Ashton: How a visit to the town Calamity Jane and Wild Bill made famous got me thinking about the 2020 presidential race

(Photo courtesy of Brodi Ashton) Columnist Brodi Ashton visited Deadwood, S.D. recently and the circling wolves made her think of modern day politics.

What do presidential debates and Deadwood have in common?
Not much. Unless you count blustering rhetoric, overbearing personalities and guns drawn.
I mention Deadwood because I just returned from a research trip there. I’m writing a book about Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, and this famous South Dakota town will be forever associated with the notorious duo.
Research expeditions are the best part of my job. It was an epic road trip with my co-authors. We got to see a wolf pack prowling, two bears wrestling and prairie dogs chirping. And that was just in the minivan in front of us.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brodi Ashton.

We also stopped by the Old Style Saloon No. 10, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall, who was later hanged for the act. Wild Bill is buried near the town, next to Calamity Jane, whose tombstone has a Jack Daniels bottle permanently attached to it.
We went to the grizzly bear discovery center, and while we were waiting for the bears to emerge, we saw a zookeeper in khakis, in his natural habitat.
“Notice how he follows his animal instinct and wears socks underneath his crocs,” we said quietly to the tourists next to us. “Look at how he prowls as he trips over that log, losing his sunglasses and placing himself in a precarious position as the ravens circle.”
The tourists slowly moved away from us.

There was a sign at the front of the visitor center: “Save food for the bears: Children 5-8.”
We could only imagine that it meant we should save food to feed the bears, and they preferred children ages 5-8. The lady at the desk corrected us and told us it was a safety class for children 5-8. But we just laughed and said, “Where do we pick up our kid to feed to the bears?”
With a blank expression, she handed us our tickets.
We returned home from our trip just in time to watch the first Democratic presidential debates, and I realized our political world isn’t so different from the Old West. So, here are the top 10 ways the Deadwood of the Old West Dakota Territory is like politics today:
  1. Spontaneous gunfights broke out in Deadwood, while spontaneous Español broke out in the first democratic debates.
  2. In Deadwood, Americans trespassed on Lakota territory, while in the debates, Bill de Blasio trespassed on other candidates’ answers.
  3. Within a year of the discovery of gold, Deadwood’s population exploded to roughly 5,000, while within a six-month period this year, the democratic candidates for 2020 exploded to roughly 5,000.
  4. In Deadwood, it was safest to keep your back against a wall, while in politics, it’s safer not to enter.
  5. Deadwood was known for its lawlessness, while the White House is known for its... um... large white pillars.
  6. Today’s politicians spoon-feed us their policy ideas, while vendors on the streets of Deadwood handed out free commodes.
  7. The wolves routinely circle around the weakest prey, waiting to pounce, while the same thing happened in the Old West.
  8. In the Old West, bearing arms on the frontier was sometimes a highly regulated business, and towns like Deadwood, Tombstone and Dodge required you to check your guns in with the sheriff as you entered. Today... well... I’m slowly backing away from this sentence. Nothing to see here.
  9. Also, did you know that due to a lack of “facilities,” the streets of Deadwood were paved with stuff that definitely wasn’t gold? Or even mud? This is not a comparison. Simply a fun fact. #themoreyouknow
  10. And finally, the Old West was filled with tall tales, propagated by writers like Deadwood Dick. Conversely, today, politicians never lie. Phew.
Good luck to you all getting through the next year and a half. I know I’m going to need it.
*gets ready for election season*
*in memory of Calamity Jane, grabs Jack Daniels*
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.
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