Deadwood, a remote town in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, is far from any big city or superhighway. Yet every year, more than one million people visit the place. Here's why:
Deadwood - which got its name from a stand of trees that burned in a forest fire - was the most notorious town in the Dakotas. It popped up overnight in 1876 as the cry of "Gold!" filled Deadwood Gulch. Lots of people grew rich in the gold mines, and for a while Deadwood was a Victorian showplace with fine hotels and restaurants and even electricity. But by the 1980s, the old hotels had decayed, and tourists were demanding better than Wild West joints with neon signs and fake knotty-pine facades.
So the town commissioners decided to fix up Deadwood and make it a genuine historic attraction. Architects restored the old Bodega saloon and several other buildings, and town commissioners found a neat way to pay for it. Voters all across South Dakota approved a measure allowing gambling in Deadwood - with more than half of the profits going directly to the town for architectural improvements. Now, blackjack tables and slot machines bring in more than $6 million a year, and the gaming parlors employ more people than live in the town.
But Deadwood, South Dakota, is no glitzy, Las Vegas-style gambling mecca. The town's character is hooked not to bright lights and showgirls but to Old West legends like Wild Bill Hickock, a celebrated gambler and gunman who was shot dead while dealing playing cards, and Calamity Jane Burke, a hard-drinking harlot with a heart of gold. And let us not forget Deadwood Dick, one of the most accurate shots in the West. He could shoot a wart off your nose.
The new and livelier Deadwood captures all of this, except the shooting-a-wart-off-your-nose part.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.