Jul 20, 2014

Deadwood, South Dakota and Its Colorful Historical Characters

Deadwood, South Dakota is so named after the dead trees found in the gulch and name of the canyon. The Lakota Sioux call it Owáyasuta and it is today the county seat of Lawrence County. In the American Old West history, it is as famous as Dodge City and Tombstone.
The town of Deadwood began as an illegal settlement in the 1870s, illegal because it was in the territory granted to local native Americans in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. As the Wikipedia entry states:
The treaty had guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people, and disputes over the Hills were ongoing, having reached the United States Supreme Court on several occasions. However, in 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek near present-day Custer, South Dakota. Custer's announcement triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush and gave rise to the lawless town of Deadwood, which quickly reached a population of around 5,000.
HBO Deadwood Series
HBO ran a good historic-drama series entitled Deadwood from 2004 to 2006, three seasons of 12 episodes each. The best qualities is the interaction and depth of human relationships loosely based on real-life historical residents of the famous Old West town. The persons portrayed in the HBO series were historical figures:
  • Seth Bullock
    Seth Bullock - portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, the sheriff & co-owner of Star & Bullock Hardware. Seth was born in Ontario Canada in 1849 and died in 1919. At age 13 he ran away from home, tired of being beaten by his disciplinarian father, retired British Army Sargent Major. Apparently he went back home or was taken back home, but ran away again at age 16 to Montana, where he lived temporarily with his older sister, Jessie Bullock. The HBO series depicts Bullock having an older brother that died in the Civil War. At age 18 in 1867, Bullock became a resident of Helena, Montana and was elected in the Territorial Legislature and then the Territorial Senate between 1871 and 1872, which he had helped to create the Yellowstone National Park. In 1873 he was elected sheriff of Lewis and Clark County in Montana. During his tenure as sheriff he killed his first man, Clell Watson. What happened next, in the beginning of the HBO series, is different in real life. Watson had stolen a horse and after a gunfight with Sheriff Bullock, the latter being wounded in the shoulder, was taken into custody. When it was time for Watson to be hanged (stealing a horse was a death penalty), a lynch mob appeared and scared off the executioner. Bullock climbed the scaffold and pulled the lever that dropped Watson to his death. Bullock then held off the mob with a shotgun. Soon after, Bullock became partners with Sol Star to open a hardware store in the gold rush town of Deadwood in 1876, Dakota Territory. First they ran the hardware business in a tent and later a permanent building. Deadwood was a lawless camp and after Jack McCall murdered Wild Bill Hickock by shooting him in the head while playing poker the demand for law enforcement grew and Bullock's background made him first choice. Bullock deputized several citizens and because he had a reputation he managed to bring law and order without killing anyone. Just after being appointed as Sheriff, Bullock had a confrontation with the Dodge City Deputy Marshal, Wyatt Earp, who may have been interested in getting Bullock's job. Bullock informed Earp that he was not needed and Earp left Deadwood a week later to return to Dodge City. Bullock, on several occasions, had negative dealings with Al Swearengen, proprietor of the Gem Theater, a notorious brothel and drinking establishment. After Deadwood became somewhat stabilized, Bullock sent for his wife, Martha Eccles Bullock and daughter from her parents' home in Michigan. They had one daughter, Margaret, at the time of their arrival and later another daughter, Florence, and a son, Stanley. Bullock and Star purchased a ranch at the junction of Redwater Creek and the Belle Fourche River and named it the S&B Ranch Company. Bullock is credited for introducing alfalfa farming in South Dakota in 1881. Later he became a deputy US Marshal and partnered with Star and Harris Franklin in the Deadwood Flouring Mill and also invested in mining. Bullock and Star eventually expanded their business interests in the towns of Spearfish, Sturgis, and Custer. Bullock met Theodore Roosevelt when he was a deputy sheriff in Medora, North Dakota. They met when he was bringing a horse thief, Crazy Steve, into custody on the range in 1884. The two became lifelong friends, with Roosevelt stating, “Seth Bullock is a true westerner, the finest type of frontiersman”. Bullock and Star were instrumental in founding the town of Belle Fourche by convincing the railroad to lay track by offering 40 acres of free right-of-way across their land. Belle Fourche became the largest railhead for livestock in the United States and the country seat was moved from Minnesela to Belle Fourche. When Bullock and Star's hardware store in Deadwood burned down in 1894, they built the first hotel on the site – three stories with 63 rooms and luxury like steam heat and indoor bathrooms on each floor. It cost them $40,000. The Bullock Hotel operates to this day, which now also has a casino. Befriending Theodore Roosevelt got Bullock a commission as Captain of Troop A in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. However, the troop never left training camp in Louisiana before the war ended. When Roosevelt became vice president, he appointed Bullock as the first forest supervisor of the Black Hills Reserve. When Roosevelt was elected as president, Bullock organized 50 people, including Tom Mix, to ride in the inaugural parade in 1905. Bullock was then appointed US Marshal for South Dakota for nine years. Roosevelt also selected Bullock as one of 18 officers to raise a volunteer infantry division for service in France in 1917. After Roosevelt's death in January of 1919, Bullock created a monument to him with the help of the Black Hill Pioneers on Sheep Mountain, which was renamed Mount Roosevelt. Soon after, in 1919, Bullock died of colon cancer at his home in Deadwood. He is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane with his grave facing Mount Roosevelt.
