Deadwood, South Dakota

1750-1790 Lakotas, Kiowa, Pawnee, Comanche tribes have all been traced to the area.

1856 The first reports of gold being found

1874-1879 the Gold Rush

1876 Custer dies at Little Big Horn

1890 Wounded Knee Massacre

1944 German POWs were held at Ft. Meade

1973 Wounded Knee II

Fossils of rhinoceros, sabertooth tigers, sheep sized camels and giant cow sized pigs have been found in this area.

In the Black Hills of Western South Dakota, Deadwood was incorporated in 1876. Named for the dead trees that were found in Deadwood Gulch. Main and Sherman Sts. run down the narrow gulch, with many streets built up the sides.

First telephone exchange in South D. Paul Rewman established the service in March of 1878, calls were 50 cents, 25 cents less than the stage ride, and of course, much quicker.

News of the gold discovery attracted nearly 15,000 people of all nationalities to the Northern Black Hills area. About 5,000 set up tents and shanties in Deadwood. Another 10,000 lived in tents and shanties in Lead City a few miles down the road until several sawmills were set up to cut lumber for log homes and businesses. In 1878, the only gold left in the area had to be extracted from hard rock. Deadwood’s gold supply dried up but several mines in the surrounding area kept the city alive as a service town by supplying goods and services to the miners from its general stores, restaurants and saloons. Destroyed by fire in 1879, Deadwood rebuilt and continued to provide the area with needed services. In 1890, a new mining process kept the Homestake mines alive. A railroad terminal was set up making Deadwood a major service center. Most of the construction in and around Deadwood, SD took place during 1914. In 1916, the South Dakota and US Federal government constructed roads and bridges to draw tourists to the area. In 1924, Deadwood started its annual “The Days of ’76 celebration” which takes place during  July.

The stock market crash of 1929 had little effect on the area. Mining, gambling, bootlegging and prostitution kept the city alive. In 1961, the city was dedicated as a national historical landmark. In 1980, prostitution was made illegal.  In 1989, South Dakota voted to legalize gambling with a maximum bet of $5.00.

Neighboring towns

Spearfish was founded for the lumber industry with 5 mills. Roughlock Falls to the south is so name for the brakes system (chaining the front wheels) on wagons used to try to go down the steep terrain, most did not make it. There was also a rumored ghost of a suicide victim.. Bloody Gulch is not named for a massacre but for an Englishman who drank the water and got ill (“I got sick from drink from the bloody gulch”). Potato Creek Johnny Perrett is said to haunt Potato Creek after finding the areas largest chunk of gold worth $250. Brownsville just south of Lead, had a boardinghouse burn down in 1883 where 11 men died. They were buried in a mass grave at Moriah. Jim Timan is rumoured to haunt the Latchstring Inn after drinking himself into a stupor after his wedding, his new wife packed up and left before the honeymoon.  Frawley Ranch a National Historic Landmark, on the Upper Ranch the Centenniel Park Hotel burned down in 1883, and there is a building stated to be built in 1870s on the Lower Ranch. Bear Butte (or Mato Paha) between Spearfish and Rapid City was believed by the Indians to house the creator. The trails are generally covered with prayer ribbons.

Chinese Culture in Deadwood, SD

The news of the Gold strike in Deadwood was flashed all over the world, and a rush of adventurers came from everywhere to find their fortunes. The Chinese, often just finishing work on the railroads, headed for Wyoming to catch the Cheyenne to Deadwood stagecoach. The route was long and hazardous, frequented by bandits and Indian attacks. The slang name of the Chinese section of town was “The Badlands,” because of the mysterious ways of the Chinese and stories that frightened the white townspeople. As their community grew, so did the mysterious stories. The Chinese had recreated ‘homeland’ places and surroundings, such as gardens, temples, and courtyards with vases and statue areas. The Chinese went into businesses such as dry goods, pharmacies, “washee” houses (laundries), shoe repair, furniture repair, and restaurants serving American food, just to name a few. One example of their business sense was in the washee houses, after washing the miners’ clothes all day the Chinese would pan the dirty laundry water for the gold dust that came out of the miners’ clothes. Some of the more notorious businesses that the Celestials were involved in were opium dens, prostitution, and gambling.          

