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‘Deadwood’: The Real South Dakota Town and Residents From the Western Series

The Black Hills of South Dakota have long been the curiosity of Wild West fans due to a little town called Deadwood. Back when the area was known as the Dakota Territory, some of the biggest names in the West lived there, including Seth Bullock, Jack McCall and Wild Bill Hickok. The time period of gunslingers and cowboys is such a fascinating time in United States history. It's no wonder so many TV shows have been made about the era. 

HBO perfectly captured the gold rush town and its many unique inhabitants in their fan-favorite show, Deadwood. Created by David Milch, the show ran for three seasons before it ended in 2006. But Deadwood: The Movie brought back all the old favorite cast members 10 years later to continue the story that was cut short too soon. 

Watch the series trailer below. (Warning: the language in the videos featured below is not safe for work... unless you work in 1800s Deadwood.)

Here are 10 things you might not have known about the beloved series. 

1. The show was filmed at the famous Melody Ranch

Melody Ranch was where all the classic westerns were filmed— from Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley and Hopalong Cassidy to Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger.

2. It was based on the real town of Deadwood, South Dakota and its residents

Though many of the characters really did exist like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, Trixie, Whitney Ellsworth, and Alma Garret were all fictional but were inspired by people of the time. 

3. In reality, Al Swearengen had no redeeming qualities 

The character played by Ian McShane kind of became the anti-hero you loved to hate on the show, but really he was just a bad dude. Though he technically is a pimp on the show, in real life he would lure ladies to town under false pretenses and force them into prostitution.

But the Gem Saloon (actually named the Gem Theater) was a brothel that Swearengen ran for over 20 years. He was not English as portrayed on the show — he was born in Iowa. McShane's portrayal of Swearengen was so good he earned a Golden Globe for his performance. 

4. George Hearst was fairly accurately portrayed

Gerald McRaney portrayed the recurring character of Hearst on the show. Hearst had such a lust for gold it was a threat to the town. His wealth was real and he did go on to become a senator, but the show got a little creative with making him the villain, finding inspiration from his real dealings with the Homestake Mine. 

5. The Gem Saloon was going to be burned down

Unfortunately, the show was canceled before fans got to see Al's beloved Gem get burned to the ground. This reflected the real story of the Gem which burned down in 1879 as well as 1899. The second time, Al was too broke to rebuild.

6. David Milch originally pitched a completely different show to HBO

Initially, Milch wanted to make a series about Rome, but they had literally already greenlit the series Rome. So he changed course to Deadwood.

7. The show used modern curse words

Though Milch tried to keep the show as authentic as possible, Ian McShane just wouldn't have sounded as intense using words like "tarnation" over the F word. So modern slurs were put into the script even though they didn't actually become mainstream for decades.

6. There was almost a fourth season but Milch said no

HBO did offer to air six episodes as a short season and Milch said no thanks. Each of his episodes were specifically created to portray a day in the life of the Deadwood residents, so it would have limited his ability to share much of a story. 

"It seemed to me that some sort of partial order for the show would make it impossible to do anything but superimpose all sort of interpretations that would deprive it of its own emotion," Milch said. "The viewer would come to it with all sorts of second agendas, and I didn't want to do that."

7. Seth Bullock's portrayal was pretty accurate, but Timothy Olyphant is way better looking

In reality, the lawman had a large mustache which gave him a creepy villain look. As reflected in the show, Bullock came to the town of Deadwood to open a hardware store with his friend Sol Star, played by John Hawkes in the series, and reluctantly helped maintain law and order in the town. He had previously been the sheriff of Lewis and Clark County, Montana, and went on to become the first deputy sheriff of Deadwood. He also ended up forming a connection with Theodore Roosevelt. Not only was he made Captain of Troop A in Grigsby's Cowboy Regiment, a group similar to the Rough Riders who saw action in the Spanish American War, but Bullock helped Roosevelt with his Republican presidential campaign. Roosevelt later appointed him a U.S. Marshal. Bullock even organized a parade for Roosevelt when he was elected. Even early cowboy star Tom Mix was there. 

After working in law enforcement (and after the hardware store burned down) Bullock and his buddy Sol Star went on to build and operate The Bullock Hotel, Deadwood's first hotel on Main Street, which is the oldest hotel in town.

8. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill knew each other, but were not as close as the show let on

Over the years, the names of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok have become legendary. Because they were both in Deadwood at the same time, stories began forming that the two were actually quite good friends. Calamity Jane even mentioned that Bill was her friend in her personal memoir, but the belief is largely that they were not that close. Despite that, they were buried together in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, where Seth Bullock is also buried.

9. Martha Bullock was not the widow of Seth's brother

On the show, Bullock's wife Martha Eccles comes to Deadwood after his brother Robert dies in Texas. But really, Martha married him before they moved to Deadwood at the same time. Was there really an affair with Alma Garret? No, because Garret was a fictional character. But, as depicted in the 2019 film, Martha and Seth did have three children together — Margaret, Florence and Stanley.

10. Sol Star never did get married

Though he becomes attached to the sex worker Trixie and they later marry in the TV film, Sol never married in real life. Though he was an incredibly popular member of the community and eventually became mayor, it seems he was happy with the busy life he led. He was also instrumental in founding the town of Belle Fourche with Bullock.

Read More: Jesse James: How Did the Infamous Outlaw Die?

Editors Note: This article was originally published on July 17, 2020.