The Bullock Hotel

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood.  The very name evokes images of the old west, cowboys, and hard-drinking, hell raising good times.  Though the ruffians of the past are gone, there are landmarks that remind visitors of days gone by, where the smell of cigar smoke and the sound of clinking poker chips still filter down the halls and where shadows shift and ebb.  Cowboys still walk the creaking floors, and those whose lives were cut short by their revelries continue the party in the afterlife.  And, lest the party get too out of control, steel gray eyes cut through the darkness, stopping many in their tracks and sending chills down the spines of the living.

Finding a place to stay in historic towns often has its share of difficulties.  One problem sometimes encountered is overcrowding.  Hotels must often be booked months, even years, in advance in order to ensure the best accommodations.  However, at the Bullock Hotel, one can make reservations as early as he likes, and it won’t make one shred of difference.  Overcrowding has been, and it seems will always be, a problem.  Especially since many of those guests refuse to leave, even though they’re dead.

When Deadwood was still in its infancy, it had a reputation for being quite the bawdy town.  Miners, transients, gamblers, gunfighters, wild men, and prostitutes made up most of the town’s population, making nights rowdy and, more often than not, soaked with blood.  However, there was money to be made from the trade of vice and sin, and for a time those that owned businesses simply counted the money coming in and paid little attention to the antics of their customers.  However, when Jack McCall shot and killed James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, someone finally took notice. 

Seth Bullock, who owned a successful hardware store in town, was appointed the first Sheriff of Deadwood, a role he seemed made for.  He cut an imposing figure, tall with a stare that could, according to all accounts, stop fights without a word spoken.  According to his grandson, Bullock could "outstare a mad cobra or a rogue elephant."  In fact, during his time as Sheriff, Bullock never killed a single man.  However, his reputation and demeanor brought peace and order to the once rowdy town. 

When fire broke out and claimed the Deadwood Hardware Store in 1894, Bullock bought the land and built the sixty-four room hotel on its ruins, at a cost of nearly forty-thousand dollars.   It took two years, but when it finally opened, it was the finest hotel of its day, with steam-heated rooms and a bathroom on every floor.  It also boasted a twenty-four hour casino on the ground floor.

Bullock remained a colorful person for his entire life, enlisting with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and winding up appointed by Roosevelt as the State Marshal of South Dakota.  When he died in 1919 of cancer, it was in room 211 of his beloved hotel.  He was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery alongside Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  However, soon after he died it became apparent that, while his body may have been laid to rest, he wasn’t about to leave the hotel that bore his name, and he wasn’t the only one.

Just how crowded is the Bullock Hotel?  More than most can imagine, and that’s not with living customers.  Theorized to be mainly due to the violent and rambunctious history of Deadwood, some paranormal investigators and psychics have estimated the number of presences in the hotel to number more than thirty-seven separate entities.  Few other hotels in the world can boast the kind of paranormal activity present in the Bullock, and many of the phenomena sound as if they come straight out of the movies.  In this case, the movies are both an old western and a ghost story.

Eight of the hotel’s rooms have reported activity.  Guests’ items are often reported moved from one place to another, while others have simply disappeared, only to be found later in strange locations.  Lights and electrical devices in those eight rooms have also been witnessed turning off and on, often times when they are unplugged.  The restaurant area is also the site of plates and glasses shaking and flying off their places, smashing against the floor before guests’ and employees’ startled eyes.  Even bar stools and cleaning carts move, without seen influence, in full view of many witnesses. 

Objects are not the only things in the hotel that give evidence of the unknown.  The second and third floors are where most report feeling a strong presence, accompanied often by phantom footsteps and even voices that call out guests’ names in whispers.  Some report hearing a low lonely whistle coming down the hall, passing them, then fading as the unseen whistler goes about his way.  Many report being tapped on the shoulder, turning only to see an empty hallway behind them. 

Among the apparitions seen, the most frequent include shadows that dart in and out of the peripheral vision, leaving many with the uneasy feeling that they’re being followed.  Photographs taken in room 211, where Seth Bullock died, have often revealed strange misty apparitions hovering over the bed.  There is even a little girl whom people claim appears and disappears with alarming regularity in the hotel. 

By far, the most often seen, and most famous apparition, is that of Seth Bullock himself.  Those who see him never forget his icy stare and imposing demeanor.  He stalks the hallways, keeping the peace or an eye on his investment.  Either way, those that see him claim they could not mistake his gaze.  However, Seth Bullock isn’t always the grim and gritty character of his life, it seems.  On at least one occasion, a child became lost in the hotel, and, according to the boy, it was Seth Bullock himself who led him back to his room. 

Present Day:
The oldest hotel in Deadwood, The Bullock Hotel is still open for business.  Completely restored in the 1990’s, the hotel staff prides themselves on offering the most luxurious facilities for many miles.  It still contains a twenty-four hour casino, a gentlemen’s bar, fine dining at "Bully’s Restaurant, and even caters to weddings, banquets, and other social functions in “Seth’s Cellar.” 

Best Times:
While there has never been any documented record of times of year in which phenomena occur, an investigation performed in July of 2003 yielded very few results, capturing only one anomalous spike in electromagnetic energy.  However, as Bullock died in the month of September, it stands to reason that this would be the most appropriate time to experience the steely gaze of the Deadwood lawman.  As to the rest, sightings are random at worst, but constant at best.  According to the staff and many guests, not a day goes by in Deadwood when something strange doesn’t occur in the old hotel.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

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Jon Condit

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