HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

Morgan Earp:

  • Though Morgan does come along with Wyatt when the two arrive in the spring of 1877, there is no indication that he shot anyone while in Deadwood. There is also nothing in historical records that indicate that he was the “goofball” portrayed on the HBO SeriesMorgan was married at the time he arrived in the mining camp and the couple lived in Butte, Montana.

Wyatt Earp:

  • Though Wyatt shows up in season three of the series, he actually appeared in Deadwood in the spring of 1877, at about the same time that Al Swearengen opened the Gem Theater and Seth Bullock was appointed as the Lawrence County Sheriff.

E.B. Farnum:

  • E.B. Farnum did not own the Grand Central Hotel in Deadwood, but rather, owned a retail store and was a real estate and mining entrepreneur.
  • It is very unlikely that he was Al Swearengen’s “lackey,” as all evidence suggests he was a successful businessman in his own right.
  • Though the series shows nothing of a wife, Farnum was married and had three children.
  • Although the series gives E.B.’s name as Eustace Baily, it was actually Ethan Bennett.

George Hearst:

  • Though it is true that Hearst hired investigators to check out the claims prior to his arrival, including a man named L.D. Kellogg, an experienced practical miner, there is no evidence that Kellogg or any other investigator utilized heavy handed tactics with the town folk. After a brief investigation, Kellogg optioned the Homestake and Golden Star Claims for $70,000.
  • George Hearst never owned the Grand Central Hotel. However, he would build a new hotel at the Homestake Mine in 1879.
  • While George Hearst, who will one day be the head the Hearst Publishing empire, does send agents to Deadwood to inspect the claims, there is no evidence of an agent named Francis Wolcott.
  • Though Hearst was known to have been a very controlling person in his business interests, there is no evidence that he was the ruthless man the character portrays on the HBO series. In fact, he was described in 19th century literature as a man of scrupulous integrity, a faithful friend, and without pretense or presumption of any kind.

Wild Bill Hickok:

  • Though the series shows Wild Bill Hickok’s funeral as having been sparsely attended, it was in fact, quite the opposite, with almost the entire camp attending the event.

Homestake Mine:

  • The Homestake Mine was discovered by brothers, Moses and Fred Manuel, and Hank Harney, rather than Brom Garrett, who never actually existed in Deadwood’s history. This also, obviously precludes Alma from owning the mine or Elsworth for running it. These two also didn’t exist in Deadwood’s history.

Jack Langrishe:

  • While Jack Langrishe did operate a theatre in Deadwood, he was not gay, and in fact ran the theatre with his wife, Jenette.
  • Langrishe’s first productions, before he built his own building, were held at the Bella Union rather than in an abandoned brothel.

Lucretia “Aunt Lou” Marchbanks:

  • Aunt Lou never worked for George Hearst, though it was possible that he may have met her as she did work for a time for the DeSmet Mine, which Hearst would later own.
Jack McCall

Jack McCall

Jack McCall:

  • Jack McCall’s first trial that acquitted him of murder was not held in the Gem as shown, but instead at the Deadwood Theatre, sometimes referred to as McDaniel’s Theatre (for its builder,) or the Langrishe Theatre, forJack Langrishe, the performer’s troupe manager.

Metz Massacre:

  • Though the Metz family were ambushed and killed in 1876, the only survivor was actually a man, not a child, making Sophia Metz and the entire story surrounding her, fiction.

Albert W. Merrick:

  • Though the series never shows that A.W. Merrick was married, he was, and in fact had three children. Unfortunately for the Merricks, they lost their 8 year-old son on October 8, 1880 when he died of inflammation of the bowels. They also lost an infant daughter in 1884.

Reverend Henry Smith:

  • The Reverend Henry Weston Smith, who was almost 50 years old, did not die of a brain tumor. Instead he was murdered while on the way from Deadwood to another mining camp, most likely by Indians. However, another preacher by the name of Father Mackin, who replaced Smithdid die of “softening of the brain” several months after having a spasmodic “fit” in front of the Overland Hotel.

Al Swearengen:

  • Representations that Al Swearengen was from England and raised in an orphanage are incorrect. His sob story to Trixie was just that. Swearengen was actually raised by his two parents and seven siblings in Iowa.
  • When the first season opens, the bulk of the action takes place in Swearengen’s Gem Saloon; however, Al actually owned and operated a smaller operation called the Cricket Saloon in 1876. The Gem Theatre didn’t actually open until April, 1877.
  • Though we would never know it in the series, Swearengen was actually married to a woman named Nettie. In 1878, she left him on the grounds of mistreatment and the pair were later divorced.
Charlie Utter at Wild Bill Hickock's grave

Charlie Utter at Wild Bill Hickock’s grave

Charlie Utter:

  • Unlike the unkempt and often awkward Charlie Utter in the series, the real life Charlie was known for his charisma and the pride he took in his appearance. He often dressed in hand-tailored suits and meticulously kept his long blonde hair and mustache well-groomed. Extremely unusual for the times, he also was adamant about bathing every day.
  • When Charlie Utter arrived in Deadwood, his brother, Steve, was also along with him, though he does not appear in the HBO Series.

Bella Union Theatre – Though the Bella Union did exist in Deadwood it was not a wild and wooly gambling hall, but actually advertised itself as “Entertainment for ladies and families” and “Entertainment without ordinary vulgarities of show.” The Bella Union was also not owned and operated by Cy Tolliver, but rather a man named Tom Miller. Though more “upscale” than the other entertainment venues in the camp, it did, however, offer liquor and a few gambling tables.

Featuring stage performances, trapeze acts, wrestling tournaments, sparring expeditions, and more, The Bella Union Theatre, built by Tom Miller in 1876, was the grandest place in Deadwood. With 30′ ceilings, 3 grand entrances, 17 private boxes, and stretching some 120 feet in length, her grand private reception room became the central meeting place for the town folks of Deadwood. However, the Bella Union’s life was short as just two years after the Bella Union was built, Miller went bankrupt and the theatre was dismantled in November, 1878 and the scenery, properties, and fixtures sold. The large lower floor became a grocery store and storage facility, while the upper floor became a meeting room called the Mechanics Hall. Perkins and Company attempted to resurrect the theatre’s once great popularity by producing a new play in the old Mechanics Hall in January, 1879. However, as published in the Black Hills Daily Times, the town couldn’t support yet another theater by that time.

Deadwood Bank – There was obviously no bank owned an operated by Alma Garrett, as she didn’t exist. The first bank in Deadwood was actually the Stebbins, Post & Co. Bank, which opened its doors in 1877. The next year, a reorganization resulted in the creation of the First National Bank of Deadwood. There is no mention in history that either Seth Bullock or Sol Star were affiliated with the First National Bank. However, another bank was started in June, 1880, for which Seth Bullock was named President. However, just seven years later, on February 17, 1887, the bank was closed. There is also no mention that Sol Star was involved in this bank either.

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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