HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

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.

4 thoughts on “HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction”

  1. I would advise against making a drinking game of throwing one back every time you hear the “f’-bomb” …..unless you want to induce acute liver failure,
    That said, not historically accurate, but highly entertaining..a great “binge-watch”!!

  2. possibly a form of Gaelic. Or other early Britain tongue. why would the show fabricate a non existent language?

    1. And the f-word had already appeared in English literature of the day, albeit mostly “underground” publication like “The Pearl.” Curse words are delightfully transportable.

  3. 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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