Welcome to f*cking deadwood
Welcome to this episode of The Radio Vagabond, where I continue my road trip in the old west of the USA. We started in Billings, Montana, went to Yellowstone, and east to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. And in this one, I’ve driven an hour further east to a place with a Wild West History – and a place that is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the American West.
My name is Palle Bo. “Welcome to fucking Deadwood…” as they say in the TV series.
BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA
I’m in The Black Hills, a range of South Dakota mountains known for their stunning natural beauty and rich history. The hills are home to several national parks and monuments, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with the iconic carved faces of four American Presidents, and also Badlands National Park, which features unique geological formations and diverse wildlife. More on both of these a bit later.
The Black Hills are also an important cultural and spiritual center for several Native American tribes, including the Lakota and the Cheyenne. In the late 1800s, the Black Hills were the site of the famous Black Hills Gold Rush, which brought thousands of settlers to the area in search of riches.
THE GOLD RUSH PUT THIS PLACE ON THE MAP
And we start in a small town in South Dakota that was a big part of this Gold Rush and so uniquely the old Wild West that it became the location and name of a TV series and a movie.
I’m in Deadwood, South Dakota, a town with a rich and wild history that makes it one of the unique places in the United States. Deadwood attracted some of the most famous figures of its time, including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
Today, the town has embraced its history, with many original buildings still standing and used as hotels, restaurants, casinos, and museums. And I start my visit to Deadwood by going to one of these museums.
The Adams Museum is the oldest in The Black Hills, and I go to learn more about the rich history of Deadwood. In 1930 pioneer businessman W.E. Adams founded the Adams Museum right here in Deadwood to preserve and display the history of the Black Hills.
He donated the building to the City of Deadwood. Inside, I speak to Visitor Services Associate at the museum, Diane.
“The Gold Rush attracted many people here, and at the time there were 5,000 people living here. Today only around 1,200.”
Deadwood was founded during the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1875, and it quickly became one of the most dangerous and lawless towns in the American West.
Lots of legendary figures used to hang out here, and let me fill you in on two of the most well-known.
WILD BILL HICKOK AND CALAMITY JANE
Wild Bill Hickok was a legendary gunslinger and lawman of the American West, and his death in Deadwood, South Dakota, is one of the most famous events in the history of the Wild West.
Hickok arrived in Deadwood in the summer of 1876, and he quickly became one of the most recognizable figures in town. He was known for his gun skills and reputation as a lawman, and he has often seen playing cards in local saloons.
His friend, Calamity Jane was another famous figure of the American West who called Deadwood home. She was known for her rough-and-tumble lifestyle and was a skilled marksman, but she is best remembered for her association with Wild Bill Hickok.
Calamity Jane claimed to have been married to Wild Bill, but no historical evidence supports this claim. Nevertheless, she remained a popular figure in Deadwood and was known for her wild and adventurous spirit.
Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane represent the spirit of adventure, the lawlessness of the frontier, and a big part of the rich history of Deadwood.
MAIN STREET DEADWOOD
I’m taking a stroll down Main Street. In the Deadwood series, this street was dusty in the sun and muddy when it’s been raining. Now the street is paved, and no horses are tied outside the saloons. And it doesn’t smell of horse manure and sweaty cowboys. It’s still got that iconic Wild West look feel.
It’s incredible to think about all the stories and legends created in this small town.
Walking the streets of Deadwood, I can feel the energy of the past and the spirit of the wild west. It’s like stepping back to a place where gunslingers, gamblers, and gold miners roamed the streets.
I will explore some of these historic sites Diane told me about at the museum, and my first stop is the saloon where Wild Bill played his last hand of poker.
WILD BILL GOT SHOT HERE PLAYING POKER
On August 2, 1876, Wild Bill was playing a game of poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon (Saloon no. 10), when he was approached by a stranger named Jack McCall.
Wild Bill, with his long hair and iconic mustache, was sitting with his back to the door, and McCall came through the door, drew his gun, and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
It was later discovered that McCall was seeking revenge for killing his brother, and he claimed that Wild Bill was responsible.
The death of Wild Bill Hickok shocked the people of Deadwood, and it quickly became a part of the town’s folklore.
Hickok’s death remains one of the most famous events in the history of the American West, and it’s a testament to the lawlessness and violence of the frontier. Although he was known for his skills as a gunslinger, Wild Bill Hickok will always be remembered as one of the most legendary figures of the Wild West.