  • Gem Theatre
    Al Swearengen – portrayed by Ian McShane, was the owner of the Gem Saloon. He was born in Iowa in 1845 and died in Colorado in 1904. He was a ruthless pimp who ran the Gem for 22 years, who along with his reputation for being brutal, he had an instinct concerning political alliances. Swearengen arrived in Deadwood with his wife, Nettie Swearengen in 1876. Nettie would later divorce him on the grounds of spousal abuse and Swearengen married and divorced two more times. He was attracted to Deadwood because of the gold rush, whose wealth was accumulated not from mining, but from prospectors and other residents. He started out with a small saloon called the Cricket Saloon that had entertainment such as prize fights. Within a year he expanded by building the larger and more luxurious Gem Variety Theater that opened in 1877 that not only featured traditional prize fights, but stage shows; making most of his money in prostitution. Swearengen lured desperate women from other places and then forced them into prostitution through bullying and physical brutality. The Gem brought in an average of $5,000 a night, sometimes as much as $10, 000. When The Gem burned down along with most of the town, Swearengen rebuilt the establishment larger and more luxurious. The Gem burned down again in 1899. Swearengen was found dead in the middle of a suburban Denver street on November of 1904 with a massive head wound. Details has not been discovered.
  • Alma Garret – portrayed by Molly Parker, is not an historical character.
  • Whitney Ellsworth portrayed by Jim Beaver, is not a real historical figure and is the prospector and husband of Alma Garret.
  • Dan Dority – Gem Saloon worker, portrayed by W. Earl Brown.
  • Steve Utter (left) and Charlie Utter
    Charlie Utter – portrayed by Dayton Callie, was a friend of Wild Bill Hickock and deputy to Sheriff Bullock. Also known as Colorado Charlie, Charles H. Utter was born near Niagara Falls, New York, 1838 and died sometime after 1912; best known as an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. While Charles was born in New York, he grew up in Illinois and then went out West to seek his fortune becoming a trapper, guide, and prospector in Colorado in the 1860s. In 1876, Utter and his brother, Steve, guided a 30-wagon train of prospectors, gamblers, prostitutes and others from Georgetown, Colorado to the gold rush in Deadwood. Charlie was five and a six inches tall and was meticulous about his appearance. He had long blond hair and a mustache, perfectly groomed, and wore hand-tailored fringed buckskins, linen shirts, beaded moccasins, and a large silver belt buckle; carrying a pair of gold, silver and pearl ornamented pistols. He slept under high-quality blankets imported from California and bathed daily – which was not common in those days. An entirely different character was portrayed in the HBO Deadwood series. Wild Bill Hickock became partners with Utter in the train, and in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, Calamity Jane joined. The train arrived in July of 1876 and Utter opened an express delivery service to Cheyenne, charging 25 cents to deliver a letter, often carrying as many as 2,000 letters in a 48-hour trip. Utter, being a close friend to Hickock, constantly tried to ensure that Hickock's drinking and gambling would not end his life; but Utter was not present on August 2, 1876 when Jack McCall shot Hickock in the back of the head while he played poker. Utter claimed the body and placed a notice in the local newspaper. Many attended the funeral and Utter buried Hickock with a wooden grave marker that read:  
    Wild Bill, J.B. Hickock killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2d, 1876. Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more. Goodby, Colorado Charlies, C.H. Utter”  
    When Deadwood petered out and burned down, Utter went to Leadville, Colorado in 1880; then went to Durango, Colorado; then to Socorro, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon. After that he disappears. Author, Agnes Wright Spring, traced Utter to Panama in the early 1900s, where he owned drugstores in Panama City and Colón and was blind. Last reported in Panama in 1913, there is no record of the place or date of his death.
