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Winter 2007, Volume 23.2

Essay

 

Winner of the Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award.
Winner of the Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award

Karen BabinePhoto of Karen Babine.

Deadwood


Karen Babine teaches composition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she is also the associate and nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review. Her essays have appeared in such journals as River Teeth, North Dakota Quarterly, and Ascent.

 

The story of the West is the story of hope. Of hope so insistent that it compelled movement of large distances. Of hope so pervasive that it soaked the Plains soil like rain. Of hope so tangible that it rose higher than the Rockies, driven up by cataclysmic forces, for nothing worth dreaming comes without a price. Of hope so expansive that it became the air, inhaled and exhaled, until it pushed through the atmosphere and collided with the stars, brought them down, close enough to touch.

Boot Hill is filled with dreamers.

 

The road leading up to Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota is a 20 percent grade. During our summer family vacations, contests between the drivers—Mom and Dad—fell into two categories: who could hit the most road construction (extra points were awarded for delays) and who could drive the steepest grade. These contests were not skill-based, but rather based on who happened to be driving at the time. Currently Dad holds the grade-record, unchallenged since the first and only time our family visited Deadwood, back in the early nineties. When I was twenty-four, I tied the record by driving the road myself. I was alone.

Most brave the grade to stand in the presence of history, to stare at the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. On this trip, I was not distracted by the wonder I felt as a twelve-year-old, as I was the last time my feet tramped this soil. I was much more cognitively aware this time, of the way the houses were built into the gulch, of what Main Street looked and felt and smelled like, of the Adams Museum, of the layout of Mount Moriah Cemetery. On the steep sides of the gulch, I noticed the burned sticks that used to be trees, remnants of a massive forest fire the year before—people were afraid they’d lose the town, but the fire stopped before it got there.

During my first trip to Deadwood, I was consumed by the romance of the Old West, of whatever intangibles made the place what it was. Being twelve, I didn’t really notice or care about the slot machines or the annoying pervasiveness of the gambling. I wanted to run my hands over the rough wood of the saloon doors, wanted to be a witness to the trial of jack McCall, the man who shot and killed Wild Bill—and who was subsequently acquitted. I wanted to strap on a six-shooter and be respected for my skill, even though I was a girl. I wanted to know Calamity jane, watch her chase after Wild Bill. I was peripherally aware that my grandmother was searching for information on her grandfather, Charles McAllister, but it didn’t make much impression on me, mostly because at the time, my two sisters and I were trying to be invisible, the kind of grandchildren our grandparents seemed to want.

This time, I had the consciousness to ask the questions I needed to ask, even though I still wanted to strap on a six-shooter. Inside Mount Moriah’s gates, I knew where I was going, so I walked past Wild Bill and Calamity jane, towards Charles and Ferne McAllister. As I passed the gravestones of young and old, male and female, I wondered how many people buried at Mount Moriah died "with their boots on"—violently—a saying that gave rise to nicknaming cemeteries of the American West "Boot Hill."

Charles and Ferne are my blood, but it is within me to ignore them. Part of my visit was easily explained as genealogy, but in all honesty, that couldn’t explain the entirety of my trip through Deadwood. Charles Henry McAllister was born in New Hampshire in 1873 to Charles Edward and Ida McAllister. I have not yet discovered why the McAllisters left the east, but likely the hope for something better played a large role. Hope for something better, hope for something different, hope for something beyond their wildest imaginings. Wild, indeed. Bill Kittredge, in Owning It All, wonders "what compelled men [and women] to believe promises of paradise on earth with such simpleminded devotion? Well, for openers, a gut yearning for the chance of becoming someone else, and freedom from the terrible weight of responsibilities." Some people can be happy in the life they’ve always known. Some people do find their niche in small places. But some people find any collar too tight and what wouldn’t be tempting about a place where you could be anyone you wanted, a place where nothing existed except possibilities? Of course, thinking of only the positives of the West probably landed most of these emigrants six feet under, because you can never underestimate a place that provokes such a mythology, where stories grow as tall as the wheat. That is, if drought or tornadoes or something else doesn’t shrivel the wheat into dust. But it’s the mythology—and the lure of the mythology—that is important.

I needed some more concrete information first. I needed to know who I was dealing with.

