DEADWOOD DIVERSION; Black Hills City in South Dakota a Gold Mine of Wild West History

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

DEADWOOD DIVERSION; Black Hills City in South Dakota a Gold Mine of Wild West History


Byline: Scott Haring, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"Gold!"

That exclamation, shouted in 1875, began the town of Deadwood's oh-so compelling story .

According to the local historic preservation commission, pioneer Frank Bryant and four friends were just looking for deer to hunt that day, but the sparkling metal Bryant found instead set miners scrambling to wrest their fortunes from the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota.

The gold rush lured thousands of fortune seekers into the area's lush wilderness.

Truth be told, they found gold, too - a lot of it. Pebble-size pieces but also nuggets as big as candy bars were taken from the mountains and canyons of the northern hills, area historians say.

Deadwood became an instant metropolis, fueled by greed, gold and gunpowder. There was no law, no organization, no order the first few years.

Today, Deadwood's unique history and gambling venues attract millions of visitors every year. Legalized gambling was introduced in Deadwood in 1989.

From watching shootouts on Main Street and visiting famous graves in Mount Moriah Cemetery to catching outdoor concerts and trying your chances on the one-armed bandits, the town is bursting with things to do.

Long before the modern-day gambling halls were built, Deadwood was known as a lawless town run by infamous gamblers and gunslingers. Bars, brothels and gambling made up this tiny town, which was home to such legendary characters as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Hickok was one of the prospectors who came to Deadwood looking for fortune. Just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down holding a poker hand of aces, eights and the nine of diamonds. And so began the legend of the dead man's hand.

Every day during the summer, you can see re-enactments of the shooting of Wild Bill and the trial of Jack McCall, the man who shot him.

The entire city of Deadwood is designated a National Historic Landmark, but don't let that fool you, for behind all the historic facades you'll find plenty of family-friendly activity.

Gambling was such a part of Deadwood's history that it seems only appropriate that it has taken over as one of the main attractions in this historic town. More than 80 establishments offer the gamut from penny slot machines to $100 bet limits.

At Midnight Star, the opulence of a bygone era is reflected in the etched glass, hand-rubbed wood and polished brass. That beauty is almost overshadowed by the bright colors, flashing lights and shrill noises of the gambling machines.

You can play slots, blackjack, three-card or Texas hold 'em. Beverages and snacks are complimentary - as long as you play. Children are allowed to watch the action but must stay at least three feet from the machines.

Gambling aside, the main attraction to Deadwood is its history. Those who delight in the Colonial and Civil War history of the Washington region will be mesmerized by the differences. The architecture, the people and the stories are all unique.

Deadwood also offers a bit of Hollywood glamour. Most prominent is its connection with actor Kevin Costner. At his Midnight Star, you'll find history of another sort: Costumes, props and memorabilia from his career are on display. You even may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him on one of his not-infrequent visits.

MOUNT MORIAH CEMETERY

A visit to Mount Moriah Cemetery offers a dramatic view from high above the city of Deadwood.

Among the legends of Deadwood at rest here are Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and prospector Potato Creek Johnny along with other notable ancestors of the area's famous families.

Hickok's grave recently was restored as part of a three-year, $3 million restoration project. It overshadows Calamity Jane's simple grave. As per her request, she rests next to Hickok even though most historians agree the two were not really sweethearts. …

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