Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota

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Deadwood, South Dakota
Modern Deadwood viewed from Mount Moriah
Location in Lawrence County and the state of South Dakota
Deadwood, South DakotaDeadwood, South DakotaLocation within South DakotaShow map of South DakotaShow map of the United StatesShow all
Coordinates: 44°22′36″N 103°43′45″WCoordinates44°22′36″N 103°43′45″W
CountryUnited States
StateSouth Dakota
 • TypeCity Commission
 • MayorDave Ruth Jr
 • Total4.93 sq mi (12.77 km2)
 • Land4.93 sq mi (12.77 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation[2]4,531 ft (1,381 m)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Total1,270
 • Estimate (2018)[4]1,306
 • Density264.96/sq mi (102.30/km2)
Time zoneUTC−7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP code57732
Area code(s)605
FIPS code46-15700[5]
GNIS feature ID1265180[2]

Possible location of the original Nuttal & Mann’s saloon, where Wild Bill Hickok was killed, 624 Main Street, DeadwoodA photograph of Deadwood in 1876. General view of the Dakota Territory gold rush town from a hillside above.The Gem Variety Theater in 1878City Hall in 1890, photograph by John C. H. GrabillDeadwood circa 1890s

Deadwood (LakotaOwáyasuta;[6] “To approve or confirm things”) is a city in and county seat of Lawrence CountySouth Dakota, United States. It was named by early settlers after the dead trees found in its gulch.[7] The city had its heyday from 1876 to 1879, after gold deposits had been discovered there, leading to the Black Hills Gold Rush. At its height, the city had a population of 5,000, and attracted larger-than-life Old West figures including Wyatt EarpCalamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok (who was killed there).

According to the 2010 census, the population was 1,270. The entire city has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District, for its well-preserved Gold Rush-era architecture. Deadwood’s proximity to Lead, South Dakota often leads to the two cities’ being collectively named “Lead-Deadwood”.



19th century[edit]

The settlement of Deadwood began illegally in the 1870s, on land which had been granted to the Lakota people in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The treaty had guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people, who considered this area to be sacred. The settlers’ squatting led to numerous land disputes, several of which reached the United States Supreme Court.

Everything changed after Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold in 1874, on French Creek near present-day Custer, South Dakota. This announcement was a catalyst for the Black Hills Gold Rush, and miners and entrepreneurs swept into the area. They created the new and lawless town of Deadwood, which quickly reached a population of approximately 5,000. By 1876, over 25,000 people settled in Deadwood.[8]

In early 1876, frontiersman Charlie Utter and his brother Steve led to Deadwood a wagon train containing what they believed were needed commodities, to bolster business. The town’s numerous gamblers and prostitutes staffed several profitable ventures. Madame Mustache and Dirty Em were on the wagon train, and set up shop in what was referred to as Deadwood Gulch.[9] Women were in high demand by the miners, and the business of prostitution proved to have a good market. Madam Dora DuFran eventually became the most profitable brothel owner in Deadwood, closely followed by Madam Mollie Johnson.Photo-textured 3D laser scan image of the Bullock-Clark Building, 616–618 Main Street (1894)

Deadwood became known for its lawlessness; murders were common, and justice for murders not always fair and impartial.[citation needed] The town attained further notoriety when gunman Wild Bill Hickok was killed on August 2, 1876. Both he and Calamity Jane were buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery, as well as other notable figures such as Seth Bullock.

Hickok’s murderer, Jack McCall, was prosecuted twice, despite the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against double jeopardy. Because Deadwood was an illegal town in Indian Territory, non-native civil authorities lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute McCall. McCall’s trial was moved to a Dakota Territory court, where he was found guilty of murder and hanged.

Beginning August 12, 1876, a smallpox epidemic swept through. So many people fell ill that tents were erected to quarantine the stricken.

In 1876, General George Crook pursued the Sioux Indians from the Battle of Little Big Horn, on an expedition that ended in Deadwood in early September, known as the Horsemeat March. The same month, businessman Tom Miller opened the Bella Union Saloon.

On April 7, 1877, Al Swearengen, who controlled Deadwood’s opium trade, also opened a saloon; his was called the Gem Variety Theater. The saloon burned down and was rebuilt in 1879. When it burned down again in 1899, Swearengen left town.

