One of the West's wildest Gold Rush towns, Deadwood, in a deep gulch high in the hills 42 miles northwest of Rapid City, has the rare accolade of being a National Historic Landmark in its entirety. Within a year of the discovery of gold here in 1876, six thousand gold-diggers had swarmed in to stake their claims; con artists, outlaws, and other dubious frontier types were not far behind. Among them were James Butler, aka Wild Bill Hickok – sometime spy, scout, bullwhacker, stagecoach driver, sheriff, and gambler, who spent only a few weeks in Deadwood prior to his murder here by a young drifter in 1876. Martha "Calamity Jane" Canary Burke, an illiterate alcoholic whose checkered career included stints as scout, prostitute, nurse, and Wild West Show performer arrived the same time as Hickok. She died penniless in 1903.
Gambling was outlawed in Deadwood in 1889, the year South Dakota achieved statehood, but betting parlors and brothels flourished well into the twentieth century. Now the old ghosts have been revitalized, since the passing of limited-stakes gambling legislation in 1980 and every spare square inch of saloon space is packed with the ubiquitous one-armed bandits. Corny but entertaining gunfights, sing-alongs, and community theater are shown sporadically; for details, check with the CVB, 767 Main St (Tel:1-800/999-1876, Web: www.deadwood.org ). For an overview of Deadwood past and present, start by visiting the History and Information Center, in the heart of town at 3 Siever St (daily: June– Sept 8am–7pm; rest of year 9am–5pm; Tel:605/578-2507). Main Street boasts several grand old hotels, including the Bullock at no. 633 (Tel:605/578-1745 or 1-800/336-1876; Price: $76–160), and the Franklin Hotel at no. 700 (Tel:605/578-2241 or 1-800/688-1876; Price: $101-130). The Main Street Manor Hostel, 515 W Main St, in Lead (Tel:605/717-2044, Web: www.mainstreetmanorhostel.com ), offers cozy, homey accommodation five minutes from Deadwood. Saloon #10, 657 Main St (Tel:605/578-3346), has cold beer, sawdust floors, and lots of memorabilia. Above the door is the chair in which Hickok was sitting when he was shot dead, while holding two aces, a pair of eights, and the nine of diamonds – forever after christened the Dead Man's Hand. While the Saloon represents the wilder side of town, the elegant dining room upstairs at the Deadwood Social Club presents the more sophisticated side of Deadwood with hand-crafted northern Italian fare, a well-planned wine list and some of the best cheesecake in the West.