At sundown, outdoor adventurers look for a place to pass the night, which often means heading to the historic buildings stretched along Main Street in Deadwood Gulch. The 2004 debut of HBO’s gritty Deadwood series recharged the mystique of this infamous mining town that's now home to 1,300 people and more than 80 gambling establishments. The local visitors bureau hired extra staff to answer inquiries, and the Adams Museum staff won an honorary Emmy Award for technical advice to the show. Half the town has a story about partying with Deadwood actors during cast visits.
The town thrives on its lawless legacy, led by iconic, long-haired gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok. He still inspires look-alikes who hang around town waiting tables, nursing drinks and even playing cards at the No. 10 Saloon, where Wild Bill was gunned down in 1876, while playing cards. With such a history, many visitors are surprised at the town’s respectable concentration of quality hotels and top-notch restaurants, including Kevin Costner’s Jake’s, located above his Midnight Star Casino.
Costner, Black Hills visitors soon notice, became South Dakota's patron star when he fell for the place while filming Dances with Wolves in 1989. He later launched the Midnight Star and other ventures. Winter brings a memorable opportunity to follow Costner’s steps about three miles up snowmobile trail No. 4 from the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, where a small sign announces a Dances film site. Limestone cliffs studded with pines and powdered with snow rise overhead, clearly recognizable from the final scene.
When I pull up to the sign and kill my snowmobile’s engine, the air is full of huge, ragged snowflakes that hang like down suspended in a still room. Only a wayward flake hissing against the hot engine breaks the silence. My mind returns to something I read on the website of Bill Markley, an extra who played a soldier in the wintry canyon scene. He recalled a perfectly timed snow fell the day before filming and melted away on the last shooting day.
Even Hollywood, it seems, can use a lucky strike when it comes to the Hills’ white gold.