Deadwood the legendary South Dakota town

If you’ve seen the TV series Deadwood then you’ll know that the town had an inauspicious start as a rough and ready mining village where lawlessness was a part of daily life.

The fact is that colourful characters such as Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane did indeed frequent Deadwood (and both are buried there); and the town that was once the wildest in the west is now a much friendlier place, where visitors are always welcome.

Deadwood was established in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush. 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.  Most of the early population was in Deadwood to mine for gold, but the lawless region naturally attracted a crowd of rough and shady characters. These particular individuals made the early days of Deadwood rough and wild. A mostly male population eagerly patronized the many saloons, gambling establishments, dance halls, and brothels. These establishments were considered legitimate businesses and were well known throughout the area.

Deadwood gradually evolved from a wild frontier town to a prosperous commercial centre, due, in part, to the construction of the railroad.

The entire town of Deadwood has now been designated a National Historic Landmark and ongoing restoration continues to transform the town back to its Wild West glory.    

During the 1980s the question of gaming resurfaced, and a petition was introduced to reinstate gaming in Deadwood. In 1986, local business owners agreed to lobby for legalized gaming to create economic development for the community. As gaming moved through the state legislature, the Deadwood City Commission established the Historic Preservation Commission in 1987 to oversee the restoration of historic sites in the community.

The introduction of gaming has enabled Deadwood to preserve its historic buildings and dramatically increase tourism. Visitors can enjoy the latest slots, Blackjack, poker and Texas Hold’em games at one of the 80 historic gaming halls with $100 bet limits.

To encourage visitors to Deadwood, the city hosts events all year round.  Some of these are sporting and endurance events, such as the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon which sets man against mountain with a race along the Black Hills mountain trails.  There’s the Wild Bill Days, which allows participants prove their prowess at such western arts as fast draw competitions (with guns, not pencils). Then there’s Deadwierd, which is Deadwood’s annual Deadweird Costume Contest which is held on Halloween night.

Deadwood, South Dakota is a much more timid place these days, but if you get into the spirit of the town it still has the means to send you wild.

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