HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

Francis Wolcott – Though George Hearst and other investors would eventually buy the Homestake Mine in 1877, there is no evidence that a man named Francis Wolcott ever existed in Deadwood. Though there was a man named Major Francis “Frank” Wolcott who led the Regulators during the Johnson County War in Wyoming in April, 1892, it is very unlikely that the two were one in the same. Hearst did, however, send agents to Deadwood to investigate the claims prior to his arrival, one of which was a man named L.D. Kellogg, an experienced practical miner. After a brief investigation, Kellogg optioned the Homestake and Golden Star Claims for $70,000. George Hearst and his partners incorporated their holdings as The Homestake Mining Company in California on November 5, 1877. P.S. I assume everyone noticed that the actor who plays Wolcott, Garret Dillahunt, is the same man that played that dastardly Jack McCall?

Mr. Wu and Other Chinese Characters – Though Wu is representative of Tong leaders in the camp, there is no record for anyone by that name in actual Deadwood history in the 1870’s. That being said, Wu is representative of the many Chinese people who formed a large community in Deadwood during its early days, including two men who owned gambling and opium dens named Quong Lee and Wing Tsue. Though the series shows a Chinese City within the city in 1876, the bulk of the Chinese didn’t arrive in Deadwood until the early 1880’s and there are no mentions of the Chinese in Deadwood newspapers during 1876. In fact, when 50 Chinese men showed up in 1877, the white miners were in an uproar. As to the Chinese opium sales to the white settlers, this is true. There were a number of opium dens in the camp by 1880 and though an effort was made to get them to leave, they were running very prosperously by 1883.

Foul Language

Did they really use that much foul language in the Old West? This is a little fictional and a little factual. They did use bad language in Deadwood’s early days, when the camp was primarily filled with rowdy men and rough characters. It was so bad, in fact, that the newspaper headlines reported, in 1879, that residents were organizing to suppress the profanity. However, in those days, such words as crap, shit, damn, and bitch were considered to be very foul language. Today, these words are used in every day common language and we hear them all the time, usually taking little offense.  Therefore, the show uses the “worst” words (of today) in order to get the point across.

The original intention of the series was to use period slang and swear words; however, according to David Milch, the series’ creator, the results sounded downright comical. Utilizing current profanity, the words have a much greater impact on modern audiences, sending the message of how lawless and “barbaric” the camp was during its early days.

Deadwood HBO

Characters of Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock on the HBO Deadwood series, photo courtesy HBO

Factual Accounts:

Martha Bullock:

  • Martha Bullock does arrive in camp after Seth Bullock has already been made sheriff and his hardware business is successful. Mrs. Bullock will become a pillar of Deadwood, bringing arts and culture to the town.

Seth Bullock:

  • Bullock, along with Sol Star, did establish the Star and Bullock Hardware Store in 1876.


  • A strong Chinese community did exist in Deadwood’s early days when as many as 400 Chinese lived in an area of Deadwood, often referred to as the “Badlands.” They elected their own mayor and council, as well as establishing their own police force and fire department.
  • In early Deadwood’s days, selling opium and other drugs to the white settlers was a common practice.

E.B. Farnum:

  • Farnum was actually appointed as Mayor by the first miners’ court in Deadwood. A few weeks later, he actually won the election in a popular vote.

George Hearst:

  • Hearst does come to Deadwood and eventually buys the Homestake Mine.

Wild Bill Hickok:

  • Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall in Mann & Nuttall’s Number 10 Saloon.
Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane:

  • Calamity Jane was every bit as foul-mouthed and drunk as she is portrayed in the series.
  • There was a small pox outbreak in 1876 where quarantine tents (pest houses) were established to care for the sick. Calamity Jane was instrumental in helping to care for those who were ill during this epidemic.

Lucretia “Aunt Lou” Marchbanks:

  • Lucretia Marchbanks was known as “Aunt Lou” in the camp and also quickly gained a reputation as having the finest culinary skills in the Black Hills.
  • Aunt Lou did work at the Grand Central Hotel as the Kitchen Manager.

Albert W. Merrick:

  • Albert W. Merrick was in fact a newspaper editor, founding the Deadwood Pioneer in 1876. However, in August, 1879, he sold the paper only to re-purchase it a year later.

