This may seem morbid to some but I’ve always loved cemeteries. I love walking through them, reading the tombstones, imagining the person’s story. Did they achieve their hopes and dreams? Did they know love? Were they loved in return? How did they die? So many questions go through my mind. One of the most interesting trips my husband and I went on before he passed was to Deadwood. So much history there. Deadwood is where Wild Bill Hickok met his end in the Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon, shot by Jack McCall. Hickok, as well as Calamity Jane and a whole lot of others, is buried in the Mount Moriah cemetery.
Records show that in Deadwood’s first three years as a town there were 97 murders and suicides.
Here are few of Mount Moriah’s residents:
POTATO CREEK JOHNNY was a Welch immigrant at seventeen years old and looking for gold and excitement. Johnny (real name John Perrett) stood just 4’ 3” tall and as he grew older, he let his hair and whiskers grow long. Folks said he resembled one of Snow White’s dwarfs. Then one memorable day in May 1929, in working his mine, he discovered one of the largest gold nuggets anyone in South Dakota had ever seen. It weighed 73/4 troy ounces and valued at $45,000 at today’s currency rate. The find thrust him into celebrity status and he became a regular in all the parades. Folks from all around visited the cabin he built by himself in the woods. In 1943 at 77 years old, he took sick and died. He’s buried next to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane.
PREACHER SMITH was the first missionary in Black Hills and he was undoubtedly one of the most famous good guys. His real name was Henry Weston Smith and he walked into Deadwood with a wagon train in May 1876. He began preaching on the jam-packed street to the cutthroats, gamblers, prostitutes, and anyone who would listen. Tough, grizzled miners wearing guns would sit on the wooden planks or stand and listen to him. They always passed the hat at the end. August 20, 1876, he preached his last sermon and headed to a nearby town. He never made it. They found him three miles from Deadwood, shot through the heart. The killer was never found. All of Deadwood’s businesses shut down for the burial on Mount Moriah.
CHAMBERS DAVIS came to Deadwood in 1877 from the Denver Mint. He was an expert at ore testing an opened an assayer office on Main Street. He had a credit of $100,000 with which he was able to buy ore for California companies from eager prospectors. He was young and had a beautiful young wife, Adrienne. They were a popular young couple and were mentioned frequently in the social columns of the newspaper. In June 1878, she died very suddenly at the age of 33 of unknown causes. Then a year later in April, Chambers also died very suddenly and was buried next to his wife.
KITTY LEROY was Deadwood’s most famous soiled dove. The magnetic beauty was also a bigamist, married to five men all at the same time. Kitty was always armed to the teeth with two pistols, a couple of Bowie knives, and a dagger she tucked into her long brown curls. She wore huge diamonds in her ears and knew how to show a man a good time. In fact, men fought and killed over her. She was a professional dancer in the saloons and was often found at the card tables where she cheated men out of their hard-earned gold. Sam Curley, her fifth husband, was a faro dealer and very jealous. On Dec. 7, 1877, he caught Kitty in bed with another man and shot her, then shot himself. She was only 28 years old. Their funerals were held in the Lone Star saloon and they buried in a double grave. A month after the tragedy, ghostly apparitions were seen and continued until the saloon was demolished.
These are just a few of the interesting stories that are buried in Mt. Moriah cemetery. I’ll end this with a poem someone wrote upon the death of Marie Gaston, Deadwood’s first librarian.
How vainly we struggled to save her,
Around her how deeply we mourned,
When back to her Maker who gave it
Her beautiful spirit returned.
I just love visiting old cemeteries. In a plot next to my parents in the small country cemetery where they’re buried is a family who all died in the 1800s. The wife’s name was Texanna and I used her name as my heroine in a story I wrote for Give Me a Texas Ranger. I’m always finding something of interest. Do cemeteries interest you? Maybe you have one you’d like to share.
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