Deadwood Magazine

Cemeteries focus of history symposium


Reading engravings on old tombstones may not be everyone’s idea of a great way to spend a day, but for historians and family researchers it’s more fun than a trip to Disneyland.

Cemeteries are the focus of the third annual Deadwood History Symposium scheduled for the first weekend of April. 

Tours of three historical cemeteries, conducted by Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Jim Wilson, will highlight the three-day symposium. 

Mount Moriah, final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Preacher Smith, is the best known of area cemeteries. It isn’t where James Butler Hickok and Henry Weston Smith were originally interred, however. For the first two years, gold camp burials took place at Ingleside, now a residential area several hundred yards down the hill, until Mount Moriah was founded in 1878 and the bodies were moved.

Nearly as old as Mount Moriah, Saint Ambrose’s Cemetery is only a few blocks from Main Street, but may be one of Deadwood’s best kept secrets. Established in 1880 on a hillside in the north part of town, St. Ambrose’s is just off  Burnham Avenue. It is currently slated for restoration by Deadwood Historic Preservation.

Located in a quiet residential area at the top of Mill Street, the South Lead Cemetery is a study of Lead’s melting-pot population. Many of the headstone inscriptions, particularly in the Catholic portion of the graveyard, are in native languages of the Italians, Finns and Slavonians who settled in ethnic neighborhoods of the town.

Cemetery tours will start at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday, April 1.

Friday’s agenda also includes hands-on genealogy and headstone restoration workshops.

Dr. Kevin Britz opens Saturday’s symposium with a comparison of Deadwood cemeteries to Dodge City’s famous “Boot Hill.”

Other Saturday presentations include an overview of Victorian-era cemetery symbolism, iron crosses in North Dakota, cemetery planning and Chinese oven excavations at Mount Moriah and stone masons of the late 1880s.

Mike Runge, city archivest, will discuss the  IMS project which makes Deadwood cemetery information available online.

A panel of area historians will wrap up the day with a discussion on Black Hills cemeteries.

Registration takes place at the Deadwood Masonic Temple from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and from 7 to 8 a.m. Saturday.

Call the Deadwood Historic Preservation office, 605-578-2082, for additional information about the history symposium.


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