If you like gambling, you’ll probably love Deadwood.
If not, probably not so much.
After years of passing by on the way to the Badlands or Yellowstone and seeing the signs, Jennifer and I made an RV sidetrip to this town on the edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The entire city is listed on the National Historic Register. The city aggressively promotes itself as having done a careful, accurate restoration of a historically significant western city so we figured it was worth checking out.
The Victorian architecture is indeed attractive.
And the turnaround of the town itself is a a great come back story.
Deadwood was truly a wild west boom town, thanks to the God Rush of 1876 that brought the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Gambling places lined the main street. There were real gun battles and many of the west’s most colorful characters passed through.
And then it was passed by and a long, slow decline took place. According to the town’s official website, by the mid-1980’s, many of the city’s historic buildings were dilapidated. In 1986, Deadwood citizens formed the “Deadwood U Bet” organization and advocated legalized limited stakes gaming to increase tourism and generate historic preservation funds. Legalized gaming in Deadwood began on November 1, 1989.
Gaming over the past fifteen years has revitalized Deadwood’s tourism industry and provided lots of revenue for city government activities and historic preservation. Today Deadwood, with a year round population of about 1,300, is the largest historic restoration project in the United States.
Which takes us back to gambling. I counted no less than 25 casinos and gambling halls, some open 24/7. We’re not talking Vegas glitz, we’re talking penny slots, $1,000 limits, lots of Blackjack and, on the sidewalks outside, lots of seniors puffing cigarettes.
The town’s most famous resident, Wild Bill Hickok, was not a long-time Deadwood citizen. Just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights – forever after known as the Dead Man’s Hand.. He is buried in Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery, along with such notables as Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen. The cemetery offers a a self-guided tour.
A couple of times a day, traffic is stopped and there are staged gunfights downtown, with a local actress dressed up like Calamity Jane entertaining the camera toting tourists before the bad guys and the Marshall take the streets.
We spent a couple of hours walking around Deadwood. It’s interesting and fun to photograph.
The town is very friendly to RVers. While there’s little or no parking along main street, parallel streets offer lots of lots where, for $5, you can park all day.