Charles Henry McAllister married Ida Smith in 1896 and they welcomed their first children—twin girls—on 27 July 1897. Ferne and Kayo, the hope for the next generation. (Edna was born in 1899.) But at the age of five weeks, Ferne died. I don’t know the specifics. My grandmother, Kayo’s daughter, recalls that the only thing her mother said about her twin was that Ferne was a sickly child. Deadwood death records start in 1905, a year before Charles died, so all I have of Ferne is a gravestone bearing her name at Mount Moriah and a photograph taken no more than a few days before she died. I may never know any more about her. I don’t like these brick walls. Running into them hurts.

Charles does not have a death certificate, as such, but all the necessary information is contained in a very large leather-bound book in the records office. The information from this book is contained in a database, so I searched for "Charles McAllister" and came up with nothing. I looked at the McAllisters that came up and saw that the dates for "Ira McAllister" matched my Charles. I went to look at the book itself and realized that whoever had entered the information in the computer had transcribed the swirly handwriting of Chas as Ira. As I discovered, these records were started in 1905, so there are no records for Ferne.

Charles died on 6 October 1906 at the age of 33. Each piece of information that lists his cause of death is different, but whatever killed him was definitely lung related. Family mythology says that it was black lung disease from working the silver mines in Lead. Newspaper obituaries—of which there are many—call it consumption and note that he went to the southwest for a few months, but the drier air didn’t help him. Official cause of death, what is written in the book of death records, is fibroid phthisis. Tuberculosis. The death record lists the duration of his illness as a year. The obituaries say that he was police chief under Mayor McDonald, who was mayor of Deadwood in 1906, so Charles wasn’t chief for very long. And if he was that ill, how did he become police chief in the first place?

In his final moments, did Charles regret that he couldn’t be killed doing something heroic in the line of duty? What glory is there in tuberculosis?

Once I’d finished in the records office, I walked next door, through considerable heat, to City Hall, where I inquired how I might find out information about past police chiefs, the position Charles had held before his death. The woman sent me next door, through considerable heat, to Historical Preservation. I left Historical Preservation an hour or two later, leaving behind a very happy historian—Deadwood was redoing its police badges to look like the old ones, but they didn’t have any pictures of them. I had a picture of Charles in his chief outfit, complete with badge. When I left, I hadn’t found out any more information about Charles, but I did know more about the McAllister house. And that was a step in the right direction.

Life in the West is nothing but a series of steps in the right direction.

Direction became important during my short time in Deadwood because while I may have gone after Charles and Ferne otherwise, the fact is that the McAllisters lived in Deadwood during its heyday. Wild Bill Hickok was killed in 1876—Charles would have only been three years old at the time, but even this late in the century, Deadwood was still wild. The Indian Wars, which had been raging since the Sioux Uprising in 1862 in Minnesota, would continue until the massacre at Wounded Knee and "the closing of the American West" around 1890. Deadwood had everything a wild frontier town needed: characters whose legends were larger than they were, lawlessness in spite of the law, where truth and fact were more often than not unclear, like watching a stationary object under the hot sun. Shimmers and blurs. Bill Kittredge writes that "the mythology of the American West is also the primary mythology of our nation and part of a much older world mythology, that of lawbringing." I suppose, then, it follows that interest should center on Charles’ profession of police chief in Deadwood. But this is only one element of the story. And a small one, at that. It’s the relationship of story and place that fascinates first and foremost.

Any place can have lore attached to it. There’s nothing remarkable about that. What I’m after, what I’m searching for—at the root—is more complex. The Irish have a term for this: dinnseanchas, which translates to place-lore. I want to know how landscape shapes a mythology and what kind of people grow in that kind of soil. But there’s a different flavor to the dinnseanchas of the East Coast, the Deep South, to the Old West, to the gold rush country of California and Alaska. The American West—old and new—has more of its own lore and tradition than any other place I’m familiar with. And Deadwood, as an old town of the Old West, holds more dinnseanchas than some other places of the Old West, which is typified by larger than life characters, larger than believable events taking place, and a land that takes no pity on the stupid. The cowboys are always rugged, the pioneers are always rough and salt-of-the-earth, the schoolteachers are prim, and the prostitutes have hearts of gold. But dinnseanchas is more than just stereotypes, or stories, factual or invented—but we’re moving towards something there. Dinnseanchas is made up of the small stories, the stories that make a place what it is.

But remove the place from the story and you have no story.

