Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Author Michael Trump tells how Deadwood prostitution came to an end in his book "Raiding Deadwood's Badlands."
Author Michael Trump tells how Deadwood prostitution came to an end in his book "Raiding Deadwood's Badlands."
May 16, 2016

IN HISTORY: Deadwood Brothels Shut Down, May 21, 1980

Deadwood's prostitution industry had persisted for a century, but law enforcement raided the historic Wild West town's three remaining brothels on Wednesday morning May 21, 1980, and ended it. Deadwood Magazine (article now off-line) provided an account of a fleet of white vans and a gaggle of detectives and agents brandishing axes and sledgehammers descending on downtown Deadwood just as daily activities were getting going.

Another Deadwood Magazine article speculates on ties between the town's prostitution and mobsters.

Historians say prostitution dates to the earliest days of Deadwood and Lead as mining camps.

Locals were not pleased and protested formally with a parade a few months later. They were supportive of the activity as it provided revenue for local projects both through donations and fines on the technically illegal practice.

A landslide damaged the neighborhood of Lead's brothel that had survived beyond the early mining days, ending the industry there. But the industry continued in Deadwood, smaller than its Wild West heyday but with no signs of dying out completely. 

When the law enforcement raid finished off Deadwood's brothels, it garnered national media attention. Listen to a discussion of the 1980 raid on South Dakota Public Radio. Author Michael Trump discusses his book, Raiding Deadwood's Badlands: Its History of Illegal Prostitution and Gambling.

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