Miners Court:

  • A Miners’ Court was established in August, 1876 to establish a provisional government in the city. At this time, Seth Bullock was elected as a commissioner and fire warden and E.B. Farnum was made mayor. Just a month later, the miners court held an election of offices, and Farnum actually won in the popular vote for mayor. However, Seth Bullock wasn’t even in the running for Deadwood Marshal and the job went to Con Stapleton.


  • According to pioneer John S. McClintock, a Gem Theater prostitute named Tricksie shot a man through the front of his skull for beating her up. The attending doctor put a probe through the man’s head, amazed that he survived the gunshot.

Charlie Utter:

  • Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and several prostitutes did arrive with Charlie Utter’s wagon train in July, 1876.
  • Charlie Utter was a true friend to Wild Bill Hickok. When Bill Hickok died, Charlie was indeed away, but soon made it back in time to make all the arrangements for his funeral, bought the plot and erected the marker.

Jack Langrishe:

  • Jack Langrishe did in fact come to Deadwood in 1876 along with the rest of his troupe. They temporarily conducted their productions at the Bella Union Theatre before building their own building.

Fictional Accounts:

Seth Bullock:

  • It is very unlikely that Seth Bullock and Sol Star even met Wild Bill Hickok, much less befriended him. Seth and Sol arrived in Deadwood only one day before Wild Bill Hickok was shot. The timeline here is obviously skewed so Wild Bill could “stay in the picture” a little longer.
  • Seth Bullock did not go after Bill Hickok’s killer, Jack McCall. After the trial in Deadwood was found to be a farce, McCall was apprehended and taken to Yankton, South Dakota by U.S. Marshals. He was hanged for the murder of Bill Hickok on March 1, 1877. McCall was buried in Yankton with the hangman’s noose still tied around his neck.
  • Seth Bullock marrying his brother’s widow is fiction. In fact, Martha Eccles was Seth’s childhood sweetheart and the couple married in Utah in 1874, two years before Seth came to Deadwood. He actually sent Martha, along with their new infant daughter, Margaret, to live with her parents in Minnesota until he could get his business established.  After Martha joined him in the camp, they had another daughter named Florence and a son named Stanley.
  • Seth Bullock was not elected by the miner’s court as Deadwood’s first marshal, but rather, a man named Isaac Brown was elected by the Miner’s Court after the trial of Jack McCall on August 5, 1876. However, when Isaac Brown, 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 20th. Leaving an open position, the miner’s court soon met again, this time electing Stapleton as the new sheriff. However, Bullock was appointed by Governor Pennington as the first Lawrence County Sheriff, in March 1877. However, when the vote for Lawrence County Sheriff was put to the residents in November, 1877, Bullock lost to John Manning.
  • Star and Bullock did not buy the lot for their store at Wall & Main Street from Al Swearengen. They actually bought the lot from two men by the names of Sam Schwartzwald and Henry Beaman in April of 1877.
  • Sol Star and Seth Bullock were involved in a short-lived mining endeavor that never appears on the series. In 1877, records show that the Portland Mine was owned by Star, Bullock and a man named Peter Wiser. Just a year later, in March, 1878, records show that the claim was sold.
  • Bullock obviously didn’t have an affair with Alma Garrett, as she did not exist. It is highly unlikely that he had an affair with anyone given his upstanding history.

Martha Bullock:

  • Martha did not arrive in camp with a son in tow, but actually arrived with her and Seth’s daughter, who was just a toddler at the time.
  • William Bullock did not exist; however, Seth and Martha did care for a nephew for several years, but this was not until 1881.

Cornish Miners:

  • Though evidence does suggest problems with the Cornish miners during the Homestake Mine’s early history, the vast majority seems to be among the miners themselves, rather than between the Cornish men and the mine owners, or George Hearst, specifically. As a rule, the Cornish were sought after by the mine owners, as they were considered to be the best hard rock miners in the world, having had a long history of mining in their own country. Though the mine owners might have “loved” them, they were often discriminated against by other immigrants who were resentful of their clannishness and semi-privileged industrial situation.

Morgan Earp

1 thought on “HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction”

  1. OK but there’s no explanation on the internet why the hell the “Cornish” (there never has been such a country, just a regional population) are speaking some other language than English. They are f&*%ng English. Cornish was a dead language 100 years past. What the hell language?

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