Gold was first discovered in the Black Hills  in the city of Custer  in 1874 by two members of the Custer expedition. As prospectors flocked to the region, gold was discovered all over the hills, but the richest claims and longest-running mines resided in Deadwood and its sister city of Lead , just three miles away. Life was wild in all of the gold camps, but Deadwood managed to attract the most colorful characters, including James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Calamity Jane.
It’s hard to tell how much of Wild Bill’s past was hype and how much true, but by the time he reached Deadwood in 1876, his reputation as a gambler, womanizer, and gunfighter preceded him. Just 39 years old at the time, he was already suffering from too much time spent in saloons. He continued that pattern in Deadwood. Most of his time there was spent drinking and gambling.
The story is told that one day a man named Jack McCall, playing poker at Wild Bill’s table, lost a lot of money. It is said that Hickok gave him back enough to get something to eat and warned him against gambling if he didn’t have enough to cover his losses.
The next day, Wild Bill was playing poker at the same table, with his back to the door, a seat he would rarely agree to accept. Jack McCall, drinking heavily at the bar, came up behind him and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. As he died, Hickok spilled his poker hand on the table, a pair of aces and a pair of eights, a hand that has since that day been called the “dead man’s hand.”
Calamity Jane, born Martha Canary in Missouri in 1862, was another famous character that made her way to Deadwood. After both her parents died within a year of each other, Calamity found herself at the age of 15 the head of a household that included five younger siblings. To support the family, Calamity took whatever work she could find, including cook, nurse, dance hall girl, waitress, ox-team driver, and prostitute.
In 1870, she joined Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer as a scout; this is when she first began dressing as a man, a habit she maintained throughout her life. By the time she joined Custer, she was known as a fearless rider and formidable markswoman. Calamity stayed with the western cavalry, fighting natives for several years.
In 1876, Calamity was ordered to the Black Hills  with General Crook. Once there, she became severely ill and spent two weeks in the hospital at Fort Fetterman. After her recovery, she headed to Laramie, Wyoming, and met up with Charles Utter’s wagon train headed to Deadwood. With Utter was Wild Bill.
Both heavy drinkers and both prone to great exaggeration, it seems Calamity and Bill hit it off. While there are stories that they were romantically linked, there are also stories that this was just wishful thinking on the part of Calamity Jane. At any rate, she joined the wagon train on its trip to Deadwood. Calamity took a job with the Pony Express when she arrived, delivering mail between Custer  and Deadwood.
At the age of 52, Calamity died a natural death—at least as “natural” as a death can be that is caused by the ravages of alcohol. This fearless rider, champion cussing, deadly shot of a woman was another character of the West loved by dime store novelists in the east. As she died, she had one last request—to be buried next to Wild Bill. And so she was. She got her wish. Both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood .
Deadwood remains to this day one of the edgiest and dynamic towns in the hills. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, yet it wasn’t until 1980 that the last four brothels in town were closed. Refusing to be tamed, small stakes gambling was legalized in 1989 and the stakes were upped in 2000.
Deadwood Gulch is a fairly narrow canyon and most of the town is squeezed in along just a few main streets. In 1879, fire (the plague of many a rickety wooden mining community) roared through the narrow gorge and destroyed 300 buildings in an area just 0.5 mile by 0.25 mile. Over 2,000 people were left homeless. The town was quickly rebuilt upon the ashes, but this time most of the buildings were of solid brick and sandstone construction.
The historic district of the town looks much as it did after the fire, as most of the existing buildings trace their construction to post-fire rebuilding. Today Deadwood is a center for fine dining , rodeos, special events, historic re-enactments  (including the daily shooting of Wild Bill Hickok), and gambling .