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Deadwood Beginnings

Gold was discovered in Deadwood Gulch in 1875. The rush for riches that followed changed the Black Hills forever.

Named for the dead pines that covered the hillsides, the Gulch was in the heart of land designated by the United States government to be Lakota Sioux land in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Nevertheless, shacks and tents soon filled the slopes as prospectors poured into Deadwood Gulch, with population estimates ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 people, mostly men. By the summer of 1876, western legends Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane had made their way into the mining camp.

Across the country, Americans were busy celebrating the centennial of the United States as an independent nation and news of the Black Hills Gold Rush. But not all the news from the frontier was welcomed. On June 25, 1876, Lakota and Cheyenne warriors wiped out George Armstrong Custer and his entire 7th Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. A little over a month later, Wild Bill was murdered by Jack McCall while playing poker in a Deadwood saloon.

Hickok's death only validated Deadwood's reputation as a dangerous place. The city had all the markings of being nothing more than a temporary and lawless boomtown. But it quickly evolved from a mining camp to a law-abiding community of opportunity. The city recovered from repeated natural disasters and devastating fires. The arrival of new technologies and shifts in the national economy divided life in Deadwood into successive stages. By the beginning of the 20th century, the city's grit and determination had enabled it to become a permanent fixture in the lore of the American West.

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