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Gold, Gunslingers and Presidential Profiles

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

My trip to Deadwood was spurred by a desire to see Mount Rushmore. When Holiday Inn told me they had two locations perfect for such a trip – one in Rapid City and one in Deadwood – I jumped at the chance to visit the old, rough and tumble, gold mining town.

Named for dead trees found scattered throughout its gulch, the legend of Deadwood has far outgrown its 3.83 square mile border. From the discovery of gold in 1874, the town’s colorful history and Gold Rush Era architecture to its notorious residents and visitors, it’s not surprising the entire town of Deadwood is listed as a National Historic Landmark District.

As with all of my trips, I looked for a starting point – a place to get my feet wet with the local history and it’s prominent players.

The Adams Museum was not like other small town museums I have encountered in my travels. Unlike others who fill their walls with junk they’ve tried to sell as some historically significant treasure – the Adams Museum was bubbling over with some of the most interesting artifacts I have ever laid eyes on.

 

From a two-headed calf and odd artifacts connected to U.S. Presidents to exhibits covering Deadwood’s history of gambling, mining, transportation, clothing, brothels, gunslingers and Native American tribes – there was no shortage of things to look at!

Of all the bits and pieces they had, my favorite corner of the Adams Museum revolved around, James Butler Hickok – better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok. This American, Old West lawman and gunslinger met his demise in a Deadwood saloon shortly after his arrival.

Photographs of Wild Bill and his personal effects covered the walls. Some of the items in the collection included a handwritten letter to his wife, his 1860 Army Colt revolver, straight razor, a “good luck” stone found in his boot and cards from the deck he was using when he was shot.

There were even two detailed, hand drawn portraits of Wild Bill – one of which – left me feeling like I had come face to face with the handsome legend himself.

Beginning as an illegal settlement on land that was granted to the Lakota people, I decided to have a better look at what put Deadwood on the map for thousands of fortune seekers, gunslingers, painted ladies and lawmen.

Broken Boot Mine was a fun family friendly stop that gives visitors an opportunity to tour what was once a working mine and gives them a chance to try their hand at panning.

The tour wasn’t very long but it was fun to walk through the chiseled out pathways, learning about living conditions for the miners, tools they used, lighting they worked by and the minerals that could be found. I also really enjoyed having a look at the wooden structures and supports built to help reinforce the pathways.

I honestly couldn’t imagine living or working in those conditions!

Following the tour, I paid a little extra to give panning a go. Lead to a covered outdoor area that had large basins filled with water – I was given a bag of pebbles and a plastic bowl known as a “pan”. Dumping the pebbles into the pan, I was given a lesson on panning techniques. With a lot of patience, persistence and soaked clothes – I got pretty excited when sparkling little gold flakes started to surface!

With every bag of pebbles visitors are guaranteed to find something – nothing you could retire on but a cool experience nonetheless.

If you are a fan of the Old West and its larger than life characters and events, you really can’t pass through Deadwood without making a stop at Saloon No. 10. While it is best known as the saloon Wild Bill Hickok was shot down in by Jack McCall – this is not the original location of the saloon.

After the original location burnt to the ground, Saloon No. 10 was moved to Main Street – where the front section was built to replicate the original saloon. From the worn woodwork, saw dust covered floors and thousands of photographs, animal heads, artifacts and antiques that cover the walls to the slot machines, live music, drinks, food and historical reenactments (where you can regularly watch Wild Bill meet his demise) – there is no shortage of entertainment.

  

One of the weirdest artifacts can be found on display above the saloon’s entrance – Wild Bill’s “Death Chair”. Supposedly, this was the chair Wild Bill sat in while playing a game of poker when he was shot from behind.

While Saloon No. 10 is a fun mix of past meets present and museum meets bar, the thing I enjoyed most about it was…

I walked in feeling like a tourist but left feeling like a local.

Over looking the little mountain town of Deadwood sits Mount Moriah Cemetery – burial place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and many other notable residents.

For a small entrance fee, I was given a map of the cemetery (highlighting points of interest) along with access to the restrooms. It has always struck me as funny paying to get into a cemetery – especially when paired with a gift shop on site.

We are weirdly morbid creatures, if you think about it!

 

For the most part, I really enjoyed this stop. It could get a little busy at times since tours would come through with bus loads of people but there was enough time between each tour to have some quiet time to yourself.

The graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were littered with offerings from visitors – everything from bottles of alcohol to silk flowers, stacked rocks, coins and bullets.

Beyond visiting the graves – the view of the town from the cemetery is well worth the trip. You get a birds eye view of everything from the Holiday Inn Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort (large building on far left) to the main street of Deadwood (center to far right).