  • Dora DuFran – In the HBO Deadwood series, this historical figure is portrayed (loosely) as Joanie Stubbs, portrayed by Kim Dickens. Born in 1868 and died in 1934, she was one of the most successful madams in the Old West days of Deadwood. She was born in Liverpool, England and emigrated to the US with her parents sometime around 1869, settling in Bloomfield, New Jersey, then moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1876 or 1877. Dora became involved in prostitution around the age of 13 or 14. She then became a dance hall girl, calling herself Amy Helen Bolshaw. When the gold rush hit Deadwood, she was 15, and she promoted herself to Madam and operated a brothel. Dora called the establishment the “cathouse”. Selection in the West was limited, but tried to have pretty girls working in her brothel. She demanded that her girls practice good hygiene and dress well. She obtained several girls from the wagon train led by Charlie Utter, and from time to time she employed Martha Jane Burke, better known as Calamity Jane. Dora's main competition was not the Gem Theater, but Madam Mollie Johnson. Over the years, Dora had several brothels, the most popular called Diddlin Dora's, located on Fifth Avenue in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. It offered Dining, Dancing and Drinking – a place where you can bring your mother. Dora's other brothels were located in Lead, Miles City, Sturgis, and Deadwood. While she was in Deadwood, she got married to Joseph M. DuFran (1862-1909); but continued to operate her brothels. After he husband's death, she moved the business to Rapid City, South Dakota. In 1932, Dora published a 12-page booklet on Calamity Jane entitled Low Down on Calamity Jane under the pseudonym d'Dee. In 1981, the booklet was reprinted to an expanded 47-page version, edited by Helen Rezatto. Dora DuFran was featured in the book, Buffalo Girl: A Novel (1990) about Calamity Jane written by Larry McMurty. Dora died of heart failure in 1934 and was buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood with her husband and pet parrot, Fred.
  • Doc Cochran – based on the Deadwood character, Lyman F. Babcock and portrayed by Brad Dourif.
  • Martha Eccles Bullock – wife of Seth Bullock, she was portrayed in the HBO series Deadwood by Anna Gunn. She was not the widow of Bullock's brother, but reportedly his childhood sweetheart whom he married in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1874. As mentioned above, Seth and Martha had a daughter, not a son as portrayed in the HBO series, and not a son by Bullock's fictional brother. She and daughter did not join Seth until after the town was more civilized (after he became sheriff), when she joined her husband. Once there, she became a leading member of local society and managed the household while Seth attended to his duties and adventures. After Martha came to Deadwood, Florence and Stanley were born.
  • Sol Star – portrayed in HBO series by John Hawkes, partner in business with Seth Bullock. Born in Germany to Jewish parents in 1840 (died 1917), they moved to Ohio when Sol was ten years old. Sometime later, he moved to Helena, Montana, where he served as territorial auditor and personal secretary to the governor. He then became a partner with Seth Bullock in a hardware store. They purchased a lot for the store from Al Swearengen and Henry Beaman. Bullock and Star contributed greatly to the economic development of the region and were instrumental in founding the town of Belle Fourche. Star was elected to the first city council in 1876, became town postmaster in 1877, and was elected mayor in 1884, serving ten terms for 14 years. He also was a Republican legislator after South Dakota became a state in 1889-1890 and in the South Dakota State Senate in 1893 to 1894, serving as President Pro Tempore of the South Dakota Senate. He was the Lawrence County Clerk of Courts for 20 years until his death. He never married.
