Deadwood Magazine

Who was Charlie Utter? 

Most researchers of Deadwood history come across the name when visiting Wild Bill's grave at Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood's "boot hill." After Wild Bill was shot by Jack McCall, Charlie Utter took charge of funeral services for his "pard" and composed a sentimental epitaph for the grave marker.

A notice distributed around town announced funeral services would be held "at Charlie Utter's camp on Thursday afternoon, August 3, l876, a three o'clock p.m. All are respectfully invited to attend."

The headboard with Utter's famous inscription was probably erected at Wild Bill's gravesite early in l877, when Charlie returned to Deadwood after spending the winter in Georgetown, Colorado.

In 1874, Utter had predicted the Black Hills gold rush would be a "lallapaloozer." In the spring l876 he organized a large wagon train in Georgetown and headed for the new gold fields. When the wagon train passed through Cheyenne, Wyoming, it picked up more than 100 people awaiting safe passage into the Indian territory. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, Madam Mustachio, Dirty Em and their "girls" came into the gulch with Charlie Utter's wagon train.

Somewhat of a dandy, Colorado Charlie was described by Leander P. Richardson in a Colorado newspaper as a "courageous little man" who wore beaded moccasins, fringed leggings and coat, revolvers mounted in gold, silver and pearl, and a belt with a big silver buckle.

He was blond, with long hair and a mustache and imperial, and had one habit that was rather startling.... He took a bath every morning, and people used to come out and view the process with interest not wholly unmixed with wonder.

... Utter slept in a tent between fine California blankets, and he had a real mirror and real combs, brushes, razors and whisk brooms.

...Utter's greatest hobby was neatness, a thing which most plainsmen knew nothing of. He positively would not permit Wild Bill, or California Joe, or Bloody Dick, or any of the rest of them to enter his tent. That, he declared, was a shooting point with him.

One day, Wild Bill did not get home until after breakfast was over and everybody had gone. He brought with him a very superior article of Deadwood jag, and Utter's fine blankets, seen through the open flaps of the tent, were more of a temptation than he could endure. Pretty soon the big fellow was snoring calmly, rolled up in Utter's bed clothing.

...Colorado Charley was at first amazed by the presumption of his partner. For a moment he stood and fervently cursed the unconscious sleeper, and then, catching him by the heels, dragged him bodily out of the tent ... pulled out his blankets and hung them on surrounding trees, all the time straining his vocabulary for fresh epithets to hurl at the offender. During the whole proceedings Bill stared at him with lazy lethargy, and then, with parting grunt, climbed into his wagon and went peacefully to sleep again.

Apparently his anger at his partner was short-lived. After seeing that Wild Bill's funeral service was properly conducted, Charlie turned attentions to his Deadwood pony express and freighting business as well as other enterprises. There was some speculation that he struck it rich in the mines and took up big time gambling, a conjecture reinforced when he appeared in Prince Albert coat and top hat, wearing a two-foot watch chain made of gold coins set with diamonds and rubies.

In Lead, a town not as liberal as neighboring Deadwood, Colorado had a scrape with the law, according to the Black Hills Times, June 24, l879:

Charles Utter, nuisance, keeping a dance house. To Mr. Utter the Court delivered a very severe lecture, condemning all such practices in unmeasured terms. But in consideration that Mr. Utter had closed the place (Judge Moody) sentenced him to one hour's confinement and a fifty dollar fine and costs.

A fire that roared through the gulch on September 26, l879, destroyed Utter's music and Charlie returned to Colorado. He was later rumored to be "an American Indian doctor" in Panama.

Trapper, hunter, gold prospector, mine owner, transportation businessman, gambler ---

Charles H. Utter was a man of diverse abilities as well as a true friend to Wild Bill Hickok.

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Copyright 1997  Deadwood Magazine

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