The dinnseanchas of the West is the result of the space itself. Gretel Ehrlich, in The Solace of Open Spaces, the most honest painting of the dinnseanchas of the West, writes, "We Americans are great on fillers, as if what we have, what we are, is not enough. We have a cultural tendency toward denial, but, being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy. We have to look at the houses we build to see we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there."

The perception was that the West was a land waiting to be filled. Never mind that it was already filled, with buffalo as far as the eye could see, vast prairies of grasses, mountains filling the eyescape. The place was so vast that the absence of everything familiar to Easterners was attractive, so they filled the place with what they could understand: stories. Stories of people and animals and places that were larger than their lives, larger than what anyone had previously dreamed. Stories that expanded to fill human potential and imagination. There were no boundaries in the West, physical or personal or imaginative. Would Wild Bill have made such a name for himself in Boston? Billy the Kid? Wyatt Earp? Probably not, since the West, in its uncivilized state, tends to scrape people down to the bedrock, where they find their last reserves of who they are. Sometimes the bedrock is shallow and those people quickly find that the soil of the West makes a suitable grave, just as good as the soil back East. Sometimes the bedrock is deeper than they dreamed, but they have to get through the sod first.

In the West, anything was possible if you had the guts. Go West, Young Man! Manifest Destiny was the dream, after all. That was the beginning of the dinnseanchas. Without the people who went West, the dinnseanchas would never have developed—and there is an obvious intangibility to humanity. There would have been no one to tell the stories, no one to repeat and embellish. This is obvious. And the mythology grew, stories with little basis in fact because the facts could not be challenged. And so imagination became fact. In how many places, in how many landscapes, is that shift possible? There’s a brilliance to that idea that tends to blind me with wonder.

The McAllisters may be very small in the greater scheme of the West’s dinnseanchas, but they play a part in the mythology of the place, as relative nonentities. Even though their names will never appear in any history books alongside Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, the McAllisters were there, present, alive, at the time. Therefore they played a role in forming and perpetuating the mythology, in this case, the mythology of the mundane. Not all mythology has to be larger than life—life has to be established before it can be embellished.

 

The story of the West is the story of hope. Of hope for surviving the day, for surviving the winter. Of hope for not outliving your children, hope to watch your children grow. Of hope bubbling in the blood, so that each day is an exercise in determination, finding the reserves of your strength, learning who you are at the very deepest level. The story of the West is nothing without determination. Nobody would have survived otherwise.

No one can live on hope alone.

 

Stories always expand without tangibles, floating in the atmosphere, shifted by each gust of imagination. The mythologies of dinnseanchas are anchored to the place, giving them a clearer intersection between truth and fact. Otherwise, you’re searching through the elements of the story, trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, because the dinnseanchas is a way to find out what’s real in a mythological landscape. So the best stories, the ones that actually do something, are attached to specific places, specific physical landmarks, as if to anchor them in reality.

I had two tangibles left in Deadwood: Charles and Ferne’s gravestone and possibly the family’s house. This was all that was left to convince me that the McAllisters were real and contributed to the life and mythology of Deadwood. I have photographs of the family in front of the house, taken in October 1906, only days before Charles died. Charles, sitting in a chair, looking very ill. His daughters Kayo and Edna and their dolls. No sign of Ida. Because Deadwood is so concerned about preserving its past, physical and emotional, I though it possible that their house might still be standing, but I learned it had been torn down between 1909 and 1915.

So I went back up to Mount Moriah and stood in front of the only tangible remains of the McAllister dinnseanchas. Charles and Ferne’s gravestone is a waist-high column of gray granite. Ferne’s information faces south:

Ferne A. daughter of

Mr. and Mrs. C. H. McAllister

BORN

July 27, 1897

DIED

Sept 1, 1897

Standing there in the intense June sun, I try to see more clearly Charles, Ida, and Kayo around the grave at Mount Moriah and more clearly feel the tenor of their grief. I try to imagine Ida, dressed in black, holding baby Kayo, and I want to see the tears dripping off her chin onto the face of the baby. I want to see Charles, standing next to Ida, an arm around her waist, supporting himself as much as her. He’s 24 years old and she’s 23. No parent, whatever their age, is prepared to lose a child, but these two were so young. I want to see if there are tears on his cheeks, or if he stares blankly into the hole in the ground into which his daughter is being lowered. His daughter, blood of his blood.