She lived on for 26 years after Wild Bill got killed, and today, their graves can be found side by side in Mount Moriah Cemetery right here in Deadwood. The signs at the cemetery read:
James Butler Hickok, alias “Wild Bill.”
Born May 27, 1837. Died August 2, 1887.
Victim of the assassin Jack McCall.
Martha Jane Burke, alias “Calamity Jane.”
Born May 1, 1851. Died August 1, 1903.
Her dying request: “Bury me beside Wild Bill”.
Even though they are both long gone, their stories continue to captivate people worldwide, and their grave sites are now popular tourist attractions.
THE GHOSTS OF DEADWOOD
With such a rich history and the lawlessness of many people being killed in these streets and saloons, it’s no surprise that many people believe that Deadwood also is home to many ghost stories.
One of the most famous ghost stories in Deadwood is that of Wild Bill Hickok, and inside Saloon No 10, I’ve just seen the chair he was sitting in and in a frame the playing cards he was holding in the poker game – the so-called “Dead Man’s Hand.”
And it is said that his spirit still haunts the town and that, on occasion, visitors to Deadwood have reported seeing his ghostly figure wandering the streets at night. Some had even claimed to have seen him playing cards in local saloons, just as he was when he was alive.
Another famous ghost in Deadwood is that of Calamity Jane. She is said to haunt the town, and visitors to the cemetery where she is buried, have reported seeing her ghostly figure wandering the grounds. Some have even claimed to have heard her ghostly laughter or the sound of her spurs clanging against the hard ground.
But there are also several other ghost stories associated with Deadwood. The Bullock Hotel, for example, is said to be haunted by the ghost of former owner Seth Bullock, who is said to still walk the halls of the hotel. And the Bella Union Saloon is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who died in a fire there many years ago.
And then, the place I’m heading to now: The Fairmont Hotel. It is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the American West and the site of one of the most popular ghost tours in the area. The Fairmont Hotel Ghost Tour is a guided tour that takes visitors through the hotel’s dark and creepy halls, exploring its haunted history and sharing tales of the spirits that are said to haunt the property.
Inside I meet George, who can tell me more about this place.
GEORGE SAW AND HEARD GHOSTS
According to local legend, the Fairmont Hotel is home to several ghostly entities, including the spirit of a former hotel employee who died on the job and the ghosts of several former guests who never checked out. Some people have reported seeing ghosts wandering the halls or hearing strange noises coming from empty rooms, and the hotel staff has even reported seeing objects move on their own or hearing footsteps when no one is there.
“I didn’t believe in ghosts before I got here but I’ve seen two ghosts in the year and a half, I’ve been here. I was working upstairs, I saw a guy, dressed in black walk into a room. I went down to chase him, but he wasn’t there. I also built a shoe rack, and I go up there and the sneakers are all over the place.”
George also tells me that he’s only been afraid one time.
“I was sleeping up there one night, and in between our two properties, there was a banging on the wall that shook both places. It was four o’clock in the morning, pitch black, and it was like “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM” about ten times. And that scared me because, I thought, if that ghost can hit the wall like that, he could hit me. And that’s the only time, I was really afraid.”
The Fairmont Hotel Ghost Tour is a popular activity for visitors to Deadwood, and it’s a great way to experience the town’s rich and haunted history. The tour guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the hotel’s history and the area. They are sure to keep you entertained as they share the stories and legends of the Fairmont Hotel and its ghostly residents.
So, whether you believe in ghosts or not, there’s no denying that Deadwood, South Dakota, is a town with a rich and colourful history, and it’s a place that is steeped in mystery and intrigue. But what I love about Deadwood is that it’s not just a place of the past; it’s a thriving community with a bright future. The town has been able to preserve its history while also adapting to the changing times, and it’s a great example of how a community can come together to celebrate its heritage while also moving forward.
I drove about an hour south to Mount Rushmore, a famous landmark in the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA. It is a massive sculpture that features the faces of four American Presidents carved into the side of a granite mountain: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
Historian Doane Robinson first proposed the idea for Mount Rushmore in the 1920s to attract tourists to South Dakota. In 1927, sculptor Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to carve the faces of the four presidents, and work on the project began in October of that year. It was completed in 1941, after over a decade of work.