  • A. W. Merrick – portrayed by Jeffrey Jones in the HBO series as editor of Deadwood newspaper, the real man was from Denver, Colorado and published the first newspaper in Deadwood, South Dakota entitled the Black Hills Pioneer, along with W.A. Laughlin. The newspaper still exists today, but its offices are in Spearfish. There is not much on Merrick, except he was living in Deadwood in 1880.
  • E. B. Farnum – portrayed in HBO series by William Sanderson, the real Farnum was born in 1826 in Chesire, Massachusetts and died around 1878. He was one of the first residents of Deadwood and owner of a general store. He was married Mary Farnum and had three children when he arrived in Deadwood and was the first mayor of Deadwood arriving from Wisconsin when he opened his store. Farnum acquired other Main Street properties and invested in mining operations, like Laura Mine and Prince Oscar Lode. When he was mayor he convinced the Dakota Territories to recognize Deadwood and establish a nearby Army post. He instituted a pest house to quarantine those with communicable diseases, because of a smallpox epidemic in Deadwood in 1876; as well as a street cleaning system funded out of licensing fees for town businesses. In December 1876, Farnum established the Deadwood fire department and sent the town's first telegraph to the mayor of Cheyenne, Wyoming. He also was head of the school board, Justice of the Peace, and judge; establishing the first school in November 1876. Due to the Deadwood fire of 1879, records were few. After losing the election for Justice of the Peace, Farnum left for Chicago, sometime before 1880. Who succeeded him as mayor is unknown, for Sol Star was elected as mayor in 1884.
  • Calamity Jane – portrayed by Robin Weigert in the series, her given name was Martha Jane Canary, born in 1852 and died at age 51 in 1903. Most of the information about her comes from her autobiography pamphlet published in 1896. The pamphlet was intended to draw audiences at various museums across the country in which Calamity would appear. In 1865, her family moved by wagon train from Missouri to Virginia City, Montana, her mother dying along the way in Black Foot, Montana of pneumonia in 1866. After arriving in Virginia City, Jane's father took his six children to Salt Lake City, Utah; where he started farming on 40 acres. The father died a year later in 1867. Martha Jane took over as head of the family and loaded up the wagon with her siblings and headed to Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory, arriving in May of 1868. From there they traveled on the Union Pacific Railroad to Piedmont, Wyoming; taking whatever jobs she could to support her family. She worked as a dishwasher, cook, waitress, dance-hall girl, nurse, and an ox team driver. IN 1874 she found work as a scout at Fort Russell; which during that time she was a prostitute at the Fort Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch from time to time. During that period she was described as attractive and a “pretty, dark-eyed girl”. She never received formal education and was illiterate; spending most of her life in the outdoors on the Great Plains from one adventure to another. While not historically confirmed, her autobiography stated that she had been involved in several campaigns against Native Americans. According to the Anaconda Standard, Montana, April 19, 1904, Captain Jack Crawford stated that 
    Calamity Jane never saw service in any capacity under either General Crook or General Miles. She never saw a lynching and never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular
    Her nickname allegedly comes from her warning to men not to offend her for it would court calamity. When Calamity Jane was part of the Newton-Jenney Party wagon train going to the Black Hills in 1875, her youthful looks was fading, her skin was like leather from sun and wind, muscular and masculine; and her hair was stringy and seldom washed. In 1876, when she settled in Deadwood, she befriended Dora DuFran; befriending Wild Bill Hickock and Charlie Utter while traveling to Deadwood. Jane had become infatuated with Hickock. It was claimed by Jean Hickock Burkhardt McCormick that claimed to be the offspring (daughter) of James Butler Hickock and Martha Jane Canary and that Jane and Bill had married at Benson's Landing, Montana Territory on September 25, 1873. The marriage was documented in a Bible signed by two ministers and witnesses. No records prove such a story. As depicted in the HBO series, Jane nursed victims of a smallpox epidemic in Deadwood in 1876. IN 1881, Jane bought a ranch west of Miles City, Montana, along the Yellowstone River, where she kept an inn. She married Clinton Burke from Texas and moved to Boulder, Colorado where she tried her hand in business. In 1887, she had a daughter, Jane, who was given to foster parents. In 1893, Calamity Jane began appearing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West traveling show and participated in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. By then she had become a depressed alcoholic; which had began even in her younger years. Jane returned to the Black Hills in 1903 and for a few months she earned her keep as cook and doing the laundry for Dora's brothel girls in Belle Fourche. In June of 1903, she traveled by ore train to Terry, South Dakota, near Deadwood, and while staying at the Calloway Hotel died at age 51. Among her belongings found were unsent letters to her daughter. The letters were first made public by Jean McCormick as part of her claim to be the daughter of Jane and Hickok. Calamity Jane was buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery next to Wild Bill Hickok.
