HBO’s Deadwood – Fact & Fiction

Deadwood town view 1888

A closeup view of the town of Deadwood, South Dakota in 1888. In 1875, a miner named John B. Pearson found gold in a narrow canyon in the Northern Black Hills. This canyon became known as “Deadwood Gulch,” because of the many dead trees that lined the canyon walls. According to Colonel Richard I. Dodge, there was an estimated 800 white men mining the Hills at this time. Click for prints, downloads and products.

Gem Saloon – Actually called the Gem Variety Theater, much of Deadwood’s first season’s action is portrayed at the Gem Saloon. However, the year is 1876 and the Gem Saloon didn’t open until April of 1877. In 1876, Al Swearengen owned a very small tavern that was called the Cricket Saloon. When Swearengen did open Gem Variety Theater in 1877 it became one of the city’s most infamous amusement houses. Swearengen lured women from the East with promises of adventure in the West, but those who accepted soon found themselves the victims of a white slave trade. The Gem and its debased women soon garnered a reputation as the vilest of the vile in a city without law.

Grand Central Hotel –  This hotel did exist in Deadwood, but was never owned by E.B. Farnum, nor George Hearst, and was obviously never attempted to be purchased by Alma Garrett, since she didn’t even exist. Built by Charles H. Wagner, it was one of the first hotels to open in June, 1876. What is true in the Deadwood Series, is that Lucretia “Aunt Lou” Marchbanks was the Kitchen Manager at the Grand Central, almost from day one. In no time, the hotel, which really wasn’t so grand, was better known for its great food served in its restaurant and Lucretia Marchbanks had become better known as “Aunt Lou.” On July 4, 1876, the Grand Central Hotel hosted Deadwood’s first ball, where nine “proper” women showed up to enjoy a little dancing and Aunt Lou’s great food. Nine “proper” women was probably close to all of them in the camp at the time, as most of the “ladies” in the Deadwood’s early days, were of the “sporting” variety.

In September, General Crook visited Deadwood and stayed at the Grand Central. Two months later, yet another ball was thrown in December to celebrate the coming of the Telegraph.  Obviously successful, another story and a new front were added to the hotel in July, 1877 and shortly thereafter, Wagner retired and leased the hotel to W.H. Fanton.

When Deadwood got the first telephone exchange in the territory in March, 1878, a major celebration was held at the hotel. However, two disasters would soon strike the hotel. In April, a large thunderstorm caused major flooding of the building and a fire in the rear of the building caused much damage the same month.

After only two years of operation, the Grand Central Hotel went on the auction block July 1878. With the sale, portions of the building were leased for retail space and various managers would run the remaining facilities as a boarding house up and until the big fire of September 1879. The hotel was renovated into a 70 bed furnished lodging house and served as host to the many soldiers visiting the area from Ft. Meade. The lodging house experienced a slow decline over the years, suffering its final demise in 1892 when the building is raised to make room for new development.

Homestake Mine, South Dakota

Homestake Mine, South Dakota 1889. Click for prints, downloads and products.

Homestake Mine – The Homestake claim was discovered by brothers, Moses and Fred Manuel, and Hank Harney in April, 1876. In June, 1877, the Homestake claim and another totaling 10 acres were purchased from the Manuels for $70,000 by a group of mining men, including George Hearst. Later that year, in November, the Homestake Mining Company is incorporated and over the next few years, Hearst purchased additional claims, obtained water rights on nearby Whitewood Creek, and began to assemble the Homestake empire. By the summer of 1879, the Homestake operation consisted of ten major and several smaller mines, 540 stamps in six mills, a huge assortment of buildings and over 500 employees.

The Homestake Mine would become the basis of the Hearst financial empire and Deadwood’s sister city Lead’s largest employer for 126 years. Before its closing in 2002 Homestake Gold Mine was the oldest, largest and deepest mine in the Western Hemisphere, reaching more than 8000 feet below the town of Lead.

Nuttall & Mann’s #10 Saloon

Wild West Winners, Deadwood

The Wild West Winners Casino is the location of the original Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood. No known photo of the original saloon exists. Kathy Weiser, July, 2006.

It was here that Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. The prior evening when Hickok was playing poker with several men, including McCall, Jack lost heavily. Wild Bill generously gave him back enough money to buy something to eat, but advised him not to play again until he could cover his losses. This obviously humiliated McCall who would take his revenge the next day.

The next afternoon when Wild Bill entered Nuttall & Mann’s Saloon he found Charlie Rich sitting in his preferred seat. After some hesitation, Wild Bill joined the game, reluctantly seating himself with his back to the door and the bar—a fatal mistake. Jack McCall, drinking heavily at the bar, saw Hickok enter the saloon, taking a seat at his regular table in the corner near the door.

McCall slowly walked around to the corner of the saloon where Hickok was playing his game. From under his coat, McCall pulled a double-action .45 pistol, shouted “Take that!” and shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hickok had been holding a pair of eights, and a pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as the “dead man’s hand.”

The location of the original #10 Saloon was at 624 Main Street, which today is occupied by the Wild West Winners Casino. The original Number Ten saloon burned down in Deadwood’s tragic fire of 1879 and then relocated across the street. In it’s place was built the second I.H. Chase Building in 1898, which housed a clothing store until 1903. When Chase moved out, Frank X. Smith opened a beer hall, which proudly advertised itself as a “metropolitan resort.” Later it housed the Eagle Inn, the sign of which still hangs on the upper portion of the building. Downstairs in the Wild West Casino is an interpretive site that tells visitors all about the curse of the dead man’s hand, and the man who made it famous.

Winners Interpretive

In the basement of the Wild West Winners Casino is a interpretive display of the what happened on the day that Wild Bill Hickok was killed. Kathy Weiser, July, 2006.

The Wild West Winners Casino also encompasses the Bullock-Clark Building which is the site of the original Bella Union Theater as well as the Schwarzwald building, which was long used as a furniture store. The Bullock-Clark building was consumed by fire in 1894 and the two parties rebuilt a single structure on their two lots. Later the combined building would be opened up on the lower floor and utilized as an automobile showroom.

These buildings later served as part of Deadwood’s infamous Green Door District. On the upper levels were the original location of several of Deadwood’s brothels, including Pam’s Purple Door, one of the last to close in Deadwood in 1980. Today, the second story windows are decorated with scantily dressed mannequins, who beckon to the street below, much the real painted ladies of Deadwood’s past once did.

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