Trailhead for Mickelson Trail in Deadwood


Friday, May 18, 2018

We arrived in Sturgis yesterday afternoon. There isn’t much to this town if you’re not into motorcycles, but the campground where we’re staying is convenient to I-90, and Sturgis is close to some of the places we want to see in this area.

Today. we visited Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered on August 2, 1876. Deadwood is the end of the line for the George S. Mickelson Trail as well as the Burlington Northern line that ran from Edgemont, SD to Deadwood. Some of the original tracks can be seen on the side of the trail as well as a railroad switch, which enabled trains to be moved from one track to another. A machine shop with huge doors still stands not far from the trailhead, and tracks run all the way up to the building and presumably inside.

For those of you who were fans of HBO’s original series Deadwood, you may be surprised to learn that some of the characters from the show were actual people from Deadwood’s early days. Seth Bullock was the first sheriff of Deadwood. Al Swearengen owned the Gem Theatre, which was basically a brothel, E.B. Farnum owned the general store, Sol Star was Bullock’s business partner. The pair owned a hardware store in Deadwood. Charlie Utter was Wild Bill Hickok’s friend and companion.

I’m beginning to think that history is not much different than the six degrees of separation theory, which states that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. For instance, there is a sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski, who designed the Crazy Horse Monument. Ziolkowski also worked for Gutzon Borglum briefly on the Mount Rushmore monument.

And speaking of Mount Rushmore, Seth Bullock and Theodore Roosevelt were good friends. There is conflicting information as to what year the pair actually met, but both men agreed it was when Bullock was a deputy sheriff of Medora, North Dakota, and Roosevelt was a deputy sheriff of Billings County, North Dakota. Bullock was in the process of bringing a horse thief named Crazy Steve into custody on the range when he encountered Roosevelt for the first time. The pair quickly formed a friendship that would last until Roosevelt’s death on January 6, 1919. Bullock died less than nine months later.

Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock, are all buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood. The cemetery sits high on a mountain overlooking the town. Wild Bill was originally buried at Ingleside Cemetery, downhill from Mount Moriah. In the 1880s, it was determined that the land where Ingleside was located could be better used for housing. Most of the bodies were moved up the mountain to Mount Moriah and reinterred.

After Roosevelt’s death, Bullock and the Society of the Black Hills Pioneers built a thirty-one foot tower known as Friendship Tower on Sheep Mountain (later renamed Mount Roosevelt) as a memorial to Bullock’s friend. Bullock died a few months after the tower’s dedication. Before his death, Bullock requested that he be buried high above Mount Moriah on a plot of ground facing Mount Roosevelt. Bullock’s grave rises about 750 feet above the main portion of the cemetery. Harry and I climbed the steep path (gasp, gasp) to see Bullock’s grave. Later that afternoon, we hiked the half-mile path to Friendship Tower atop the 5,690-foot summit of Mount Roosevelt.

We were too tired from the exertion of climbing two steep paths to ride our bikes on the Mickelson Trail in Deadwood, so we took a walk on the trail instead. This section of the trail was paved with asphalt. We only walked about a quarter of a mile, so I’m not sure how far the pavement went, but from what I’ve read, the only section of the trail  that is paved is within the city limits of Custer, SD. I guess it just goes to prove you can’t believe everything you read.

The saloons and brothels that once stood on Main Street in Deadwood have given way to restaurants, souvenir shops and casinos. Even the Bullock Hotel, the first hotel built in Deadwood, boasts a casino. Seth Bullock and Sol Star built the hotel, after their hardware store burned down in 1894.

I cannot help but wonder what Bullock and the other early settlers of Deadwood would think of their little town now.

Sculpture of Wild Bill Hickock
Wild Bill Hickock’s grave
Calamity Jane’s grave
Seth Bullock’s grave
View of Mt. Roosevelt from Seth Bullock’s grave
Friendship Tower on Mt. Roosevelt
Railroad switch
Deadwood sign near Mickelson trailhead. You cannot tell it from the photo, but the picture is in relief.
The end of the line for the Mickelson Trail


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