Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

Community in Peril | Life in the gold camps

by James H. Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | May 06, 2015
 Every alternate house was a gambling saloon, and each of them was carrying on a brisk business. In the middle of the street a little knot of men had gathered, and were holding a prayer meeting, which showed in sharp contrast to the bustling activity of wickedness surrounding it.

—Leander P. Richardson, “A Trip to the Black Hills,” in Scribner’s Monthly, April 1877

Life in the gold camps, and in the towns and cities that developed around them, attracted those who sought to separate the miners from their gold through crime, gambling, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and other temptations. Saloons provided a place to socialize and relax, usually on Sundays, from the labors of mining and prospecting. Whiskey and beer were commonly served, but so were fruity mixed drinks. The food served ranged from basic fare to the finest cuisine, including fresh oysters from the East.

Although conflicts ran through Deadwood because of crime and violence, many communities within the town formed and prospered. Strong populations of Chinese, Jewish, and other groups were an important part of daily life.  They could even band together in the event of fire, which could threaten them all.

The Burnt District
, Deadwood, 1879
Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection; 0070.233.001

Interior Deadwood Saloon. Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection; 0001.044.001
Chinese fire department - SMALLER

Chinese Fire Department—July 4, 1888
Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection; 56-6-1924




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