Travel Thoughts By Kim

By Kim Pritt, Contributor Posted 19 February 2023 at 3:00 pm

The town of Deadwood, SD is a gulch surrounded by hills with a distinct “old west” feel.

Let’s go on an adventure together….to Deadwood, SD!

Don’t shy away from places you think might be a waste of time because they seem to be too hokey or touristy. Sometimes they are….take my experience with Salem, MA, for example: I was really looking forward to it, but it was a total disappointment either because it was the off-season or we just didn’t find the right stuff to do (perhaps I should give it another try someday). But, sometimes hokey and touristy can be a lot of fun. To prove that point, I’m going to treat you to my day in Deadwood, SD.

While on a cross country motorhome trip with my brother and sister-in-law, we spent a good amount of time in South Dakota. We did all the usual stuff – Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Badlands, Custer State Park, etc. But, we almost passed up visiting Deadwood. We talked about it – it was a tad out of the way from where we were camped and we thought it might be just another hokey old west town without too much to see or do. But, I’m so glad we decided to take a chance and check it out. We had such a good time!

That’s me with Wild Bill Hickok. The man looks pretty good for having been fatally shot on August 2, 1876 and currently re-living his demise multiple times every day for the tourists.

Originally named Deadwood Gulch, because of the dead trees found in the gulch, Deadwood was known as a “boom town” in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush era. Thanks to “Colorado” Charley Utter, businesses began to pop up along the street that ran through the gulch – mostly saloons and brothels popular with the men that came to town in hopes of striking it rich with gold found in the Black Hills. Deadwood became even more famous as the town where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. Wild Bill was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery overlooking the town of Deadwood. Later, per her last wishes – “Bury me beside Wild Bill”, Calamity Jane was buried beside him. The story goes that Calamity Jane was in love with Wild Bill – her account was that she married him, but divorced him so he could marry Agnes Lake, but there is no record of that ever happening. Friends of Wild Bill recounted that he took her under his wing, like a father figure, and there was no romantic attraction – although, she followed him around like a puppy dog pining for him. It was noted that Wild Bill dearly loved his wife, Agnes, and only came to Deadwood at the invitation of his friend, “Colorado” Charley Utter, who enticed him with the money that could be made there.

The poker hand that Wild Bill Hickok was playing – black aces and eights – when he was fatally shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall is now known as “The Deadman’s Hand”.

Wild Bill’s murderer, Jack McCall, was an unlucky gambler who claimed Wild Bill had killed his brother. He shot him from behind in the back of the head while Wild Bill was playing cards. His final hand – black aces and eights – became known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”. McCall was tried by an informal jury of miners and acquitted because of his defense of avenging his brother’s murder. After much scrutiny, McCall was rearrested and retried – this was not considered double jeopardy because the original trial was not recognized as a legal proceedings. In the second trial, McCall was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

We wandered around the brick streets in town browsing the shops and some of the historic buildings – including the oldest building still in existence since the town’s heyday. We had lunch at the # 10 Saloon and discovered they do a reenactment of Wild Bill’s murder, so we stayed for the show! It is not the actual saloon he was murdered in, but since that particular building is no longer standing, they do it there! It was a lot of fun and I even got to have my photo taken with Wild Bill himself – before he was fatally shot for the umpteenth time since that first time on August 2, 1876. The saloon is home to several portraits and artifacts attributed to “Colorado” Charley Utter, Wild Bill, and others of the day, including the actual chair Wild Bill was sitting in when he was shot from behind. The actors told stories of life in Deadwood in the 1870s and Wild Bill’s life up until his death. It was very interesting and entertaining. 

We also went up the hill to Mt. Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried. There is an awesome overlook where you can look down over the gulch known as Deadwood. A cool place – especially if you’re into old cemeteries, like I am.

So, don’t overlook places you think might be hokey – they just might end up being a fun highlight of your adventure! Check out the post I wrote about our day in Deadwood, SD with lots more photos on my blog at 

Happy Adventuring!

The burial sites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in Mt Moriah Cemetery. The cemetery is located on the top of a hill overlooking Deadwood, SD.