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Wyoming People

History of Deadwood celebrated in Days of '76 with parades, historical events

Deadwood, S.D. – Mention the name Deadwood, S.D. and all manner of characters come to mind – gunfighters, gold prospectors, gamblers, businessmen, muleskinners and madams. Add to the mix such colorful individuals as Wild Bill Hickok, Poker Alice and Potato Creek Johnny, and the town provides all the ingredients representing the genuine Old West.

Today, Deadwood, S.D. is much tamer, but history comes to life each July during the Days of ’76 celebration. Locals and tourists alike flock to the town to watch parades, PRCA rodeos and the newly completed Days of ’76 Museum.

The parade is scripted and follows the town’s history, from its settlement to its modern-day popularity as a tourist attraction. Period costumes are a favorite, as are the horse-drawn carriages, particularly the replica of the Deadwood to Cheyenne Stagecoach. Portrayed by actors are Wild Bill Hickok, Poker Alice and Potato Creek Johnny.

The rodeo became a formal part of the Days of ’76 celebration in 1928. It is a mid-size outdoor rodeo and has been voted by the PRCA as best in its class every year since 2004. It was also inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2011.

What makes the rodeo so successful? A big part of the reason is that a special committee made up of volunteers produces it, which allows for all monies raised to be put back into the event and the prizes. This year’s prize money amounted to over $200,000, with nearly 700 PRCA contestants vying for the large purse.

Between rodeo events there are entertainers as well as reenactments such as the killing of Wild Bill Hickok. The performances are fast-paced with plenty of excitement.

The new Days of ’76 Museum opened in June of 2012 and is a must-see during the celebration. It honors both the Days of ’76 itself and the parade. Tribute is also paid to people who have served for generations on the committee.

There is a Native American exhibit, which features a variety of artifacts, as well as a firearms exhibit that showcases nearly 100 rifles with related stories on the wall behind.

The lower level of the museum offers a collection of vintage horse-drawn vehicles. This is where the original Deadwood, S.D. to Cheyenne stagecoach is housed.

Beautiful scenery, true to life historical portrayals, and some of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the sport of rodeo make the Days of ’76 a destination for people from all walks of life. No wonder its motto is “Best Rodeo. No Bull.”

Melissa Burke is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..