Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Joining another western gold rush, Chinese began to arrive in the Black Hills, Dakota Territory, from Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming in the mid-1870s. Their population soon increased to nearly 300. Most of them resided in the Deadwood-Lead area. Although some of the Chinese engaged in placer mining, an overwhelming majority of these Asian immigrants found their calling in service businesses. Encountering relatively mild racial prejudice, the Chinese immigrants were able to open their businesses anywhere in the region. Chinese-owned washhouses and restaurants dotted the city of Deadwood.

Nevertheless, the voluntary congregation of Chinese in residences resulted in a distinctive ethnic quarter. Located along Main Street and at the northern end of Deadwood, the socalled Chinatown was actually a multiethnic community that sheltered Chinese, African Americans, and European Americans. Contemporary Black Hills residents often called that section "Badland" because it was where all the "bad" groups stayed, such as prostitutes, gamblers, outlaws, African Americans, and Chinese. The legendary and notorious Calamity Jane once lived in a shack in Chinatown. Curious European Americans and Native Americans occasionally visited the place and patronized the Asian business establishments seeking cultural exchange or vice. Since Dakota Territory placed no restrictions on foreign ownership of property, the Chinese owned most of the houses and stores in Chinatown. From the late 1870s to the 1910s, Deadwood Chinatown functioned as the social and cultural center for the Chinese immigrants in the entire Black Hills region.

Over the years Deadwood's Chinatown, like many other frontier communities, survived flood, fire, and violence. By the 1910s most of the Chinese had left the Black Hills due to the decline of the mining industry and the local economy. As a result of the dwindling population, Deadwood's Chinatown gradually faded away. Today, frontier Deadwood Chinatown has become part of the local legend.

See also IMAGES AND ICONS: Deadwood, South Dakota / GENDER: Calamity Jane.

Liping Zhu Eastern Washington University

Anderson, Grant K. "Deadwood's Chinatown." South Dakota History 5 (1975): 266–85.

Liestman, Daniel D. "The Chinese in the Black Hills, 1876–1932." Journal of the West 27 (1988): 74–83.

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