In 1874 General George A. Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills of Dakota. He reported that he discovered gold in the area. The following year the United States government attempted to buy the Black Hills for six million dollars. The area was considered sacred by the Sioux and they refused to sell. Custer's story attracted gold hunters and in April 1876 the mining town of Deadwood was established in the area. This provoked the Sioux and resulted in the war that led to the battle of Little Bighorn.

The U.S. army now responded by increasing the number of the soldiers in the Black Hills. As a result Sitting Bull and his men fled to Canada, whereas Crazy Horse and his followers surrendered to General George Crook at the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska.

Deadwood now developed rapidly. It was a rough town and it attracted some dangerous people including Sundance Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane and George Curry. On 2nd August, 1876, Hickok was playing cards in Deadwood. Jack McCall, seeking revenge for the death of his brother, shot Hickok in the back of the head.


Primary Sources

(1) Ellis County Star (11th May, 1873)

We learn from recent dispatches that Mr. J. B. Hickok, (Wild Bill), well known to the older citizens of Hays City, was shot in the head and instantly killed, by a man named Bill Sutherland, while playing cards in a saloon in Deadwood Gulch, Wyoming. From the report it seems that Bill had killed a brother of Sutherland's in this city, several years ago, and in revenge the latter shot Bill, taking him unawares.

This is the long-looked for ending of the career of one who deserved a better fate. For nearly his whole life time Bill was on the frontier, a portion of the time acting as scout, and then as an officer of the law in some frontier town. He was elected Sheriff of this county in 1868, and did good service in keeping order. While here he killed several men; but all their acquaintances agreed that he was justified in so doing. He never provoked a quarrel, and was a generous, gentlemanly fellow. In person he was over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and a specimen of perfect manhood throughout.

He was a dead shot, wonderfully quick in drawing and shooting, the latter faculty filling his enemies with a very wholesome respect, when in his presence.

Living as he did in constant fear of his life, he always kept his revolvers with him, and had the fellow that shot him given him a fair fight, and not taken the cowardly advantage that he did. Wild Bill would not have been killed.

(2) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

Between the years 1869-75 the pressure of advancing civilization was very great upon all sides. The hunters, prospectors, miners, and settlers were trespassing upon the lands granted to the Indians. It was generally believed that the Black Hills country possessed rich mineral deposits, and miners were permitted to prospect for mines. Surveying parties were allowed to traverse the country for routes upon which to construct railways, and even the government sent exploring expeditions into the Black Hills country, that reported evidences of gold fields. All this created great excitement on the part of the white people and a strong desire to occupy that country. At the same time it exasperated the Indians to an intense degree, until disaffection developed into open hostilities.

(3) John F. Finerty, Warpath and Bivouac (1890)

We passed by several groups of miners hard at work panning out gold dust, which, they told us, ranged from 10 to 85 cents per pan, the latter being very much in the minority. I had always looked with some degree of suspicion on the Black Hills business, and was considerably astonished to find a settlement of such proportions as that we were riding through. First we struck Montana City and then Lower Deadwood, and then Deadwood City, an artillery salute of thirteen guns being fired as Crook's countenance appeared in the latter place. The General acknowledged the universal enthusiasm, nearly all the population being in the main street, cheering, yelling and prancing around as if the day of jubilee had come, by lifting his weather-beaten hat and bowing right and left, after the manner of public men.

Deadwood City in the fall of 1876 presented an appearance which combined in a singular manner the leading features of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Braidwood, and McGregor, Iowa, at that period. Like Cheyenne, it possessed a multitude of variety theaters and a crowd of brazen and bedizened harlots, gambling hells, drinking dives and other moral abominations. Like Braidwood, it had a long, straight frame or log house street, just as it is popularly believed a snipe has one long, straight digestive apparatus, destitute of ramifications. Like McGregor, Deadwood was shut in by high wooded hills which seemed to choke off the air currents and to massively protest against any extension of the city's width. The tendency was to force the place along the ravine and convert it into a geometrical line length without breadth. A couple of fires and a first-class cyclone which swept the long street described, have since partially cured Deadwood of its tendency to burrow in the valley.