Black Hills Stories and Tips

Sturgis & Deadwood - Two unique towns with great history

Easyriders Saloon Photo, Sturgis, South Dakota

There is so much to see in the Black Hills that we could have used another day or two. While we made sure to visit all of our must see destinations, we tried to sneak in a few extra places along the way. A few of those places turned out to be very fun and interesting and it was a shame that we couldn’t spend more time there. My family and my wife’s sister’s family took our first vacation together. My brother-in-law and nephew are avid Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. They try to visit every Harley-Davidson store as each one sells poker chips that have the store’s location printed on them. Many Harley-Davidson fans collect these chips to frame.

Our quest to collect poker chips took us to Sturgis, the most famous motorcycle town in the US. Sturgis, South Dakota is a small town of 6000 people but in the first week of August, the town grows in size to nearly 500,000 people. Motorcyclists from around the country make the journey to Sturgis to attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the largest motorcycle rally in the US. The rally originally started in 1938 and it continues to grow in popularity every year.

Although we were about two weeks too early for the rally (thank heavens!), we still got to experience a little bit of the rally fever. Businesses were already getting prepared. Merchandise trailers were already set up, banners were being hung, and many of the local residents were already planning to leave town. I spoke with a person who was born and raised in Sturgis and she said that she has never seen the motorcycle rally. Since she was born, her family has always left for that week for vacation so that they could avoid the crowd. She said that is common among most of the residents who live in Sturgis.

Our brief stay in Sturgis began with lunch at the Easyrider’s Saloon, located in the center of town. It was one of the few saloon type restaurants that were appropriate for children. Although my family is not the motorcycle type, we had planned to pretend that we were hard core bikers even if only for a couple of hours. After lunch, we stopped by the Mecca (so to speak) for motorcyclists, the Sturgis Harley-Davidson store. We shopped for some Sturgis gear and although I am not a collector, we grabbed a poker chip for the kids to mark our visit to the legendary town.

We left Sturgis and headed about 14 miles to Deadwood to visit our next Harley-Davidson store. Had it not been for the Harley Davidson store and needing a poker chip, we would probably have skipped Deadwood and that would have been a mistake. The town is smaller than Sturgis of just over 1000 people. Deadwood became synonymous with the Wild West. It was a town of lawlessness and it attracted gamblers, prostitutes, gunslingers, and criminals. Saloons and brothels were staples on Main Street. The saloons are still there but the brothels have been replaced with hotels and the street is filled with shops, small casinos, and of course, the Harley Davidson store.

After a quick visit to the Harley-Davidson store, we strolled along Main Street checking out some of the shops. I quickly learned some of the history of the town as I walked down Main Street. It appears that Deadwood became famous after the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. A hero of the American West, he was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall while playing poker. He was captured and tried for the murder, but Deadwood lived up to its reputation and he was found not guilty. McCall then fled to the Wyoming territory where he was tried again for the murder of Hickok. He argued that double jeopardy applied and that he could not be tried again. But Wyoming officials stated that he could be tried again because Deadwood did not have any law enforcement or court system. McCall was found guilty and hanged for the murder.

All along Main Street, sites related to the murder of Wild Bill Hickok still remain. Starting with No 10 Saloon (originally called Nuttal & Mann’s saloon) at 624 Main Street is where Wild Bill was murdered. No 10 Saloon has since moved to a different location on Main Street along with some of the original items including the chair that Wild Bill was sitting in when he was shot. In front of the Goldbergs casino hangs a sign marking the location of the capture of Jack McCall on Aug 2, 1876. The Masonic lodge in town is also the site of the first trial of McCall. Mount Moriah cemetery is the final resting place of Wild Bill.

During the summer, history comes to life on Main Street. We happened to be in Deadwood to witness one of the street show re-enactments that occur three times a day at various locations along Main Street. At 4pm in front of the Celebrity Hotel, we were treated to a poker game that resulted in a shootout that left two dead in the street. The re-enactment was taken from historical records as a news reporter was there the day it happened. The other shows occur at 2pm in front of the Four Aces and at 6pm in front of the Franklin Hotel. Visitors can also relive the shooting of Wild Bill inside No 10 Saloon at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm. At 7:30, the capture of Jack McCall is re-enacted and then visitors can head to the Masonic Lodge at 8pm to witness the trial.

Although we only got to experience a small portion of what Deadwood has to offer, it is amazing that we almost didn’t make it there.

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