Monday, August 23, 2010

Jews in Deadwood

Aug. 23, 2010

After we completed the Enchanted Highway portion of our drive, and the beautiful agricultural landscapes of North Dakota, we crossed the state line and soon discovered that the land in this northwestern corner of South Dakota quickly became endless ranchland rather than unending farms. We passed a lot of cattle, plus quite a few sheep. The land began to change and soon there were outcroppings of rock and large stands of dark green trees. We could see the Black Hills in the distance and suddenly we were there.
We entered the Black Hills area via Sturgis, and quickly found our way to Deadwood. We had spent a day in the Black Hills, including dinner in Deadwood, on our 2007 trip, and really enjoyed it. The entire city of Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark, and there is a lot of tie-in between the current businesses and the historic sites. New buildings have to match the old ones they replace, and casinos (there is legal gambling in Deadwood) are encouraged to maximize the old west theme. There are markers and explanatory information in many places.
This time I was determined to do something I couldn’t find time for in 2007, and that was to trace some of the Jewish presence in Deadwood. Thanks to an article in the Jewish Forward newspaper, I had some information to start with. So after parking Mo and picking up some tourist info and maps, Joe and I walked a few blocks from the parking lot and found ourselves on the historic Main Street of Deadwood. We were heading for the Adams Museum, which among a lot of other fascinating displays about the history of the Black Hills area in general and Deadwood in particular, has a display dealing with the Jewish merchants who were among the founders of the town. At the museum, we read about Harris Franklin, Jacob Goldberg, and Sol Star, Deadwood’s mayor for 14 years. There were photographs and other archival materials which gave texture to the Jewish contributions in helping Deadwood to overcome its wild-west reputation and turning it into a respectable town.
As we walked up and down Main Street we took photos of stores which had been owned by these men, helped by a marker on one corner which detailed some of the information and identified buildings which had been built by Jews or were sites of Jewish-owned businesses.

It was a lot of fun, and nice to have a focus besides gambling (not our interest) and shopping (the Black Hills Gold which is to be found everywhere is one of my favorites, but I have so much of it already!) I am disappointed that we did not have time or energy to go up into Mount Moriah Cemetery, better known perhaps as “Boot Hill”. This is the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried—but I had wanted to visit “Hebrew Hill”, the site of the graves of the Jewish founders of Deadwood. The path is extremely steep and we never even made it to the cemetery gates before realizing that at 5 pm after such a long day’s drive, it was just beyond our strength today.

We walked around town for about 3 hours, before heading back to Mo to find a campground for the night. We had absolutely no “bars” on our cell phone, so we couldn’t call anyplace; as a result, we decided to head for the same KOA campground where we stayed 3 years ago. And here we are, two sites away from our previous one, both exhausted (in fact Joe is already asleep). But it was really a wonderful day.

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