As you approach this massive sculpture, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. The sheer scale of it is mind-boggling, with the precision of the carving and the sheer determination and hard work that went into this project. To think that this massive carving was created by hand, using only dynamite and chisels, it’s just unbelievable.
Today, Mount Rushmore is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, attracting millions of visitors from around the world each year. It is considered a symbol of American democracy and a tribute to the country’s rich history. The sculpture also represents the values and ideals that have defined the nation, such as freedom, democracy, and patriotism.
In addition to the carving of the four presidents, Mount Rushmore is surrounded by a National Memorial Park that features trails, scenic overlooks, and a visitor center with exhibits about the site’s history and the presidents depicted. Visitors can also attend a lighting ceremony in the evening, where the faces of the presidents are illuminated in a patriotic display.
THE CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL
I know; I rolled that out pretty thick, didn’t I? “A symbol to the land of the free and the home of the brave” and all of that. And even before it was finished, some felt that the Mount Rushmore project wasn’t that brilliant an idea – when you consider how the land of the free and the home of the brave was stolen from the Native Americans.
And just half an hour’s drive from Mount Rushmore, another massive rock carving is in progress. So, I drove out to see that one too.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a monumental sculpture in the Black Hills of South Dakota and dedicated to the Native American warrior Crazy Horse. It is considered to be one of the largest sculptures in the world.
The sculpture is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain, and when completed, we will see Crazy Horse mounted on a horse with his arm outstretched, pointing to his people’s land.
The Crazy Horse Memorial was commissioned in the 1940s by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear as a response to the Mount Rushmore project, which he felt was a desecration of sacred land. And The sculpture is being carved by Polish Sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski and now his family (as he passed away in 1982). He started working on it since 1948, and now, about 75 years later – it is still a work in progress.
The Crazy Horse Memorial was envisioned as a way to honor and celebrate Native American culture and history, and to provide a counterpoint to Mount Rushmore.
While the two monuments are located relatively close, they have different themes and messages. The two monuments serve as reminders of the complex and often fraught history of the region and the ongoing efforts to reconcile and recognize the diverse cultural perspectives and contributions that have shaped it.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
The next day, I was heading southeast to Nebraska and passed through Badlands National Park. It’s some of the most unique and dramatic landscapes I’ve ever seen, located in southwestern South Dakota.
Badlands is known for its rugged terrain and striking rock formations that consist of layered rock and deep canyons. The landscape is characterized by jagged cliffs, steep mesas, and towering spires formed from sedimentary rock and erosive forces over millions of years.
The terrain is barren and arid, with sparse vegetation and a mix of sagebrush, grasses, and cacti. The predominant colors in the landscape are shades of brown and orange, with streaks of green along the intermittent streams. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bison, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.
Overall, the Badlands is a stunning and unique natural wonder, and visiting the park is an awe-inspiring experience that is not to be missed. So, I’m glad it was on my way to Nebraska.
NEXT STOP NEBRASKA
In the next episode, I get to have a farm stay in the rural part of Nebraska. Here, I stay with a family, Mary Lou, John, and their grown-up son, Chris, who take me out on the field checking on their cattle. And then Mary Lou will tell me a story of her Danish ancestor who immigrated from my home country, Denmark when she was just a young girl.
All that, and much more in the next episode of The Radio Vagabond.
My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.
POEM WRITTEN BY AN AI
In South Dakota’s Badlands wild,
Palle Bo wandered like a child,
Amazed by landscapes, bold and new,
That stretched out far, and wide, and blue.
He heard of Hickok, famed and brave,
Who met his end in a saloon’s enclave,
And of Calamity Jane, maybe his wife, Whose spirit lingers, still to life.
At Deadwood, George from the Fairmount Hotel,
Shared tales of ghostly guests as well,
And Palle, with wonder in his heart,
Felt the thrill of the Wild West start.
But beyond the tales of days gone by,
Loomed the faces, carved up high,
Of four great presidents, proud and true,
Gazing out over the Badlands, too.
With awe and wonder, Palle took it in,
And felt his heart and soul begin,
To truly understand this land,
And all the stories, grand and grand.
Now, with sights still fresh in mind,
Palle ventures forth to find,
The farms of Nebraska, far and wide,
Where new adventures yet abide.
Either way, I would love to hear from you. It’s so nice to know who’s on the other end of this.
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