Paying Respects to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane

If summarizing the Badlands into a few photos and a handful of words was a challenge, crystalizing the Black Hills into its essence is even more impossible. The area is a bipolar split of rugged, dangerous, and awe-inspiring natural environment juxtaposed with garish man-made tourist attractions.

The general history of how the immigrant, new-country Americans ripped the Paha Sapa from the Sioux is pretty well known, but the devil is in the details. We’re reading “Black Hills, White Justice,” by Edward Lazarus, a detailed  and interestingly told narrative I highly recommend for those details. What Lazarus tells us is that the Sioux expelled the Kiowa from the Black Hills in the early 1800s (the Sioux having been pushed Westward by the Chippewa) — so battles over this luscious land has been going on for a long, long time. Every visitor here can see why — it’s stunning and awe-inspiring. Oh, and of course, gold was a big motivator way back when.

And all three still play a big part today. First, the promise of getting rich at one of Deadwood’s casinos keeps that small town’s streets crowded, the streets noisy as the ring of slot machines leak from open doorways. But there’s no denying the history here. We skipped the casinos (not that I won’t drop nickels into the slots myself; but we avoid cigarette smoke like the carcinogenic poison it is), found a local map, and started walking.


Uphill. To the Mount Moriah Cemetary. We walked the route designated for driving, which was shorter but steeper, and gave us a good cardio workout. Why the effort? To pay our respects to Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock, and others. If you were a fan of the HBO series, “Deadwood,” this is the place that connects fiction to reality. And in an area that will charge you to open your eyes in the morning, a $2 per person fee to get in can’t be beat. Come prepared to walk, and know that many of the illustriously deceased were moved here from Ingleside Cemetary, now a residential area.


As always, we asked the locals for a restaurant recommendation, and had a great lunch at the Deadwood Thymes cafe Bistro.


We passed through Sturgis, a small town of bars and taverns, where the local economy is highly invested in the two weeks of August when the bikers show up. The rally is actually about a week long, but bikers show up early or stay late, stretching the height of the rally season a bit. A woman serving us at a restaurant in Black Hawk told us she made her entire year’s earnings in those two weeks and told us about another woman who worked the Full Throttle bar every year, taking those two weeks as her vacation. Last year her boss refused her time-off request — so she quit. A lot is at stake for those relying on that narrow window for earning the bulk of their wages.

Looking for hikes and bicycle rides, we discovered that around here they’re measured in an entirely different scale — tens and hundreds of miles. But we found some alternatives — more on those in future posts.


About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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