Opium distribution was strictly controlled in the Deadwood area. The merchants that distributed the opium paid a yearly tax of $300, the same as liquor. There were, however, many abuses, mostly among the whites that visited the opium dens. The opium dens were sometimes called ‘Smoke Houses’ or ‘Hop Joints.’ These smoke houses flourished all over the area including the cities of Deadwood and Lead. Opium smoking in the tunnels under the streets of Deadwood has fueled debates over the years. One written account states there were at least two dens that operated from the tunnels, others say opium was never smoked in the tunnels.The Chinese enjoyed playing many games including Chinese checkers, Mah Jong, Dominos, and American card games. The Chinese were also skillful gamblers betting on games of Dominos, Fan Tan, poker and also playing the Chinese lottery.    The white miners around the west referred to the Chinese miners as “heathens”, due in part to the jealousy of the white miners who felt their jobs were in jeopardy. Some of the white mine owners preferred the Chinese to work in their mines because they worked well together, were paid less, and the Chinese were considered dispensable. In other areas, the white miners would not allow the Chinese to work the mine shafts. Places like Rock Springs, Wyoming had race riots in 1885 where 28 Chinese were killed and many were forced to flee. Such major incidents were rare but the Chinese were harassed and killed in smaller numbers in dozens of mining towns throughout the west. In Deadwood the Chinese were treated comparatively well. Their ability to organize and get work done fast and efficiently was valued by the mine owners there.

 Another recorded Chinese community offering was the world champion fire hose team of 1838. The team included six men who raced 300 yards pulling a fire wagon and squirted water on a fire faster than any team in the world, or so the community claims.

Adverse economic conditions, like labor strikes and lower silver prices, forced the Chinese to begin leaving Deadwood between 1915 and 1920. The last of them left in 1932, leaving behind what has been described as the “Last Chinatown” of the Old West.

The Tunnels

There is very little written information about the tunnel network under Deadwood. One interesting aspect connected with the underground passageways was that the Chinese were not allowed on the streets at night. They were feared by the locals because of their different appearance, customs, and language. After streets were raised and the original wooden sidewalks were covered over, the Chinese used the newly created tunnels to get to different parts of town. Deadwood had a large network of tunnels.
The original town was flooded out and filled with such debris in the early 1880s, that it was just filled in and built right on top of. It is believe many of the tunnels lead to and through the old building that are now buried.

Mt Moriah Cemetery

The local cemetery holds several locally famous people such as Seth Bullock, the first sheriff who to this day haunts his old saloon. Nationally famous people buried here are:


In the 1800s Deadwood City was a town of gamblers and gunslingers. It was here that Wild Bill Hickok got a fatal bullet in the back of his head. Born James Butler Hickok in Troy Grove Illinois, he grew up on a farm where he and his father helped runaway slaves find freedom. An excellent marksman, he later moved to Kansas and became the village constable. He was a spy (scout) for the Union during the Civil War. After the war, he became a deputy US Marshall at Fort Riley(1866), Marshall of Hays, KS(1869), and Marshall of Abileen(1871). After a tour of the East with Buffalo Bill Cody (1872–73), Hickok went to Deadwood where he was murdered by Jack McCall. Although he had a superstition of never sitting with his back to the door, for some reason on that fateful day on August 2, 1876, he quelled his natural instincts and joined a card game in progress at the Number Ten Saloon, taking the only seat available -with its back to the door. The hand Hickok held when he was killed was an ace of Spades and Clubs, 8 of Spades and Clubs and a 9 of Diamonds. His hand became known as a “Dead Man’s Hand.” McCall was hung in Yankton on March 1, 1877. The Number Ten Saloon is still in operation today where tourists can entertain themselves with wild conspiracy theories as they witness the daily reenactments of Wild Bill Hickok’s death.


Calamity Jane , c. 1852–1903, American frontier character. Her real name was Martha Jane Canary, and the origin of her nickname is obscure. Little is known of her early life beyond the fact that she moved with her parents to Virginia City, Mont., in 1865 and that she grew up in mining camps and rough frontier communities. Her love of horses, hunting and outdoor adventures made her one of the best riders and shooters in the west at the age of 13. Her reputation as the most daring rider and one of the best shooters in the west made many fearful of her. In 1870 Calamity became a scout for General Custer. In 1876 she appeared in Deadwood, dressed in men’s clothes and boasting of her marksmanship and her exploits as a pony-express rider and as a scout with Custer’s forces. In her later years she toured the West in a burlesque show and appeared at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. She died in poverty and obscurity in Deadwood, where she is buried beside Wild Bill Hickok. .