September 5, 2017

Deadwood, South Dakota

by Steve W

Upon leaving Glacier National Park, we made our way through Montana, heading for Deadwood, South Dakota. One of the stops we made was at the Little Big Horn National Monument, the spot where General George Armstrong Custer and his men were killed in battle with the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Horribly outnumbered, Custer and his men fought bravely but could not defeat the Native Americans whose land they were on. Although Custer's body was removed and buried at West Point, there is a marker where his body was found. As a tribute to his bravery, the Native Americans did not scalp him.

Just one of many headstones in the fields of Little Big Horn

There are monuments to those who died on both sides, including markers for those who could be identified as well as those who could not. Included are stones for horses that died on the site and some of the Indian scouts for Custer. In addition, there is a separate section where the Native American are honored, with quotes form many of those who fought in the battle. You can see the entire battlefield, which is littered with memorial markers, and signs that explain what happened, right at the places where it happened. A very moving experience.

Later that day, we made our way to Deadwood. On the way, we noticed a lot of motorcycles on the road. In fact, when we stopped for gas, we were the only people in a car with dozens of bikers also getting gas. It wasn't until we reached Deadwood that we understood why.

As we rolled into town, the streets were filled with bikers, both parked and roaring up and down the main drag.

We learned there was a huge annual motorcycle rally in the town of Sturgis, just a few miles away. What we were seeing was the overflow. Bikes of every age, shape, size and feature were in attendance, many costing more than most cars. People came from all over the country for this event, bringing their spouses and sometimes their kids. It was a pretty wild scene, although everyone got along and there were no incidents of violence that we were aware of. Apparently, there has been a transition from biker gang to biker club. Nevertheless, it made a few people nervous.

Usually, Deadwood is probably a pretty quiet little town, with souvenir shops, restaurants and casinos. It is best known for the place where Wild Bill Hickok was killed by the "the assassin Jack McCall". Wild Bill loved to play poker and had a rule against sitting with his back to the rest of the saloon. But on this day, he broke that rule and McCall shot him in the head. Bill was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, which came to be known as the dead man's hand.

Hickok is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in the hills of Deadwood, just above the town. Buried next to him is Martha Jane Burke, also known as Calamity Jane. Jane had always told people that she and Hickok were lovers, but that proved to be untrue. Nevertheless, it was clear that she loved him, as you can see by her dying wish.

One of the reasons we decided to go to Deadwood was because we were fans of the television series. We knew that many of the characters in the series were real people and that many of the events described actually took place. Seth Bullock, Sol Star and Al Swearengen were pretty much as portrayed in the series. Bullock had quite a career as a lawman and businessman, opening a hotel in Deadwood, bringing the railroad to the area, and introducing alfalfa farming to the region. He is also buried at Mount Moriah, about 750 feet (and a steep climb) from any other site.

After the climb to get here, I felt like lying down next to Seth and Martha.

The town exploits the popularity of the television show by using elements as promotion. For example, in the show, the leader of the Chinese community, Mr. Woo, would let Al Swearengen dump bodies in his pig pen for the pigs to eat the evidence. At one of the restaurants, you could order "Mr. Woo's Ribs", where you eat the pig instead of the other way around.

Our hotel room was a nightmare but that is a story for another time. The only good thing about it was that it faced inside, and not out to the street, or the noise would have kept us awake all night.

All in all, we enjoyed our time in Deadwood and probably would have enjoyed it more without hundreds of bikers. If you think about going, check the Sturgis schedule before you book. You'll be glad you did.

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