Speaking of which, I have always wondered… why do the deceased have some of the best views?!

For my final stop – the one that inspired the entire trip – I spent the afternoon exploring Mount Rushmore. After years of hearing people say, “Mount Rushmore was a lot smaller than I expected” … I was finally getting the chance to experience it for myself!

I cannot tell you how excited I was when I turned a corner and spotted Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln perched on the mountaintop for the first time.

I was still driving and there they were watching over South Dakota!

Standing at the main viewing platform, I could understand why people might walk away feeling like it looked small. However, they seem to be forgetting these faces are sitting at the top of a rather large mountain.

Up close – they would be enormous!

One thing that I almost missed out on – that I highly recommend doing – is the Presidential Trail. Its about a half mile trail and isn’t hugely strenuous. There are some twists, turns and stairs but the views cannot be beat. The trail gives you the opportunity the view Mount Rushmore from many different angles.

I cannot tell you how many times I put my camera away thinking, “Ok, I have enough photos” only to pull the darn thing out again because a new angle left me awestruck.

From the allure of old stories surrounding fortunes built on gold and the infamous gunslingers it attracted, to the profiles of some of our countries most beloved presidents – my trip to Deadwood did not disappoint.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for providing me a place to hide away from the world while I escaped to the past. I will never forget the opportunity I had to walk in the footsteps of legends – who lived in a time when the world danced on the line of lawlessness and law & order.

 

 

 

Wondering why Saloon No. 10’s floor is covered in sawdust? Or why I almost missed out on the Presidential Trail? Looking for tips on visiting or places to eat? Join me on Instagram or Facebook where I will be posting more photos, tips and stories from my trip – Hope to see you there!

Kris Williams

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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America’s First Official Thanksgiving

Located on the banks of the James River in Charles City County, Va., is the Berkeley Plantation, a three-story brick mansion with a lot of history.

Built by Benjamin Harrison IV, it is the birthplace of descendants Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States; and the ancestral home of Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president.

But along with a list of prominent residents, the Berkley Plantation is also the purported site of the first official American Thanksgiving.

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Now, if you are anything like me, I was quick to dispute this. After all, especially being a New Englander, we were all taught the first Thanksgiving took place in the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. When the Mayflower arrived on the shores of Massachusetts, with its 102 passengers and about 30 crewmembers, it was welcomed by a harsh November climate. Due to exposure, disease and shortages of food, only 53 Pilgrims survived their first New England winter.

Were it not for the help of Squanto and the Wampanoag people, those 53 Pilgrims may not have had anything to be thankful for. Squanto is known for teaching the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow crops, as well as acting as interpreter between them and the Wampanoag. Along with Squanto’s help, the Wampanoag leader Massasoit supplied the Pilgrims with food the first winter when supplies from England fell short.

Due to the help they received, the surviving Pilgrims of the Mayflower in early autumn of 1621 enjoyed their first successful harvest. To celebrate the occasion, a three-day feast was held attended by Massasoit, about 90 of his people, Squanto and the Pilgrims. This three-day event of games, singing and dancing while two cultures sat down sharing a meal is what has been romanticized by history as our first Thanksgiving.

However, a historian working at the Berkeley Plantation was kind enough to explain that the traditional meaning of Thanksgiving was strictly a religious observance. In the past it revolved entirely around days of prayer.

Thanksgiving was not an occasion designed with the sole purpose of eating until your stomach explodes (followed up by hours of football) like it has become today.  The Berkeley Plantation also argues there is no evidence that the Pilgrims declared their festival as a Thanksgiving.

Due to overpopulation, unemployment, poverty and a failing woolen industry, people in England looked to the New World as an opportunity for a better life. Looking for religious freedom, fortune and a bit of adventure, many boarded ships to settle in Virginia Colony. While many settlers fought to survive the horrible living conditions in Jamestown, four men in England planned settlement of what would become known as the Berkeley Hundred in Virginia.

With an 8,000-acre land grant along the James River from the London Company, William Throckmorton, Richard Berkeley, George Thorpe and John Smyth looked to make their fortune in tobacco crops.  Together, they commissioned Captain John Woodlief to lead the expedition and the assignment of establishing a government for the Berkeley Hundred.

On Sept. 16, 1619, Throckmorton, Berkeley, Thorpe, Smyth and Woodlief boarded the Good Ship Margaret in Kingrode, Bristol, England. Margaret carried a total of 38 men, all handpicked by Woodlief for their strength and skill. Also on board were large supplies of food, tools, weapons, construction and agricultural tools – as well as goods to trade with the natives.

