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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019
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Janet Lynn Davis
Grimes County, Texas, USA


Any Fool's Gold

Deadwood. First of all, any place with "dead" in its name renders itself suspect to me. Conjures up dusty TV westerns from the '50s and '60s where the difference between good and bad is clear-cut. What I notice as I look around isn't resonating with me either. Sturdy Victorian-style establishments line the tidy main street in almost theme-park fashion. Flashy signs ("Lucky Nugget," "Miss Kitty's" . . . ) draw my attention to gaming halls, modern-day saloons, and shops with the requisite souvenir kitsch.

After word got out in the mid-1870s of plentiful gold, thousands streamed into these Black Hills, leaving deep tracks in the sacred Sioux land. A camp popped up that soon transformed into a flourishing town, its structures initially made of fire-prone pine and canvas. Gambling, prostitution, drinking to excess, gunslinging, lives lost: the order of the day? And here we are, nearly a century and a half later, my husband and I.

Cold drizzle, interspersed with pellets of rain, makes its way to our bones. A lady stops us from entering her shop to warm up: "We're closed—for the parade." The annual homecoming parade. And then we see and hear them, schoolkids of all ages. Small marching bands with their shimmery-metallic uniforms, football players, homecoming kings and queens. Enthusiastic supporters throwing candy for those who've come to watch; the plunk-plunk-plunk as it lands on the pavement.

We ask a woman standing near us, presumably a mother, how the local football team has fared this year. Her face beams as she responds. People actually live here, my psyche insists.

With that, despite the day's dreariness, historic black-and-white portraits displayed on a building's exterior start coming to life: Calamity Jane, a madam, a prostitute (and true beauty), not to mention several male figures with recognizable names. Everyone and everything—the whole town—becomes real. As real as the bullet that Jack McCall shot into Wild Bill Hickok's head in Saloon #10.

the gulch
where it all started
named for
the corpses of trees
along its rocky walls

iron pyrite
or coveted gold ore?
fortunes
decided by cunning
and the luck of the draw

dead man's hand,
black aces and eights . . .
only once
did he sit with his back
toward the door

an Old West town
determined not to die . . .
living off
the gritty stories
of its fabled ghosts

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Author's Notes: Deadwood, South Dakota, USA, significantly smaller in population now than it was in its gold-rush heyday, has risen from the ashes of several fires throughout its history. It also has survived times of economic decline. As the most-accessible sources of local gold began to dwindle, ironically, the discovery of major stores of iron pyrite, or "fool's gold" (used for a while in the gold smelting process), led to an economic boon for Deadwood.

Deadwood became a National Historic Landmark District in 1961. The last brothel, Pam's Purple Door, was closed down in 1980. But gambling was officially reinstituted in 1989, bringing in revenue that enabled historic preservation. Today, tourism is an important revenue source for the small city.  

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