Maybe I have the picture backwards. Maybe Charles is crying and Ida’s emotions cannot break through the stunned grief. Ferne was only five weeks old, but for the last nine months, Ida had carried her, felt those two additional hearts inside her. Was she often awakened at night by a flying elbow or knee? Did Charles and Ida each have a favorite daughter? Whose favorite was Ferne? How much faith did they place in the hope that Ferne would survive to adulthood, even though she was frail? Or did they know she would die and hoped that God would take her quickly, before they got too attached to her? Maybe they weren’t ready to handle two children; maybe they were grateful that Ferne died, even though such a thought would never be voiced. Maybe it was a blessing.

Hope surrounds the birth of a child, and joy surrounds the life of a child. Agony surrounds the death of a child, and regrets surround the memory.

Charles’ gravestone information is more scarce—and inaccurate:

Chas. H. McAllister,

DIED

Oct 2, 1906,

AGED

33 years.

He actually died on October 6th. I thought I felt relief on this side of the stone, more than I actually felt grief. Charles had been ill for a long time and Ida’s emotional reserves were probably tapped dry. Everything she had been was gone. She used to laugh, when she was younger, but she can’t remember the last time she even smiled. She doesn’t even cry anymore—that requires more emotion than she has. She doesn’t feel dead inside, but just dry. There are some days she doesn’t even recognize herself.

This could explain a disturbing story I heard from my grandmother, Kayo’s daughter. My grandmother reports that Ida was not a happy woman and intensely disliked Kayo’s husband, Fred—but she never approved of any other man, for that matter. Apparently Edna was the same. I wondered if this had anything to do with Edna and Bud never having children, but when I asked Grandmother about it, she told me that Ida had always made a to-do about Edna being frail, too frail for children, and so when Edna had her appendix out, Ida had the doctors ensure that Edna would never have children. Is this true? I know that sterilizations happened with alarming regularity during the first decades of the 20th century, but it adds to the composite picture of Ida I’m forming and how such a terrible decision was made by a mother for a daughter. Maybe Ida had seen what had happened to frail girls who weren’t strong enough to bear the children they carried and she didn’t want that to happen to her youngest daughter. Maybe she didn’t want Edna to go through what Ida went through, losing Ferne. I don’t know.

The challenge, then, when pursuing any land-based mythology is to find the mythology and infer the facts—and the motivations. To work the stories in reverse, to find how the people were shaped by the stories. Part of this is basic curiosity, to find out who these people were, really. Part of it is curiosity of a different kind: to look at them, then deliberately bounce our identities off our own landscapes and discover how we may be a product of our places. We can collect enough facts to fill a library, but those facts on their own do nothing to indicate what kind of human beings these people were. We can only get closer by reading between the lines, attaching motivations to actions, attaching emotions to decision, attaching meaning to the choices. To ask if we would have made the same choice under those circumstances. Under what circumstances would we sterilize our daughters? Under what circumstances would we take the choice to have children out of their hands?

The dinnseanchas of the West is a way to survive the West. Research has shown that some patterns are linked to genetics—alcoholism, obesity. We already know about survival of the fittest and survival techniques being passed down in our genes—the stories of survival serve the same function. Listen to the stories of those who came before and do not repeat their mistakes. Listen to how they succeeded and do the same. Listen to how they failed and avoid those thoughts and actions. What other purpose would there be in telling these stories? If you told these Western dinnseanchas stories in the East, it would be for entertainment. In the West, the stories have a different function. Entertainment may have been one element, but rarely are the stories confined to one level.

Losing a spouse is not a new concept, but there are as many reactions to this loss as there are people who experience it. I have two interesting moments: in my great-great generation, Ida McAllister lived for 40-some years after Charles died, but Albert Olson died of a broken heart a month after his Josephine died of a stroke. Makes me wonder about the people involved, that they would react as they did. I would imagine that the effect of eastern Minnesota affected Albert after the loss of Josephine as much as Deadwood affected Ida after the death of Charles. Mostly, I think that Ida survived for one reason that is specific to the dinnseanchas of the West: the way the West formed its women.

