Friday, 21 November 2008
WESTERN ICONS - THE REAL DEADWOOD
The town of Deadwood was determined to thrive from the start, despite the fact that initially it had no legal standing, being situated in the Black Hills which was protected for the Indians by treaty.
The growth of the town was rapid. Check out the first three pictures.
The first is from 1876 and the second is just twelve years later. Whilst the third is the historic town as viewed today.
Deadwood, a wild cesspit of smallpox,whores,violence,treachery,cussing,murder - and that's not from the TV show or the series of novels by Mike (James Reasoner) Jameson.
No, that's very much from the reality of the situation - Tombstone may have been the town too tough to die, but Deadwood was the town with its foundations in hell.
Deadwood came about after George Armstrong Custer and a band of cavalrymen discovered traces of gold in the hills. Custer encouraged exploration of the area even though it was part of the Sioux reservation and out of bounds to white men. The government could do little to stop the rapid influx and by 1877 some 20,000 gold hungry men had made the trip to Deadwood Gulch.
The place got its name after a wild fire burnt a lot of the trees in the area leaving a landscape of charred, twisted, limbs. In its earliest days it was little more than a rough mining camp - because it was on Indian ground no law existed. The towns residents would let off steam in the many brothels and saloons that sprung up on seemingly every vacant spot of land.
Wild Bill Hickok was killed here in the No. 10 Saloon - shot in the head, while playing cards. His hand, Aces over Eights, will forever be known as, "Deadman's Hand". The event took place on August 2nd 1876 when Jack McCall shot the gambler and gunfighter in the back of the head.
Hickock was buried at Ingleside Cemetery but he was later moved to Mount Moriah which is where he rests today.
In the TV show Seth Bullock is a good friend to the gunfighter but in reality Bullock, a Canadian from Ontario, didn't arrive in the town until August 1st, a day before the gunfighter died. Bullock didn't know Hickock but he would later become a confident of Theodore Roosevelt.
Bullock arrived in town with his long time friend and business partner, Sol Star ( the pair are pictured on left) - it had been an arduous wagon ride to get to Deadwood but the pair immediately set about setting up a business. They peddled pans, pots, cigars and chamber pots from a premises they constructed at the corner of Main Street and Wall Street.
Less than a month after arriving in town Bullock had become de-facto sheriff and then when Lawrance County was formed in 1877 Bullock became its first sherrif appointed by Governor John Pennington.
Martha Jane Cannery, also known as Calamity Jane was also a prominent figure in early Deadwood. She settled in Deadwood in 1876 and at various points claimed to have married Wild Bill Hickock but this was later disproved. She would nurse many people suffering from smallpox in the town and became an important and much loved figure even if she had often served as a prostitute from time to time in many of the town's brothels. In her later years she travelled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus and when she died she was buried alongside Wild Bill in the Mount Moriah Cemetery.
In April 1877 Ellis Alfred Swearengen opened his Gem Theatre in the town. Swearengen enlisted young women to work as dancers but soon forced them into a life of prostitution. Women who worked for him were routinely beaten if they got out of hand. He turned them all into Laudanum so that he would have an hold over them.
The Gem was a massive success and claimed to gross over $5,000 a night during those early years. Swearengen was arrested by Sheriff Bullock many times for assualt, disturbing the peace and non payment of taxes. In 1878 the sheriff had the Gem closed an auctioned to pay off debts. But no one had the guts to bid and so Swearengen kept the place and continued trading.
There is no clear photograph of Swearengen but it is thought that the man in the stage at the far left of the Gem in the photograph below is him.
All the wildness seen on the TV and in the books was there in the real Deadwood and then some....
Posted by Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin at 03:37