A Brief History of Deadwood
The ownership of the sacred Six Grandfathers Mountain, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was granted to the Sioux people in perpetuity by the 1868 Treaty of Ft Laramie. However, in 1874, General George A. Custer led a military expedition to the Black Hills and discovered gold.
Although Sitting Bull led his warriors successfully in June, 1876, to defeat Custer, their victory was short-lived. The Sioux mostly dispersed and went to Canada. Eventually, Sitting Bull returned to the U.S. and was forced to live on a reservation. He was killed in December, 1890.
Read the complete story, HERE.
Although the U.S. government tried to keep it a secret, once the public learned of the discovery, the gold rush was on. The city of Deadwood was established in 1876, attracting notorious people like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane to the town. The mostly male population living in rough mining camps frequented the numerous saloons, gambling halls, and brothels, welcoming the company of the prostitutes. 1890 brought the railroad to Deadwood, and with it, people from many ethnic groups. Chinese immigrants arrived to build the rail and work in the mines. Chinatown evolved at the north end of present-day Main Street.
Six Grandfathers Mountain
Deadwood, circa 1890s
The dawn of the twentieth century still saw gambling and prostitution thriving in Deadwood as legitimate businesses. In 1919 the Prohibition Act banned the sale of alcohol. Later, gaming became illegal but continued behind closed doors. After the Prohibition Act was repealed in 1935, gambling flourished once again. By the 1950’s, gambling was gone and the brothels were being shut down by the state’s attorney. The last one to close was Pam’s Purple Door in 1980.
Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert (1851–1930), better known as Poker Alice, was a famous poker player in the American West. She started playing poker seriously after the death of her first husband, to support herself. Soon she was winning large amounts of money, using her good looks to distract the male players. Alice was known to always be carrying a gun with her, preferably her .38, and frequently smoked cigars. She met her third husband in Deadwood, at Bedrock Tom’s saloon.
Madam Dora DuFran (1868 – 1934) was one of the most successful madams in the Old West days of Deadwood and coined the term “cathouse”. Born in England, she emigrated to the United States with her parents around 1869.
Dora had several brothels over the years. The most popular was called “Diddlin’ Dora’s”, located in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Her other brothels in South Dakota were located in Lead, Sturgis, and Deadwood. While in Deadwood, Dora got married and continued her brothel operations.
Courtesy Deadwood History,
Adams Museum Collection, Deadwood, SD
In 1986, local businesses lobbied for legalized gaming. The gaming issue was placed on the state ballot in 1988, passed, and was authorized to begin on November 1, 1989. Gambling has created economic development in Deadwood, increased tourism, and allowed the city to preserve its historic buildings and past.