As the economy changed from gold panning to deep mining, the individual miners went elsewhere or began to work in other fields; thusly, Deadwood lost some of its rough and rowdy character, and began to develop into a prosperous town.

The Homestake Mine in nearby Lead was established in October 1877. It operated for more than a century, becoming the longest continuously operating gold mine in the United States. Gold mining operations did not cease until 2002. The mine has been open for visiting by tourists.

On September 26, 1879, a fire devastated Deadwood, destroying more than 300 buildings and consuming the belongings of many inhabitants. Many of the newly impoverished left town to start again elsewhere.

In 1879, Thomas Edison demonstrated the incandescent lamp in New Jersey, and on September 17, 1883, Judge Squire P. Romans took a gamble and founded the “Pilcher Electric Light Company of Deadwood”. He ordered an Edison dynamo, wiring, and 15 incandescent lights with globes. After delays, the equipment arrived without the globes. Romans had been advertising an event to show off the new lights and decided to continue with the lighting, which was a success. His company grew. Deadwood had electricity service fewer than four years after Edison invented it, less than a year after commercial service was started in Roselle, New Jersey, and around the same time that many larger cities around the country established the service.[10]

In 1888, J.K.P. Miller and his associates founded a narrow-gauge railroad, the Deadwood Central Railroad, to serve their mining interests. In 1893, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad purchased the railroad. In 1902, a portion of the railroad between Deadwood and Lead was electrified for operation as an interurban passenger system, which operated until 1924. In 1930, the railroad was abandoned, apart from a portion from Kirk to Fantail Junction, which was converted to standard gauge. In 1984, Burlington Northern Railroad abandoned the remaining section.[11]

Some of the other early town residents and frequent visitors included Martha BullockAaron DunnE. B. FarnumSamuel FieldsA. W. MerrickDr. Valentine McGillycuddyReverend Henry Weston SmithSol Star, and Charlie and Steve Utter.


The gold rush attracted Chinese immigrants to the area; their population peaked at 250.[12] A few engaged in mining; most worked in service enterprises. A Chinese quarter arose on Main Street, as there were no restrictions on foreign property ownership in Dakota Territory, and a relatively high level of tolerance of different peoples existed in the frontier town. Wong Fee Lee arrived in Deadwood in 1876 and became a leading merchant. He was a community leader among the Chinese Americans until his death in 1921.[13]

The quarter’s residents also included African Americans and European Americans.[14] During the 2000s, the state sponsored an archeological dig in the area, to study the history of this community of diverse residents.[15]

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

Another major fire in September 1959 came close to destroying the town again. About 4,500 acres (1,800 ha) were burned and an evacuation order was issued. Nearly 3,600 volunteer and professional firefighters, including personnel from the Homestake MineEllsworth Air Force Base, and the South Dakota National Guard‘s 109th Engineer Battalion, worked to contain the fire. The property losses resulted in a major regional economic downturn.[16][17]

In 1961, the entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark, for its well-preserved collection of late 19th-century frontier architecture. Most of the town’s buildings were built before 1900, with only modest development after that.[18] The town’s population continued to decline through the 1960s and 1970s.[19] Interstate 90 bypassed Deadwood in 1964, diverting travelers and businesses elsewhere. After a 1980 raid, its brothels were shut down.[19] A fire in December 1987 destroyed the historic Syndicate Building and a neighboring structure.[19]

The fire prompted new interest in the area and hopes to redevelop it. Organizers planned the “Deadwood Experiment,” in which gambling was tested as a means of stimulating growth in the city center.[19][20] At the time, gambling was legal only in the state of Nevada and in Atlantic City.[21]

Deadwood was the first small community in the U.S. to seek legal gambling revenues in order to maintain local historic assets.[21] The state legislature legalized gambling in Deadwood in 1989, which rapidly generated significant new revenues and development.[22] The pressure of development since then may have an effect on the historical integrity of the landmark district.[22] Heritage tourism is important for Deadwood and the state.


Deadwood is located at 44°22′36″N 103°43′45″W.[23]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.83 square miles (9.92 km2), all of it land.[24]

Deadwood has been assigned the ZIP code 57732[citation needed] and the 

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