Barely surviving the two and a half-month journey across the stormy Atlantic, the 47-ton, 35-foot-long ship finally arrived at its destination on Dec. 4, 1619. Once all 38 men were rowed to shore with their personal belongings, they all knelt as Captain Woodlief led them in prayer.

 

Following the specific requests of the London Company, Woodlief declared, “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

And it is this well-documented event that the Berkeley Plantation believes is the first official American Thanksgiving.

It is hard to deny the documents; the fact is this event took place almost two years before the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration – and it fits the traditional meaning of Thanksgiving. Yet the Berkeley Plantation cannot deny our modern national holiday, declared by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, more closely resembles the celebration of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony.

Regardless of where it was originally held, and our need as humans to always be the first, to me it has always been the spirit of the holiday that’s most important. It is about being tolerant and learning to appreciate each other’s differences, which is something our colonist ancestors did not excel at despite the stories we’ve been taught.

The holiday also serves as a reminder to be thankful for, and celebrate, the positive aspects in our lives – such as time with our family, friends and good health. In the end, these are important lessons that should be remembered throughout the year, beyond our one-day celebration of overdosing on turkey and pumpkin pie.

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Our Ancestors and The Spiritualist Movement

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Today it is almost impossible to find a channel without a show that revolves around the paranormal. Every time we turn around there’s a new series that shadows a paranormal group as they investigate unexplained sights and sounds under the green glow of an infrared camera. Armed with an assortment of gadgets, the investigators claim to use science and commonsense to prove or debunk believed paranormal activity.

Due to the popularity of these shows, new paranormal groups have popped up everywhere, while thousands flock to attend lectures, conventions, and ghost hunts looking for an experience of their own. It was just ten years ago having a ghost story would be enough to be labeled crazy, where today it seems as though everybody has one. Ghosts and hauntings are no longer stories saved for around a campfire.

However, this isn’t the first time the need or belief in communicating with the dead has been popular. In March 1848, the Spiritualist Movement was born in Hydesville, NY when two sisters claimed to make contact with a peddler who had supposedly been murdered in their home. Kate and Margaret Fox would ask for knocks from the spirit in response to their questions. When unexplained rappings came from the walls, witnesses were left completely baffled.

It didn’t take long for news of the Fox sister’s supernatural talents to spread throughout their town and eventually the country. Shortly after, they began touring as mediums holding public séances and lectures. As the popularity of these events grew, thousands of believers flocked to mediums to attend séances in hopes of contacting their lost loved ones.

The Spiritualist Movement saw two spikes in popularity: following the Civil War and again following World War I. Many believe it is due to the fact our ancestors were being exposed to the harsh reality of war through photography. Although photography was used to document some battles before the Civil War, they weren’t as extensively covered. War was no longer just some romanticized event rendered in an artist’s work. Our ancestors were being bombarded with gruesome pictures from the battlefields and left mourning the tragic loss of their loved ones in large numbers.

Mixed with our age-long curiosity in life after death, Spiritualism gave our ancestors some comfort. It was a movement that was founded on the beliefs that life existed after death, our spirits went on to a better place, and that they could communicate with the living. By going to a medium, there was a sense that their deceased loved ones weren’t really lost. These beliefs appealed to a wide variety of people, even Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln was known to seek the help of mediums following the death of their young son Willie.

Unfortunately, the fame and fortune mediums were receiving began to attract frauds who were looking to take advantage of those who were grieving. Desperate to believe, some were blind to the trickery pulled by those looking to make a quick buck. During this time, many people stepped forward looking to expose the frauds, including Harry Houdini.

Houdini became interested in the Spiritualist Movement following the death of his mother. After attending several séances in hopes of making contact with her, he discovered the mediums were playing basic parlor tricks on their trusting audience. Using his knowledge as a magician, he made it his mission to expose those who were making a living off of deception while hoping to meet a medium he could not debunk.

After years of being scrutinized by skeptics, with a majority of mediums being exposed as frauds, the Spiritualist Movement’s popularity began to dwindle. The final blow came when one of the founders, Margaret Fox, denounced Spiritualism as “an absolute falsehood from beginning to end” where she went on to publicly display how her and her sister played on the imaginations of their audiences. A year later, she tried to recant her confession; however, at that point the damage was already done.

Today, even with all of our technology, I can’t help but wonder if we are really any closer to discovering the truth putting all of our faith, some blindly, into equipment like our ancestors did in the past with mediums. Like Houdini, even though I have become more and more skeptical over the years, there is still something in me that wants to believe. Call it human nature or chalk it up to some of the experiences I have had that I still am trying to wrap my head around. After six years, I am still looking for that one piece of evidence that will no longer leave me questioning.