Guide to Deadwood, South Dakota
Folklore says the Black Hills of South Dakota were formed when gentle giant Paul Bunyan, mourning the death of his monumental ox, Babe, created the hills as a ceremonial covering for his friend.
The Black Hills, whatever their geological source, were first discovered in 1775 by Standing Buffalo, an Oglala Sioux. He named the range “Paha Sapa” – mountains that are black – because from a distance, the pine-covered slopes appear blue-black.
Deadwood, South Dakota, resting at the foot of the Black Hills at 4,537 feet above sea level, is about as close as you can get today to the Old West. The region was the staging ground of numerous Indian wars, culminating in 1876 with the Battle of Little Big Horn, the infamous end of George Custer. Deadwood, born the same year as Little Big Horn, became home to notorious gamblers, such as Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Preacher Smith, and Poker Alice – most of whom you can find buried at Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery. In memory of its prelaw past, a bust of Wild Bill by Korczak Ziolkowski – creator of the Crazy Horse monument near Mount Rushmore – stands in the heart of downtown Deadwood.
By 1905, the Wild West began to domesticate itself, and gambling was outlawed in South Dakota. But in 1989, South Dakotans voted to allow limited gaming to return to Deadwood, with the stipulation that a major chunk of the tax money would go to that ghost town’s historic restoration and preservation. As a result, Deadwood lives again as a National Historic Landmark.
Modern-day Deadwood hosts eighty gaming halls, forty-eight restaurants, sixteen motels, and convention facilities for 400. Beyond its casinos, Deadwood is conveniently located for access to the Black Hills National Forest, 1.25 million acres strong. Home to bison, deer, elk, coyote, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, the forest’s human activities include a long list of favorite pastimes: fishing, boating, cycling, swimming, camping, hunting, horseback riding, and hiking.
With 300 miles of snowmobile tracks and 250 miles of cross-country trails, the Black Hills Forest is a snow lover’s paradise. The Terry Park and Deer Mountain Ski Areas are within a twenty-mile radius.
And those hills not only are beautiful; they also help keep the temperatures mild. (It seldom reaches above 90° in summer and winters are not nearly as harsh as they can be on the neighboring plains.)
A short car trip away from Deadwood is Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, Badlands National Park, Devil’s Tower, and Harney Peak, the highest mountain east of the Rockies. Nearby Rapid City, also founded in 1876, is the county seat and home to Ellsworth Air Force Base. It’s the second-largest city in South Dakota, and its major economic activities include mining, lumber, and agriculture. Locals report that cost of living in Deadwood is low while good jobs in the gaming and tourism industry are plentiful.
Location: Deadwood is 30 miles east of the Wyoming border, or 41 miles northwest of Rapid City – 12 miles south off of Interstate 90 from Sturgis.
Population: Deadwood, 1,830; Rapid City, 60,200
Average summer temperature: 68° F
Average winter temperature: 24° F
Phone Numbers of Note
Deadwood History and Information Center: (800) 345-1876
Deadwood Chamber of Commerce: (800) 999-1876
South Dakota Department of Tourism: (800) 732-5682
Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau: (800) 487-3223
Job Service of South Dakota: (605) 394-2325
South Dakota Department of Labor: (605) 773-3101
South Dakota State Gaming Commission: (605) 773-6050
Newspapers and/or relocation publications: Black Hills Pioneer, (605) 584-2303; Lawrence County Centennial, (605) 578-3305
Inexpensive accommodations: Jackpot Inn, (800) 756-6337; Franklin Hotel, (800) 688-1876; Cedarwood Inn, (800) 841-0127; Penny Motel, (605) 578-1842
Air service: Rapid City Regional Airport, (605) 393-9924
Bus service: Greyhound (Sturgis), (800) 231-2222
Rail service: No Amtrak service to South Dakota. Nearest station is Cheyenne, Wyoming, (800) 872-7245
Public transit: Deadwood Trolley, (605) 578-2600; Rapid City Transit System, (605) 394-6631