Sunday, October 10, 2010

Deadwood, South Dakota.

Let's start out with a bit of Deadwood, South Dakota, history. For a long time in the 1800's, there'd been rumors circulating that there was gold in the Black Hills, a relatively unexplored area of South Dakota. In 1873, there was a bad depression in the country. Depressions used to be called "panics." The Panic of 1873 led to a lot of unemployment and that prompted the government in the following spring of 1874 when President Grant was in office, to send Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer down to the Black Hills from Fort Lincoln in present day Bismarck, North Dakota. Custer led an expedition of about 1200 troops to the Black Hills to look for gold and to map the territory along the way. Eventually they found some gold in what they named French Creek, the site of the present day city of Custer, about 60 miles south of Deadwood. Custer had to fight newspaper reporters along the way. Once the news stories got out about the discovery of gold definitely being in French Creek, the word quickly spread. The Treaty of Fort Laramie, also called the Sioux Treaty of 1868, was an agreement between the United States and the Lakota nation, the Sioux, and the Arapaho, guaranteeing to the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and further land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The Powder River Country was henceforth closed to all whites. However, once gold was found, there really was no practical way for the government to keep people out. They tried at least to start to keep prospectors out, but as soon as the cavalry took people out, they flooded right back in. Already by late 1875, there were several thousand white men in the Southern Hills when they founded the town of Custer. There wasn't a whole lot of gold in the Custer area, so in November 1875 people started to spread out more. There was a party of seven led by Frank Bryant - surprisingly named the Bryant Party - that went up north from Custer and found the gulch that was to become Deadwood. They found Whitewood Creek, running between the mountains and staked their first gold mines. Several of the men went back to Custer and told them of their gold finds up north in a gulch lined with dead wood. Because of all the flooding in Whitewood Creek, a lot of dead timber was washed up on the banks. All the men in Custer abandoned their sites within the next few days and headed to the gulch. By January 1876, all the gold mines were staked out along the creek and also along a tributary they named Deadwood Creek. They quickly built a rough camp next to the creek where their claims were and officially named the area Deadwood in April of 1876. The population of Deadwood peaked around the turn of the century before WWI at about 10,000. The present population is about 1200. Eventually, Rapid City became the prominent city in the western half of the state after WWII when they got Elsworth Air Force Base. Deadwood then shifted from a mining focus to a tourism focus. In November 1989, legal gambling started. The money from gambling goes to historic preservation projects. The Black Hills of South Dakota enjoy an unmatched brand of Old West history. The last great gold rush in the continental United States came through, leaving behind ghost mines and old cabins, along with mining camps like Deadwood. Historic Deadwood is known for its rough and tumble past. Gamblers and gunslingers like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane made legends for themselves on the tough and dusty streets. Attempts were made by the sheriff and mayor to try and tame the town, but the outlaw spirit never really died. With ongoing restoration, Deadwood is being transformed back into that same frontier town that once drew hundreds of people in search of their fortune. Deadwood is a historic mining camp, built on a rowdy history of gold, gambling, and gunpowder that has taken that notoriety and transformed itself into South Dakota's entertainment mecca. From its earliest days, people flocked into the Gulch, hoping to make their fortune - Chinese laborers, bull train drivers and freighters, hard rock miners, cavalrymen, merchants, gamblers, madams, and cowboys. It was the American frontier- turbulent and on the move, wild and wooly. More than 80 casinos, about 3000 slot machines, around 90 card tables currently make up the Deadwood landscape. Some of the West's most flamboyant characters now rest in peace at St. Moriah Cemetery, high above Main Street - Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Madame Dora DuFran, Potato Creek Johnny, and Preacher Smith. With its proximity to Homestake, the nation's most prolific gold mine for over 100 years, Deadwood managed to avoid the pitfall and snares along the glory road for decades. By the late 1980's however, the wild and rowdy gold-filled rampage was grinding to a halt. The town fathers surveyed the vacant downtown, cracked pavements, and dwindling trickle of traffic, and decided to deal Deadwood a new hand. Town promoters succeeded in getting a constitutional amendment to allow limited stakes gambling on the ballot in November 1989 and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure. Proponents of limited stakes gambling promised to dedicate revenue to restoring and preserving this national historic treasure. Since 1989 and the insurge of monies from gambling, the town has been spruced up and many buildings restored to their original condition. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and other legendary characters have become permanent residents of Deadwood, with their grave high above Deadwood in Mount Moriah Cemetery - an eternal reminder of the town's remarkable place in American history. With the return of gaming, Deadwood was back in business and on a golden road. Over the years, revenues from the town's 80 gaming halls have turned Deadwood into a national template on how to restore and rejuvenate towns "with a past." Today, Deadwood is one of only a handful of communities in America designated a National Historic Landmark. Since November 1989, almost 13 BILLION dollars have been wagered in the historic gold camp. In November 2000, Deadwood businesses were successful in raising their $5 bet limits. A statewide referendum went to the voters and a $100 bet limit was approved, helping to draw even more visitors to the gaming halls. The number of gambling halls in the main district has leveled out at about 86 businesses. At last count, there were about 3000 slot machines and 90 card tables. Most of the parlors are Old West Saloons where the energy level is high and the atmosphere relaxed and cordial. Throw in a bunch of tourists and some drinks and you have the perfect combination of vices required to make $$$$$. With Deadwood's reputation as a town that has thrived on risk, gambling is more than an attraction. It's part of the heritage. Deadwood has only one main street - all that space permits on the floor of Deadwood Gulch. The rest of the town clings to the steep sides of the canyon. The town is filled with reminders of its lively past as a gold-rich boom town. In the late 1800's it was a haven for gunfighters and gamblers like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday. Wild Bill was shot and killed in Deadwood at a saloon during a poker game, August 2, 1876. The story and re-enactment to follow.
Everywhere you turn in Deadwood, there's a casino.
Every venue in Deadwood has gambling. I am not a gambler - one of the few vices I don't have. I'd be up at 7- 7:30 AM to go to the Continental Breakfast and little gray/blue-haired ladies would be sitting on the stools, fixated on the screen, eyes glazed, pulling the one-armed bandit, contributing to the coffers of South Dakota. Waiting for the big one. The jackpot. It's coming!
I wondered how long they'd been there.
More about Wild Bill later.
I so wanted to buy a pair of these pants. They would have done wonders for my ass. Mr. Hawthorne restrained me.
This was supposed to be Cheyenne Street, but they didn't know how to spell it so they ended up with Shine Street.
The Franklin Hotel. More on that later - a rather interesting story I got from our waitress, Arlene.
Saloon #10 where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down.
There used to be about 30 brothels in this section of town.
They still keep scantily clad mannequins in the windows.
The Lucky Nugget. A brothel. Heh.
I thought this part of the sidewalk was neat.
Stay tuned for more about Deadwood.

5 comments:

Marilyn said...

I'm surprised you were allowed to take pics inside the gambling establishments.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

I am stealthy, Mar. No flash.

Sage Trifle said...

You should have bought those pants!

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Oh man, ST, I sooooo should've.
I'd've ROCKED!

Rosie Hawthorne said...

I did buy some lovely blue/gray Minnetonka mocs though. Does that count?