Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1982


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4, Fall 1982, pp. 250-51.


Copyright 1982 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Watson Parker has devoted most of his professional career to writing the history of the Black Hills of South Dakota, and those interested in that history are richer for it. In this, his latest effort, he has focused on Deadwood, the mining town of fame and fable, and examines what he calls its "golden years" of 1875 to 1920. Parker states in his preface that he has tried "to present Deadwood as a whole, a compound of people, business, technology, society, whoopee, and promotion, all intermixed and interacting to produce a small but prosperous city which to this day remains a monument to the vitality and endurance of the mining West." He has succeeded in this objective and in producing a delightfully entertaining piece of historical literature at the same time.

The story of Deadwood that Parker relates bears similarities to the early years of most frontier communities with its speculative fevers, promotional hooplas, and excesses of various kinds. But to Parker the key to understanding the uniqueness of Deadwood is to realize its nearly total dependence upon the mines and miners that surrounded it. Deadwood developed through a succession of booms beginning with the gold rush of 1876 that created it, through the hardrock boom of the 1890s, and ending with the cyanide boom of the early 1900s. Between the booms the town struggled to survive.

Deadwood's "golden age" was closely tied to the gold mines, but this is not just a mining history. Parker also probes the inner workings of the town and its people. It is a colorful history and Parker makes the most of it by his skillful use of the matenal and his writing style. His language is as colorful as Deadwood's history. He looks at the cold facts ind the fanciful tales and does justice to both. Indeed, Parker feels that in many instances "the lively lies and misconceptions . . . were more important in shaping Deadwood's history than truer and more sober truths would have been."