Women in every culture are tough, mentally and emotionally, if not physically. They may not be physically strong, culturally not permitted to use their muscles, but that does not mean they are not formidable and tough. In the West, women had to be to survive. Bill Kittredge writes, "This country fosters a kind of woman who never seems to bother about who she is supposed to be, mainly because there is always work, and getting it done in a level-eyed way is what counts most. […] It’s as though they wear down to what counts and just last there, fine and staring the devil in the eye every morning." Ida may have been a Western girl when she married Charles, but Deadwood likely turned her into a Western woman before too long. How else would she have been able to survive the death of a child—and eight years later, survive the death of her husband? Would the girl she had been be capable of packing up everything she knew and moving to San Diego? A place where she knew nothing, knew no one?

If Deadwood itself—and the West—played a role in Ida’s reaction to Charles’ death, then she would have done exactly what she did: what needed to be done. This is another element of the dinnseanchas for women: practicality. She could wallow in her grief, pine for her husband taken so young—he was only thirty-three, after all—or she could remember that she was responsible not just for herself, but two little lives besides. She did not have the luxury of concentrating on herself—this is not one of the luxuries offered by the West. So she took her doctor’s advice and moved to San Diego, where she’d have a better chance of not leaving her daughters orphans.

What I find most interesting about the dinnseanchas of the West is that it is not consistent. Most of California does not fall into the same land-based mythology. My theory here is that because of the different climate, the warmer air, the proximity to the ocean, the people who grew in this land had a different relationship with it. And so when Ida transplanted herself and her girls into the southern California soil, it affected her. Suddenly she didn’t have to worry so much about keeping the family warm and fed. Fruit grew on trees in their backyard. They didn’t need wool in January. Things must have seemed so easy for her, at least on a cellular level, for Ida. This, I believe, is what led her to basically ignoring her children for long periods of time. I have letters from Kayo, wondering if Ida is going to come pick them up for Christmas. It’s hard to like Ida during her time in San Diego, but I’m trying to understand how she could do what she did.

 

The story of the West is the story of hope. Of hope so invasive that the presence was cancerous, dangerous. Of hope so infectious that some did not survive. Of hope so beautiful that it was worth risking everything. Of hope for happiness, for contentment, for fulfillment, found wherever possible.

 

My great-aunt Katherine—Kayo’s oldest daughter—gave me boxes of genealogical miscellany and I couldn’t be more ecstatic about it. I’m emptying them onto the living room floor and making a mess as I do. But contained in the boxes is a stack of letters from my great-grandfather Fred Ponsford, written to my great-grandmother Kayo before they were married. I don’t think there’s an alphabetic translation for the sound I make, because there’s a six-inch stack of letters.

I settle down enough to read them.

I didn’t know Fred at all, so this is all new information. His letters are generally filled with news of his doings and his love and "thousands of kisses" to his darling Kayo:

The next time I see you, dear, I shall see what I can find this time for a little real kissing bee. Those we had this weekend were far too few, although I wouldn’t give anything for the few we did have.

It’s hard to reconcile the general mushiness of his letters with the stern-looking man in the pictures I have.

My grandmother, Kayo’s younger daughter, doesn’t have much good to say about her father—and trying to pry anything out of her is difficult. In the cloudy, vague memories of early childhood, my father remembers Fred as a reserved, almost stern man. But they are both willing to talk about Kayo, describing her as the kindest, most gentle person they’d ever known. She had a regal bearing, a person who would be willing to give the shirt off her back to someone who needed it. My father tells us how she encouraged her grandchildren to sell the mistletoe off her oak tree for spending money at Christmas. She was stunningly beautiful—something I can see for myself—even as she aged; her hair was dark, her eyes lit with simple joy, 5’ 10" in height, slender of build. So I smile at the hoops she dragged poor Fred through en route to the "I do."

And in setting out to find Fred through his letters, I find Kayo instead. The next link in the McAllisters of Deadwood. She was nine years old when they moved to San Diego, and those formative years inside the dinnseanchas of the West would have formed her bones. How much remained after moving to California is unknown.

Fred was born in England and immigrated to San Diego with his brothers and sisters sometime about 1916, as far as I can tell. Before his immigration, in a turn of human behavior I don’t understand, Fred was enlisted in the Royal Air Corps. I have his enlistment papers. Why he left the British military and moved to San Diego during the height of the Great War is not readily apparent. Nevertheless, Fred enlisted in the American air corps and became an airplane mechanic—he couldn’t get an officer’s commission because he was not an American citizen.

