Historic Deadwood: Prospecting and Prostitution

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Image of women in a building in Deadwood SD

Prostitution in Deadwood

Back in the days of the Old West, Deadwood, South Dakota was famous for its gold-filled creeks, wild gaming halls and “frontier hospitality.”  Back then miners came to Deadwood seeking more than just their fortunes. They were also looking for a good time with one of the town’s working women. Prospecting and prostitution went hand and hand in Deadwood.  In fact, an entire city block was occupied by nothing but brothels until 1980.

The first of the Working Girls, along with infamous Madams Mustache and Dirty Em, arrived in Deadwood via Colorado Charlie Utter’s wagon train—the same wagon train that carried Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.   Miners were so happy to see the prostitutes roll into town that they lined the streets and clapped as the wagon passed by.  

Long after the Black Hills gold rush ended, the brothels of Deadwood’s Main Street continued to operate.  They were shut down briefly in 1950 when an overeager State’s Attorney tried to shut them down. But just a few months later, many of the establishments reopened due to a legal technicality.

In 1980, federal and state authorities were finally able to shut down the last four remaining brothels.  Local supporters protested the raid with a Main Street parade—much like the one that happened when Madam Mustache and Dirty Em rolled into town on Charlie Utter’s wagon train.

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