In 1874, gold was discovered in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota and set off one of the great American gold rushes – the Black Hills Gold Rush. Within 2 years, miners had moved into the northern Black Hills where they came across a “gulch full of dead trees” and a creek full of gold.
Deadwood was officially born.
The amazing untouched land was considered sacred to the Lakota people and they were granted ownership in 1868 through the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Pioneers and prospectors began flocking to the area in search of fortune and a piece of the American dream. Settlements began developing – and the Wild West lore of our history books became the way of life for so many.
Originally, Deadwood was an illegal settlement on the sacred land owned by the Lakota people and I can’t help but wonder if this truth lent a helping hand in shaping the notorious history of this Wild West town which includes murder, mayhem, lawlessness and tragedy but sadly, little actual fortune.
Deadwood is a legendary location – currently the only US town to be named a National Historic Landmark. The streets and buildings are alive with the stories of its notorious residents and their lawless acts and untimely, tragic endings.
Known for playing by its own rules and laws, Deadwood quickly became the stomping ground for outlaws, gunslingers, gamblers and prostitutes. Several infamous Wild West outlaws met their ultimate fate in Deadwood including Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane – both buried locally in Mount Moriah Cemetery. Their legends and legacies, as well as many other notorious outlaws, have become an ingrained part of this historic town and their final resting place in Mount Moriah Cemetery is now a must-see tourist stop.
Deadwood has survived 3 devastating fires as well as a smallpox epidemic that raged through it. This historic town was on the verge of becoming another abandoned ghost town until a law was passed in 1989 legalizing gambling. Today you can have a drink, some great food or try your luck gambling in the same buildings that Wild Bill and Calamity Jane frequented – and lost their lives. A true wild west town – alive and thriving – where history, fun and the paranormal are in abundance. Not to mention many places to grab some craft beer.
I thoroughly enjoyed strolling through Deadwood where so many historic figures have walked – leaving behind their dreams for wealth, their ambition, fear, anxiety, pain and happiness. So many with stories to tell just waiting for the right person to come along and listen. The hopes and dreams of these legendary residents as well as their actions that resulted in tragedy, murder, and mayhem is ingrained in the very wood, stone and brick of these structures. The energy is strong and the paranormal experiences numerous.
In the midst of all this history – all of these stories begging to be listened to – one place stood out above the rest and beckoned me inside.
The Bullock Hotel
The historic Bullock Hotel is an amazing building that sits on the corner of Wall and Main Street in Deadwood, SD. In 1894 a fire consumed a large area of Deadwood, leaving it devastated, including the original 2-story wood frame building – a warehouse – where the Bullock Hotel now stands. Using the remains of this warehouse, one of the early sheriffs of Deadwood – Seth Bullock – and his business partner Sol Star constructed this legendary 3-story hotel. The oldest hotel in Deadwood, this amazing historical building currently has a casino, restaurant, bar area and 28 of its original 63 rooms.
And it’s resident ghosts of course.
Walking into the Bullock Hotel, I was transported back to the late 1800’s. The architecture, design, furnishings, atmosphere and energy are dazzling. We visited on a weekday and the place was all but empty – allowing my husband and I a very unique opportunity. Although several of the areas in the hotel are still closed off to the public (in an effort to maintain safety during the pandemic) we were unexpectedly given a private tour (less the occupied rooms of course) by the very friendly young lady who also made me an amazing gin drink!
One of the original owner’s, Seth Bullock, was also one of the early sheriffs of this wild west town known for it’s outlaws and gunslingers – no easy job under ordinary circumstances. But by all historical accounts, Bullock was no ordinary man. It is said that Bullock never once had to use his weapon in the line of duty – a rare accomplishment in Deadwood’s early years for sure. Legend has it that Bullock had an intensity about him, an energy, and a stare that could diffuse even the most intense confrontations – he was no nonsense for sure. He was also known to be an honorable, fierce man. In fact, he developed a life-long friendship with a future president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, after a chance meeting on his ranch property in 1884.
Is it any surprise that staff and guests alike at the Bullock Hotel believe they see and feel Seth’s spirit throughout? Paranormal activity gets especially ramped up when a staff member appears to be wasting time…
There have been dozens of experiences and claims of paranormal activity and ghostly sightings at the Bullock Hotel over the past few decades made by staff, guests, visitors, paranormal investigators and even reporters. During the 1990’s, the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” visited this iconic historic hotel as a result of the numerous claims and the renowned Ghost Adventures team also investigated and filmed here.
I, of course, knew that the Bullock Hotel had a long history and a reputation for being haunted when we visited but I hadn’t actually read about the background or the paranormal activity until sitting down to write this blogpost. Our impromptu tour guide took quite a bit of interest in what MY findings were while walking throughout but she wisely kept from “leading” me by offering up claims. I do hope that any communication with Spirit or impressions I received help the team at the Bullock during future tours – both historical and paranormal.