On leave, he met Miss Kayo McAllister at a dance and fell hard. Love at first sight, as far as I can tell. How exactly she felt about him initially isn’t certain, since I only have his letters. I try not to think about Grandmother throwing away Kayo’s letters—it hurts too much. What is apparent, though, is that Fred felt a lot more for Kayo than she did for him—a few letters speak of the "cruel" way she was treating him:

Your letter I do not understand at all. If it was your intention to hurt me, you have succeeded very well. You could not have written anything that hurt more if you had tried. By the way, it reads your opinion of me is very small indeed. […] I have written to you almost every day that mail has gone out from here, so I think your remark about writing once a week [was] very uncalled for. […] You might least take into consideration our mail and phone service out here before you write such a bitter letter as this last one. Well, dear, I don’t feel like writing any more now, so I will quit with the prospect of at least an utterly miserable day. Sol will close hoping to find you as well as it leaves as ever tho’ unhappy. Your Own, Fred.

If Kayo were as gentle as all the stories, this guilt trip Fred laid should have hit her hard.

As I dug through Katherine’s boxes, I found that this wasn’t the first time Kayo had done something selfish: before Fred, Kayo was apparently on the verge of marrying another man, and the letters I have indicate she didn’t return the ring when he asked for it. And she didn’t return it when the man’s sister wrote and said they needed the ring to pay their mother’s doctor bills. That doesn’t exactly go along with the kind-hearted, gentle-to-a-fault Kayo that my father fondly remembers.

Good. I’d be sorely disappointed if she was all sweetness and light—humanity is rarely that predictable. But given this scenario and these decisions she made, I want to know how much Deadwood played a role. She left Deadwood when she was nine years old, old enough to have formed impressions of the place and her place in it. Did she inherit this streak of practicality from Deadwood, from the West, not willing to settle for less than the man she wanted? Did she take from Deadwood the tendency to be a little selfish sometimes, because those who give everything all the time will never survive? Did she learn about doing what needs to be done? To take something for herself once in a while?

 

Too much time has passed since the McAllisters left Deadwood—and since the West was officially considered closed—for the stories that grow in that land to stay the same. Part of this is population, part is technology, and part of this is simple time. The progression of the mythology has mostly gone beyond true dinnseanchas into something closer to home, something more emotional. It doesn’t matter that the mythology itself is no longer land-based, related to or influenced by place, because though the myth of the West still exists, that which gave rise to the dinnseanchas in the first place is no longer applicable. It’s not so black and white out there anymore. The West is populated to the point where the stories that fill the space do not have the room to expand as they once did. And that’s a little sad.

So what’s the next step in the evolution of a land-based mythology? What remains of Deadwood in my grandmother’s DNA? My father’s? Mine? Grandmother was born and raised in San Diego, as were my father and his siblings. They didn’t need the stories of Deadwood to survive, so I think the stories became recessive. They were replaced by stories of Santa Ana winds, earthquakes, riptides, wildfires. My grandmother doesn’t know anything of her mother’s life in the West and shares very little of her growing-up, even when I ask. After my parents married, they moved to Mom’s home state of Minnesota and this is where my sisters and I were born and raised. My own dinnseanchas is not of the West, but of the North—these are the stories that form not only where I come from, but who I am. These are the stories, born of the land, that give me everything I need to survive, physically, emotionally, mentally. These are the stories that connect me to the people around me, the stories that connect me to where my blood finds its ideal temperature. These are my stories. But somewhere in my blood lies those recessive stories of the Western dinnseanchas.

Back in Deadwood, surrounded by the excessive heat of that June afternoon, I knew this place felt familiar. The town feels closed-in, but rather than feeling claustrophobic, it’s comforting. Since dinnseanchas looks at how a place forms its stories, maybe the geography of the gulch itself played a role in not only forming the mythology, but also holding on to the mythology, long after the West was won. Maybe the geography of the gulch holds the stories in, doesn’t let them escape, doesn’t let them spread out and evaporate, the way they might along a flatter terrain. Maybe this is Deadwood’s greatest secret, the greatest value it has to offer.

 

The story of the West is the story of hope. Of hope for a life so different from what they had left behind that the settlers made choices they might not have, Back East. Of hope for life, so determined to live, that they deliberately prevented life. Of hope for a land that would feed them, shelter them, become part of them. Of hope for a permanence as solid as the mountains, continuous like the Plains, all-encompassing as the ocean.

Boot Hill is filled with dreamers.

 

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