Deadwood History

Deadwood received its name by early settlers after the dead trees found in its gulch.  The settlement began in the 1870’s after the discovery of gold in 1874.   What started as a tiny gold camp quickly grew into a town that attracted outlaws, gamblers, businessmen, miners, gunslingers, madams and working girls.  The new and lawless town quickly reached a population of 5,000 and by 1877 approximately 12,000 people had settled in Deadwood.


Deadwood has been home over the years to many colorful characters such as Charlie Utter a frontiersman who brought a 30 wagon train to Deadwood and started an express delivery service.  American old west folk hero, scout, lawman and gunslinger Wild Bill Hickock was playing cards in Deadwood’s Saloon #10 and was shot from behind by Jack McCall.  Martha Jane Canary – aka Calamity Jane – was a tobacco chewing, beer drinking frontierswoman known as a local Deadwood humanitarian and helped aid residents suffering from a smallpox epidemic.  Seth Bullock came to Deadwood as a businessman and ended up as the town’s first sheriff.


Deadwood has survived much since it was founded – 3 devastating fires, economic hardships, and the threat of becoming a ghost town.  In September of 1879, the first fire devastated Deadwood.  It destroyed more than 300 buildings and all that they contained.  This led to many people becoming impoverished and discouraged and leaving town.  Deadwood experienced its 2nd fire in September of 1959, nearly destroying the town once again.  Once again there was a major economic downturn.  Deadwood experienced its 3rd fire in December of 1987, which destroyed the Syndicate Building but prompted renewed interest in the area.  In 1989 the state legislature legalized gambling in Deadwood, generating new revenue and development.  Today Deadwood has modern hotels, casinos, concerts, spas, an event complex and more.


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