Deadwood began as an assortment of mining camps up and down Whitewood and Deadwood Creeks that run through the narrow canyon. The illegal camps sprang up in Lakota territory because it had been reported that there was gold here for the taking. Half-hearted cavalry attempts to chase out the gold-seekers soon abated, and the squatters remained. Deadwood and neighboring camps didn’t have much structured governance, and soon countless saloons, houses of prostitution, opium dens, and general lawlessness flourished on its frequently muddy, sewage-filled streets. Famous characters of the old West, such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock, soon arrived in Deadwood. Wild Bill didn’t stay long; he was shot in the back and killed while playing poker only three weeks after he came. Calamity, by far more interesting, whose birth name was Martha Jane Canary, hung around longer. Preferring men’s clothes and heavy drinking, her kind and generous nature compelled her to help the underdogs and nurse those suffering from smallpox. Survivors of the epidemic called her "an angel." The adventurous Jane frequently traveled to where the action was, be it California, Alaska, Montana, or back East. Yet she considered Deadwood home, and always returned. She died of pneumonia and alcoholism at age 51 in a boarding house in nearby Terry.
We passed an enjoyable evening wandering the streets of Deadwood, after eating a rather mediocre buffet at Tin Lizzie. That wouldn’t have been our first choice to eat, but we were hungry and had a coupon. Later, we were sorry we didn’t choose one of the other classier places further down Main Street, such as two-story Big Al’s Steakhouse Saloon, where you can sit upstairs on the balcony, watching the street activities below. Art Deco-style Mustang Sally’s also looked interesting, though somewhat out of place. Although wooden buildings of Deadwood have burned down frequently, there are vintage brick hotels, such as Bullock and Franklin Hotels.
As we wandered back down crowded Main Street in fading light, we noticed some characters dressed in period costumes, including a dead-ringer for Calamity Jane (HBO-version). She was leaning against a lamppost, swigging on a bottle of "whiskey," and being loud and obnoxious, though not foul-mouthed. Soon, we witnessed the nightly commotion of the capture and trial of Jack McCall, Wild Bill’s killer. He actually got off, although he shot Bill in the back of the head, in the middle of a poker game in plain view of many witnesses. Later he was retried elsewhere, convicted, and hanged for this murder.
Rodeo, New Mexico
September 28, 2004
From journal Gold Towns and Bikers: Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis