A city developed within the city of Deadwood, electing their own Chinese mayor and council, and establishing their own police force, fire department, and a Masonic Lodge. Thus, they preserved and celebrated their customs and traditions, including the especially festive Chinese New Year, which added much to the rich tapestry of Deadwood society. In 1893 the Deadwood Pioneer reported, “Deadwood has for her size perhaps the largest colony of Chinese east of San Francisco.” Though not accurate, the opinion did acknowledge the level of influence by the Chinese in the community.
In spite of the positive aspects and contributions of the Chinese to Deadwood, there were incidents of violence and racism. Combined with business competition, and the faltering mines these factors led to the exodus of Chinese in the following decades, until the official Lawrence County census of 1940 listed only two residents of Chinese heritage.
Some Chinese descendants still return to Deadwood to participate in Society of Black Hills Pioneers events, where members of the Society commemorate the contributions and achievements of all of the Black Hills pioneers.
In the early summer of 2001, workers razing an old building for a new parking lot uncovered remains of part of the old Chinatown district. The South Dakota State Historical Society Archaeological Research Center was asked by the city of Deadwood to excavate the site as part of their preservation efforts.
What they have discovered at the site provides an astonishing glimpse into the daily life of some of Deadwood’s more colorful and least understood early residents.
The Journey Museum is a main venue for the artifacts taken from the dig and Deadwood’s Adams Museum has a fascinating exhibit on display called “Understanding Chinatown.”
SD State Historical Society