Deadwood, South Dakota – Main Street

Main Streets 2016: South Dakota

Many cities are rightly proud of their history and culture, but few can boast that their entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Deadwood, South Dakota, can.

This small city’s Main Street is steeped in history that dates back to the Black Hills Gold Rush, which drew droves of hopefuls here after General George Armstrong Custer declared, in 1874, that his expedition had found gold nearby. Today’s revitalized business district vividly remembers those turbulent times of Deadwood’s early heyday.

Much of Main Street’s history is the stuff of American folklore. This is where the legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead, playing poker in a Main Street saloon in 1876. He’s buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is also the final resting place of Calamity Jane, the also-famed scout and frontierswoman.

Deadwood is also closely tied to its heritage with the Lakota. The city was founded on land that had been promised to the Native American tribe — but in the rush that followed Custer’s announcement, the lure of gold outweighed all treaties. These and other stories are told in Deadwood’s four history museums: Adams Museum, Days of ’76 Museum, Historic Adams House, and Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center.

Even after the city’s first lawless days had passed, gold mining and railroads remained the lifeblood of Deadwood through the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Today, the roistering gold panners and brothels are long gone, but Deadwood celebrates its colorful past by preserving the Wild West architecture and storefronts up and down Main Street. That history has helped spur a revival from the economic struggles Deadwood began to suffer with a devastating fire in 1959.

It was after another fire in 1987 that the turnaround known as the “Deadwood Experiment” began. City leaders decided to put their weight behind a bid to return gambling to Main Street, and in 1989 Deadwood became America’s first small city to legalize gambling as a way of maintaining its historic assets.

And it’s not just gambling that draws visitors today — the city offers dozens of history-themed attractions, many restaurants, a local winery, and annual events such as Deadweird, Days of ’76 and Kool Deadwood Nights. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a close drive from town in the surrounding Black Hills, where the Old West can seem as close and real as it often does right in downtown Deadwood.

Street and Shoot-out photos courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism
All other photos courtesy of