you'll need to follow I-90 to Sturgis and merge onto US Route 14A West and drive for 12 miles before arriving in Deadwood.

If you're coming from Wyoming on I-90, take exit 17 towards Deadwood and drive for 8 miles to get into town.

Deadwood and the Black Hills area are best traveled by car (or horse), but Airport Express (605-399-9999), Discovery Tours (1-888-524-5655) and Dakota Taxi (605-920-2020) can provide transportation from the Rapid City airport.

Prairie Hills Transit offers 1 way and round trip transportation to and from Rapid City for $15 1 way and $22 R/T. Rates (PDF File)

Get around

Most of the restaurants, hotels, shops and sights are located on Main Street, within easy reach of each other on foot (save for snowstorms). Free parking is available in the lot on Sherman Street which is a few blocks from main street, but there is metered parking scattered throughout most of the town as well. There is also a parking garage near main street. A trolley service runs Sunday-Thursday 7AM to 1:30AM and Friday & Saturday 7AM to 3AM for most of the year, but Sunday-Thursday hours are reduced to 8AM to 12:00 midnight during the winter. The cost is very cheap at $1 per ride.

The Visitors Bureau (767 Main Street, 1-800-999-1876) has maps and the usual array of tour brochures. They're also available at the History and Information Center on Sherman Street.

Driving in Deadwood is fairly easy, as the streets are lightly trafficked and all of the sights are either on Main Street or clearly marked. Deadwood winters can be very severe, however, so if you want to rent a car in the winter months (Late September-Late April, with snow still being possible as late as May and even June) be sure it can get around.

Recently, a company called Rushmore Segway has been offering guided, 90-minute Segway tours of the town. The tour office is located at the Days of '76 Rodeo grounds.




Many of the hotels, bars and restaurants also offer gambling, although that may range from a row of slot machines to private poker and blackjack rooms, depending on the quality of the establishment. Most casinos also offer free food and drinks so long as you're gambling (Or at least looking like you are)




Every Casino in Deadwood serves alcohol, as well as many of the restaurants. The following are the places primarily frequented for their nightlife.

Mannequins above the Wild Bill Bar





Go next

Routes through Deadwood

Belfield Spearfish  N  S  Lead Cheyenne
END  N  S  Custer Chadron

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, August 26, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.