Deadwood, South Dakota, conjures up images of the Gold Rush and the Wild, Wild West. The town was founded in 1876 after a miner named John B. Pearson discovered gold in a narrow canyon in the Northern Black Hills. The canyon became known as Deadwood Gulch because of the many dead trees that lined the canyon walls. Thousands of prospectors swarmed the town in search of fortune, including a wild and lawless element. Notorious figures such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried there in Mount Moriah Cemetery. A mostly male population patronized the many saloons, dance halls, brothels and gambling establishments. By 1887, Deadwood was evolving from mining camp to a community with a need for order. In 1961 Deadwood became the first community in this country designated as a National Historic Landmark. Numerous movies as well as a successful television series have since mined Deadwood’s colorful history for entertainment.
This exotic locale was recently connected with one of Canton’s oldest corporations, the Diebold Company, now called Diebold Nixdorf. An email arrived from the Deadwood city archivist. In his planning to create a walking tour of old city sites, he had come across an invoice found for payment of a jail cell manufactured by the Diebold Company in 1885. The first Deadwood Jail dated to 1877 and was a primitive 30 x 50 foot log structure enclosed by a 12 foot fence. That jail was torn down in 1888 by Henry Frawley and a “handsome residence” constructed. Today that home remains on the site of the original jail which offers visitors a place to stay via Airbnb, in what is called the Presidential Neighborhood. The hardware for the jail cell made by Diebold had been shipped to Deadwood to be installed in a second jail being constructed on Sherman Street, which was completed in 1886. Since that time, Lawrence County has overseen the construction of two new jails at the same location, one in 1906 and the most current in 1974.
Charles Diebold was co-founder of the Diebold Bahmann Safe Company in 1859. The company gained recognition after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, in which 878 Diebold-made safes survived intact with contents unharmed. Diebold moved the company to Canton in 1872 to have better access to steel mills and transportation. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Diebold secured hundreds of patents on safes and vault doors, locks and other products, including jails, padded cells for asylums and even trap doors used for hangings. Beginning in the 1970’s they began their evolution from hardware to software company, with the majority of their business involving ATMs. After completing its merger with German-based Wincor Nixdorf in 2016, Diebold Nixdorf ranks as the world’s largest ATM and financial services and security company.
Visitors to Deadwood, South Dakota today can take a walking tour of the old city sites, and they will encounter the Lawrence County Jail Panel situated on Sherman Street of the site of 2nd-4th jails. A photograph of the 2nd jail offers a glimpse inside a window which reveals a jail cell. City archivist Mike Runge notes that convicted horse rustler Robert Burns was the only one to ever escape from the 2nd jail. This interesting connection between our communities offers a unique perspective on our nation’s growth and development. It illustrates the enterprise of the American spirit, its exuberance and excesses at times, and our ability to evolve and adapt as we create products and services while preserving our history.
McKinley Presidential Library Volunteer