Nestled high in the Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood, South Dakota, has a long, deep history steeped in gold mining and gambling. The community is named for the dead trees found in its gulch and includes the Deadwood Historic District, a National Historic Landmark District, whose borders may be the city limits.
Deadwood is located at 44°22′36″N 103°43′45″W. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.83 square miles (9.92 km2), all of it land. Deadwood has been assigned the ZIP code 57732. The population was 1,270 according to the 2010 census.
The illegal settlement of Deadwood began in the 1870s on the territory granted to American Indians in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. The treaty had guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people, and disputes over the Hills are 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.
In early 1876, frontiersman Charlie Utter and his brother Steve led a wagon train to Deadwood containing what were deemed to be needed commodities to bolster business. The wagon train brought gamblers and prostitutes, resulting in the establishment of profitable ventures including saloons and brothels.
The town attained notoriety for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, and Mount Moriah Cemetery remains the final resting place of Hickok and Calamity Jane, as well as slightly less notable figures such as Seth Bullock.
As the economy changed from gold rush to steady mining, Deadwood lost its rough and rowdy character and settled down into a prosperous town. Later in 1876, General George Crook pursued the Sioux Indians from the Battle of Little Big Horn on an expedition that ended in Deadwood.
Deadwood was devastated by fire in 1879 and again in 1959. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. However, the town underwent additional decline and financial stresses during the next two decades. A fire in December 1987 destroyed the historic Syndicate Building and a neighboring structure. The fire spurred the “Deadwood Experiment”, in which gambling was tested as a means of revitalizing a city center. At the time, gambling was legal only in the state of Nevada and in Atlantic City. Deadwood was the first small community in the U.S. to seek legal gambling revenues as a way of maintaining local historic qualities. Gambling was legalized in Deadwood in 1989 and immediately brought significant new revenues and development. Another fire threatened but missed the community in 2002.
In the summer, there are numerous trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horse back riding. The northern end of the George S. Mickelson Trail starts in Deadwood and runs south through the Black Hills to Edgemont. Several man made lakes, including Sheridan Lake, provide fishing and swimming. Spearfish Canyon to the north has many places to rock climb. In early June the Mickelson Trail Marathon and 5K, as well as accompanying races for children, are held.
“The Midnight Star” casino in Deadwood is owned by American film actor Kevin Costner. International versions of many of his films’ posters line its walls.