Day 3: August 7, 2016
Our destination for the third day of our trip was Deadwood, South Dakota, famous for its origins as a Gold Rush town. Gold and silver were found here in 1874 and triggered the beginning of the Black Hills Gold Rush. George Armstrong Custer was responsible for making the announcement that brought tens of thousands of eager miners to the area, completely unconcerned about violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which had given ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people. But white men wanted money, so who cares about the government’s silly little commitment to the Native Americans who called this land home… Despite the land dispute reaching the United States Supreme Court, the Lakota were not successful at preventing the encroachment of the miners on their land.
Deadwood is also well known as the town where Wild Bill Hickok lived and met his untimely end by a bullet in the head, while he was sitting in a chair playing poker in the #10 saloon. He was 39 years old. Wild Bill Hickok was known for being an outlaw as well as a lawman over his relatively short life. Less well known is that he also worked as a teamster and a scout during the Civil War and it is rumored that he was a Union spy in Confederate territory. But my personal favorite tidbit about him was that he was mauled by a bear and lived!
The first order of business for our day in Deadwood was a bus tour of town, by Boothill Tours. My mom and I were joined by about 10 people who were around for the Sturgis Rally; we were the only ones who weren’t. Our guide told us stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, and attempted to separate the myth from the likely truth. Hickok was married to an older woman, and beyond being in Deadwood at the same time as the much younger Calamity Jane, they were unlikely to have been in a relationship together. Our tour took us around town, showing us the historic buildings of town, pointing out the Adams House Museum from the outside, Mount Moriah cemetery, and a home whose roof was made from large can lids. We all got out of the bus at Mount Moriah Cemetery to hear additional stories about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, to see their graves, and to view the town below from the cemetery’s vantage point above the hill.
Our tour guide was fantastic, telling us the history of the town and its residents, explaining the disasters that have befallen Deadwood over the years. It has suffered floods and multiple fires, and has had to reinvent itself over the years, after the gold rush ended, and it became just one more dying town… After our bus tour, it was mid-morning, and Deadwood was really starting to fill up with Sturgis bikers who were out touristing. The town was packed with bikers and bikes!
We toured the Adams Historical Museum and checked out the exhibits; it was an interesting hodge podge of stuff! The museum had an antique narrow gauge steam engine, a collection of small carved wood statues of nudists, comprising an entire wooden nudist colony, Wild Bill Hickok paraphernalia, an exhibit detailing the prostitution industry, and an exhibit with all sorts of opium den artifacts. They also displayed Potato Creek Johnny’s famous gold nugget (another cast member of local color in Deadwood), dinosaur fossils, and a very nice N.C. Wyeth drawing of Wild Bill Hickok. They even had a two headed calf! I enjoyed the museum, which is housed in a historic building downtown.
After the Adams Museum, we went to lunch at the Tin Lizzie, a buffet restaurant inside a casino. It was fine but certainly nothing special.
We wandered along Main Street, heading into Saloon #10, where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall, the day after beating McCall out of a large sum of money in poker. McCall rode away after the shooting, but fell off his horse and was caught a few blocks away. We poked around in a few shops and checked out motorcycles of all sizes, shapes and colors. As well as bikers of all sizes, shapes and colors… I don’t think I have ever seen so many bikers; there had to be thousands there in town – cruising the streets, sitting at restaurants and bars, walking along the sidewalks like we were – and we weren’t even in Sturgis!
We had already seen so much, and our day in Deadwood was only half over!