  • Wild Bill Hickok – portrayed by Keith Carradine in the HBO series, was a character of the Old West who was born in 1837 and died August 2, 1876. Some of his exploits reported were fiction, he did have a reputation as a gunfighter, gambler and lawman. He was born and raised in an Illinois farm and at age 18 he went west as a fugitive from justice. First he worked as a stagecoach driver, then as a lawman in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He also fought in the Civil War and was a Union spy. After the war he became famous as a scout, marksman, actor, and professional gambler. He was involved in several shootouts. The card hand he was holding when shot and killed from behind (aces and eights) has come to be known as the Dead Man's Hand. Hickok was relieved of his duties as marshal two months after he accidentally killed a deputy in a shootout with Phil Coe. After killing Coe, Hickok saw someone running toward him and he fired two quick shots, accidentally killing deputy marshal Mike Williams. It was an incident that haunted him the rest of his life. It is reported that Hickok had a premonition that Deadwood would be the place where he died. On the evening of his death, he had sat down to play poker and the only chair available put his back to the door. He always played poker with his back facing the wall with eyes upon everyone who entered. He had asked twice to trade with another player, but was refused. Jack McCall entered the saloon without Hickok knowing and walked a few feet away from Hickok and drew his pistol and shouted, Damn You! Take That! and fired point blank at Hickok's head. He died instantly. The bullet emerged through his right cheek and struck another player in the left wrist. It is still unknown why McCall killed Hickok; however, it may have been that McCall was insulted by Hickok offering a dollar for breakfast when McCall had lost all of his money at poker. McCall was hanged on March 1, 1877 after a court of law found him guilty. McCall had been bragging before arrest that he killed Wild Bill.
  • Tom Miller – depicted as Cy Tolliver in the HBO series and portrayed by Powers Boothe (Tombstone). Owner of the Bella Union saloon and theater in Deadwood that opened in 1876. In November of 1878, Tom Miller went bankrupt and the Bella Union became a grocery store downstairs and a meeting hall upstairs.
The HBO Deadwood series is a Hollywood rendition of history, and so loosely based upon true characters and history to be unrecognizable. Indeed, if the characters portrayed were living today there would be lawsuits enacted. It is the standard practice of Hollywood screenplay writers looking for a blockbuster instead of sticking to historical accuracy. There is no doubt that Deadwood began as a lawless and corrupt gold rush camp with gambling and prostitution its hallmark; but historical figures like Seth Bullock could have been an interesting character to focus on with all the accomplishments of his long career in Deadwood and his active participation under the Theodore Roosevelt administration instead of the Hollywood rendition of his life in Deadwood and his infidelity that never occurred. The writers even included a brief scene of homosexuality that bears no historical background concerning Calamity Jane, although her alcohol consumption was accurately portrayed and scenes of her well-known soft spot for children and helping other folks out. Another character portrayed with historical accuracy was Wild Bill Hickok. Despite the overall inaccuracy of the writers, there is no doubt that the lineup of actors and actresses were well chosen with outstanding performance with the scripts given.
Deadwood today is famous for its casino gambling and its historical significance. Prostitution remained a business until the 1950s. The last one to close was Pam's Purple Door in 1890. After 1964, it became the only city to be a National Historic Landmark. Gambling has remained a business and its trademark with legal gaming allowed by popular consent in 1989. It has allowed funding to preserve historic buildings that were not burned in the 1894 fire. In 2001, an extensive archaeological excavation took place on Main Street that used to be the Chinese boarding house.

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