HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

Wild Bill Hickok – Born in Troy Grove, Illinois on May 27, 1837, Hickok was an excellent marksman even in his youth. Always enamored of the frontier west, Hickok joined the pioneers when he was just 17 years old. Soon, he worked as a freighter on the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails where he perpetuated his reputation with his gunfighting skills. He also served as a marshal in several Old West settlements and as an Army scout. During his travels he became a proficient gambler. Touring with Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show, Hickok was well known by the time he arrived in Deadwood in 1876. However, his stay in the rough and tumble camp would be a short one, as he was murdered by Jack McCall while playing poker in a Deadwood saloon on August 2, 1876. More…

Jack (John) Langrishe – Langrishe, the gay stage promoter and friend of Al Swearengen who tries to bring culture to the mean streets of Deadwood, was a real character during Deadwood’s booming mining days. Though not gay and highly unlikely to have been a friend of Swearengen’s, Langrishewas a real theatre owner and promoter who preferred working in the Old West to the stages of New York’s Broadway. Married to a wife named Jenette, the pair opened several theatres during their careers, including one in Denver, Colorado and another in Helena, Montana, as well as the one inDeadwood. Before erecting a permanent building for his theatre, Langrishe temporarily operated out of the Bella Union. More…

Lucretia “Aunt Lou” Marchbanks – Except for “Aunt Sally” Campbell, who came with the Custer Expedition in 1874, most believe that Lucretia Marchbanks was the first black woman in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Born a slave in Tennessee, Lucretia began to travel the west once she was freed, working in the gold camps of Colorado before being lured by the reports of gold in the Black Hills. Arriving in Deadwood on June 1, 1876, she soon found work as the Kitchen Manager in the Grand Central Hotel. In no time, the hotel, which really wasn’t so grand, was better known for the great food served in its restaurant and Lucretia became better known as “Aunt Lou.” Aunt Lou went on to own a boarding house before retiring to a life of ranching inWyoming. Though she may have met George Hearst as she worked for the DeSmet Mine for a period, she never worked directly for him. More…

Jack McCall – Unfortunately, this cowardly and drunken figure was real. Born around 1851 in Jefferson County, Kentucky, he was raised there along with his three sisters. McCall drifted west as a young adult, joining a group of buffalo hunters. By the time he arrived in Deadwood in 1876, he was going by the name of Bill Sutherland. McCall felt insulted when Wild Bill gave him money to buy himself something to eat after losing at a poker game and shot him from behind the next day. In the first trial, found to be illegal later, McCall claimed that Hickok had shot his brother in Abilene, Kansas and was found innocent. McCall hung about Deadwood for several days, until a man called California Joe strongly suggested the air might be bad for McCall’s health. McCall got the message and believing he’d escaped punishment for his crime, headed to Wyoming bragging to anyone who would listen that he had killed the famous Wild Bill Hickok. Less than a month later, the trial held in Deadwood was found to have had no legal basis, Deadwood being located in Indian Territory. McCall was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming on August 29, 1876, charged with the murder, and taken to Yankton, South Dakota to stand trial. On March 1, 1877, Jack McCall was put to death by hanging. As to McCall’s earlier claim of having shot Hickok out of revenge for his brother, it was discovered that Jack McCall never had a brother. More…

Albert W. Merrick – Born about 1839 in New York, Merrick was working in Denver, Colorado before he had another man named W.A. Laughlin set up the Pioneernewspaper in Deadwood. The first edition was published June 8, 1876. However, Merrrick didn’t own the paper for long, as he sold it to R.O. Adams in 1879. Historically known as the first newspaper west of the Missouri, the newspaper is still in publication today, however, it is located in Spearfish, South Dakota. Merrick was married to Ray and had three children. Unfortunately for the Merrick’s  they lost their 8 year-old son, Walter, on October 8, 1880 when he died of inflammation of the bowels. They also lost an infant daughter in 1884. Daughter,

Tom Nuttall – Played by actor Leon Rippy, Tom is based on that actual Deadwood figure named William “Billy” Nuttall. Billy was one of the proprietors of Nuttall & Mann’s Saloon No. 10 when Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. However, history next finds him involved in a partnership with Tom Miller, the owner of the Bella Union Theatre, in the summer of 1877. Securing a number of talents to the Bella Union, Nuttall was managing the property when it was purchased by Mr. McDaniels in 1878 and leased to Billy Nuttall soon thereafter. The next year finds Nuttall in Leadville, Colorado, along with a score of other Black Hillers who had followed the mining rush. There, he opened another “Bella Union” in the summer of 1879, utilizing many of the actors that he had previously hired in Deadwood. While in Leadville, his wife left him in 1880 and by 1882 he was in a New Mexico jail for a gambling violation.

Reverend Henry Weston Smith – Born in Ellington, Connecticut on January 10, 1827, Smith first married in 1847 but his wife and infant son died a year later. In 1850, he became a Methodist preacher. In 1859, he remarried Lydia Ann Joslin and the couple had four children. Smith served in the Civil War and became a doctor. In 1876 he followed the gold rush to Deadwood, becoming the first preacher of any denomination in the Black Hills. Smith never had a church in Deadwood, but used the dirty streets of the mining camp as his sermon mount. To make ends meet, the preacher did a little prospecting and worked at odd jobs. On August 20, 1876, Smith, along with Sheriff Isaac Brown, Charles Mason, and Charles Holland, were all killed on the road between Crook City and Deadwood. The men were thought to have been killed by Indians. The Reverend Smith was 49 years old. His body now lies at Mount Moriah Cemetery among the other notable characters of Deadwood.

Sol Star – Born into a Jewish family in Bavaria, Germany on December 20, 1840, Star migrated was sent to live with his uncle in Ohio when he was about ten years old. As he grew into a young man he moved to Helena, Montana where he soon began a hardware business with Seth Bullock. The pair followed the Deadwood gold rush in August, 1876. Star and Bullock expanded their business interests by purchasing a ranch, where they raised livestock, and partnered in the Deadwood Flouring Mill in 1880. Star was one of the first town councilmen elected in 1876, served as postmaster in 1878, and was elected mayor in 1884, a position that he held for 14 years. Sol Star never married. The character is played by John Hawkes on the HBO Deadwood Series. More…

Con Stapleton – Though the series shows Stapleton as a dim-witted card dealer at the Number 10 Saloon, who gained his short-lived marshal’s position by begging Al Swearengen to appoint him, Stapleton actually was elected marshal by the miners on September 16, 1876. The first marshal elected by the Miner’s Court was Isaac Brown, an event that occurred after the trial of Jack McCall on August 5, 1876. But for Marshal Isaac Brown, being a lawman would be a short-lived career. When he, along with the Reverend Smith and two other men named Charles Mason and Charles Holland were traveling between Crook City and Deadwood, they were ambushed and killed on August 20, 1876. Leaving an open position, the miner’s court soon met again, this time electing Stapleton as the new marshal. Seth Bullock was never the City of Deadwood’s marshal, but was actually the Lawrence County Sheriff, a position that he didn’t hold until March 1877. After becoming the Deadwood Marshal, one of Stapleton’s favorite past times was organizing wresting matches, most often at the Gem Theatre. Sometimes he acted as a referee and at others as a participant. Con Stapleton died in Denver, Colorado on September 10, 1879. Stapleton’s character is played by Peter Jason on the HBO Series. More…

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