How the Deadly Deadwood, South Dakota Fire of 1879 Started
September 26th marks the anniversary of the deadly fire that swept through the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. In the year 1879, the first fire alarm sounded at 3:30 AM on that peaceful and quiet fall morning after a coal oil lamp fell from a table in the Empire Bakery. The bakery was owned by a Mrs. Ellsner and located near the Adams Museum on Sherman Street.
It didn't help that all of the buildings were made from sap-filled pine wood and it spread from building to building and home to home extremely fast. And as bad luck would have it, the fire raced to a nearby hardware store where several kegs of gunpowder were stored. They exploded with a mighty blast, rousing the townspeople from their beds. Miraculously, all but one man survived. John King, aka Casino Jack, perished while asleep in the Stone's Hotel. He was deaf.
According to the Black Hills Pioneer, When the fire was finally put out, over 300 buildings throughout Deadwood were reduced to ashes and rubble. They rebuilt soon after to keep the mining industry going, but this time new buildings were erected with brick, stone, and mortar.
The disaster had an immediate effect on even the most moral citizens. The November 4, 1879, Black Hills Pioneer newspaper article read,
Men who had not tasted liquor for years imbibed freely to drown their sorrow, and the number of intoxicated men seen on the streets was appalling. Fights were of frequent and hourly occurrence, and disorder and discord was beginning to get possession of the town.”
Through all this, Deadwood has held onto its resilient spirit. Deadwood magazine archived records indicate that the mining town was destroyed three times in its first decade of existence. Two times by fire and one by flood - and each time rebuilt the town.
MORE South Dakota History: August 2, 1876: Wild Bill Hickok and Deadwood, South Dakota Go Down in History