HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

Al Swearengen – Al Swearengen in real life was every bit as ugly as the character played in the Deadwood series. What they don’t tell you is that the man lured dozens of women to the camp by falsely promising good jobs in local hotels and promising to make them stage performers in his popular Gem Theatre. Once they arrived, the women were virtually forced into white slavery or thrown into the street. The man was married three times and was brutal to his wives, as well as the women that worked for him. The Gem Theatre caught fire twice in 1879, the second time burning it to the ground. On both occasions Swearengen rebuilt. Twenty years later it was demolished again by a third inferno. By this time, Swearengen called it quits and left Deadwood for good. Not long after, the drunk and penniless Swearengen was killed while trying to hitch a ride on a Colorado train like a common tramp. More…

Trixie – This is a more than a little “iffy.” Reportedly, there were several “Trixies” who came and went during the Gem Theatre’s twenty-two years of operation. Potentially based on any one of the many women, there was one woman with the name spelled “Tricksie” who shot a man at the Gem Theatre after he had beaten her. Though she shot him in the head, he didn’t immediately die. The doctor was quickly called in, who put a probe through the man’s skull, amazed that he survived the gunshot at all. However, this nameless man did die about thirty minutes later.

Charlie Utter – Though Charlie Utter was very real, his real life persona was much different than that portrayed on the HBO series by Dayton Callie. The show depicts Utter as an unkempt man who is often uncomfortable around others, in real life, he took a lot of pride in his appearance, often dressing in hand-tailored suits and keeping his long blonde hair and mustache meticulously groomed. Even more unusual for the times, he insisted on taking a daily bath. Utter was born near Niagra Falls in New York in 1838, and spent his childhood in Illinois. When he grew up he moved west and in the 1860s he was earning a living as a trapper and a prospector in Colorado. Over the years, Charlie was a hunter, a trapper, gold prospector, mine owner, express rider and transportation businessman. Long before he ever arrived in Deadwood, he had become a true friend to Wild Bill Hickok. Out of the most genuine respect for his friend, he claimed Bill’s body when he was killed, arranged a proper funeral, and placed a marker at his gravesite. More…

Fictional Characters: 

There are several characters on HBO’s Deadwood series that never actually existed in the real life mining camp of DeadwoodSouth Dakota, such as Alma Garrett, Joanie Stubbs, Silas Adams and more.

Sometimes these figures are pure fictional accounts in order to make the show more interesting. In other cases, they may be very loosely based on a real character of Deadwood’s early days. Yet, in other instances, a name is merely borrowed from a real person, without even closely resembling the historical figure. This would be the case of E.B. Farnum.

In general; however, these characters often personify the types of people who arrived in and lived at the camp during its early years when Deadwood was, in fact, a violent, wild, and bawdy town.

Silas Adams – Played by Titus Welliver, Silas Adams is one Al Swearengen’s henchmen in the HBO Deadwood series. Though Swearengen did employ several “ugly” characters to work for him during his days at the Gem Theatre, there is no record of a Silas Adams in Deadwood’s early history.

William Bullock – Played by Josh Eriksson, this character did not exist in actual life, as Martha Bullock was never married to Seth’s brother. The character, however, may be loosely based on Douglas Kislingbury, Seth’s seven year-old nephew. Douglas’ mother, Agnes (Seth’s sister) had already died when his father Lieutenant Frederick F. Kislingbury was sent on the Greeley Polar Seas Expedition in 1881. While his father was gone, Douglas was sent to stay with Seth, however the Lieutenant died on the expedition. Seth later returned Douglas to family members in New York in 1885.

Doc Cochran – There is no record of a Doctor Cochran in Deadwood. In 1876, there was a doctor named Lyman F. Babcock who served the town until after the turn of the century. There also appears, in the 1880 census, a 27-year-old surgeon by the name of Thomas Franks, who was housed right next to the Gem Theatre. Another doctor by the name of F.S. Howe set up shop in 1901 and was known to administer to the prostitutes, many of whom escaped their lives through alcoholism, laudanum and opium use. Dr. Howe was known to always take his stomach pump when summoned to one of the brothels in the middle of the night.

Whitney Ellsworth – Played by Jim Beaver, there is no known man in Deadwood’s real history by this name. However, Ellsworth is typical of many men in the camp who spent most of their time prospecting in the various camps of the west.

Alma Garrett – Alma Garrett, as well as her deceased husband, Brom, are fictional characters, typical of many of the naive city slickers who came to the camp in search of their fortunes. As such, Alma obviously didn’t own the Homestake Mine, have an affair with Seth Bullock, or capitalize the Deadwood Bank. Alma Garrett is played by Molly Parker on the HBO Deadwood series.

Sophia Metz – On April 24, 1876 there was a Metz Massacre that was attributed to Indians, but was most likely led by a white man. Charles Metz was a baker in Custer, South Dakota, but when the strike was made at Deadwood, most of Custer’s residents moved to the new gold rush. Metz decided to go to Laramie, Wyoming. Loading up with his wife and a colored maid, Metz hired a teamster named Simpson to lead them. All four were found murdered, their bodies horribly mutilated about 12 miles south of Custer the next morning. There were no children in the Metz party.

Joanie Stubbs – Though there was a theatre called the Bella Union in Deadwood, there is no record that a Joanie Stubbs ever worked there or anywhere else in the mining camp. While there were several other madams who worked in the camp, including Dora Dufran and Mollie Johnson, the character of Joanie does not closely follow what is known about these to madams. Additionally, the Bella Union was not owned by Cy Tolliver, but by a gentleman named Tom Miller. Though very grand, like the building in the series, the Bella Union was not a gambling saloon, but rather, was a theatre that provided entertainment mild enough for “proper” ladies and family members. Joanie Stubbs is played by Kim Dickens on the HBO Deadwood series.

Cy Tolliver – There is no record of a Cy Tolliver in Deadwood’s history. The Bella Union was actually was built and owned by a man named Tom Miller in 1876 and truly was the grandest place in town. The reception room quickly became the central meeting place of Deadwood. However, the Bella Union didn’t last very long. In November 1878, the entire place was dismantled and the furniture and fixtures were sold. The lower floor became a grocery store and the upper floor, a meeting room called Mechanics Hall. Cy Toliver is played by Powers Boothe on the HBO Deadwood series.

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