Seth’s Cellar: The cellar has a very different atmosphere than the rest of the hotel, especially since it was closed to the public and empty when I ventured down those steps completely alone. The décor is more “pub” style versus the sophistication of the other areas of the hotel. Not to mention it was very dark – no flashlight or nightlights for me. I’m not sure what I was more concerned with at this point – encountering a spirit or tripping down the steps (I am known to be quite clumsy, even when my path is clear and well lit).
How epically embarrassing would that be – allowed to quietly visit a closed, legendary area and I break my neck……. Luckily, embarrassment averted… this time.
The basement was the blacksmith’s shop when the original hardware store stood on this site. It was also used as an infirmary during the traumatic small-pox outbreak. Some accounts claim the infirmary was for prostitutes and their children that became sickened with smallpox – but of course this could be speculation.
I was drawn straight down the steps, back past the bar and through a small office/hallway area – to a room that was all brick and oddly stood empty. I could “see” bodies, shrouded and stacked and I could feel the pain and sickness and loss left behind.
Was this area used as a temporary morgue during the outbreak or at any other time during history?
Overwhelmed, I turned to walk back towards the bar and caught a glimpse of a man – he was facing away from me, was quite tall, and had a large cowboy hat on his head. This was followed by the distinct sound of someone whistling. It was so loud; I was convinced someone had followed me downstairs.
Although our friendly bartender told me I could go down into the cellar – it was technically closed and I wasn’t completely sure if a manager would happy with me. So I hurried out to the bar, ready to apologize and “beat feet” (ok, full disclosure here – I have no idea where that phrase just came from or what it even means, but it sounds perfect) – I was actually stunned to find I was still completely alone.
Regardless of how many haunted places I find myself in – an encounter like this still has the power to stun me.
The whistling abruptly stopped, and I turned my attention to the bar. I was able to “see” several occurrences of objects moving on their own – bar stools shifting around, bottles moving, glasses being thrown, and objects sliding down the bar. This would likely be paranormal claims that patrons report (yup, in fact they are!). Mr. Bullock can be quite temperamental at times it seems.
Shifting my attention to the steps, I saw the spirit of a young girl. I felt that she was around 12 years old and small for her age – with a name that began with an “S” (Suzy, Sara, etc.) She was wearing a light blue dress, had her hair braided in “pig tail” style, and looked a bit disheveled. She smiled at me, put her finger to her lip – the universal signal for “SHHH” – and ran up the steps, disappearing before she cleared the 3rd step.
This place doesn’t dissapoint!
It was time for another drink and a conversation with our friendly bartender. She was so intrigued with my impressions that she offered to give us a personal tour of the building!
I had several more impressions and encounters during our tour of the Bullock Hotel. A few distinctly stand out:
Bathroom – ok, to be completely honest, it unnerves me immensely that it is actually a common occurrence for me to encounter a spirit in a public bathroom! Why is that? More often than not it is a female energy but honestly, I have encountered both. Bullock Hotel didn’t disappoint here either. There indeed was a female spirit that I encountered in the restroom on the first floor. She was inside it and would spend her time in and around the bathroom area. Obviously, back in the 1800’s this would not have been a public bathroom, so I wonder if she is actually haunting a different space.
3rd Floor Rooms – before we even began our tour, I told the tour guide I was drawn specifically to room 312 (I didn’t even know if the hotel HAD a room 312). That room was the center of the energy but the rooms adjacent to it would be impacted as well. I felt two women spirits here and a tragic story involving prostitution, violence, and a pregnancy. Apparently, there are stories regarding prostitutes and specifically in this area of the hotel because of the proximity to the back stairs and the back exit.
Antiques – I was drawn to several antique chairs that are placed throughout the hotel, several antique mirrors, an antique clock and a large antique cabinet. All of these pieces had quite a strong energy associated with them and mixed with the historic energy of the building overall, it could be quite overwhelming. Our tour guide confirmed that each of the pieces I had pointed out had prior paranormal experiences associated with them – especially the mirrors. It seems that Mr. Bullock is frequently seen as a reflection in these mirrors.
Room 212 – Although there was a pull to several rooms in the hotel, Room 212 stood out. At first, I was oddly drawn to a section of the wall and I felt like I needed to pass through it. This would have been a doorway into Room 212 at one time (our tour guide confirmed!). I felt a strong male energy within that room and expect that guests would have interesting nights trying to sleep there. It has been claimed many times that Mr. Bullock passed away in Room 212 but the energy I felt in that room was not Mr. Bullock.
What an incredible experience being able to visit Deadwood and so many of it’s treasured historical places. The past is definitely alive and the spirits make themselves known often. I definitely will be returning and this time reserving a room in the Bullock Hotel – maybe Room 212.