A ‘Gem’ of a Saloon

gem theater true west

Al Swearengen—yes, the real one, on whom the TV character was based—built the Gem Saloon in Deadwood in 1877.  It was the most prominent entertainment venue in town—entertainment as in drinking and prostitution (and some variety acts).  Women were lured from the East with promises of stardom, but a one-way ticket ensured they couldn’t leave a situation of near slavery.

The Gem burned down twice in the late 1870s. Each time, Swearengen built a bigger, better theater.  But when fire destroyed it in 1899, Al left town for good.

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Mark Boardman

Mark Boardman is the features editor for True West Magazine as well as the editor of The Tombstone Epitaph. He also serves as pastor for Poplar Grove United Methodist Church in Indiana.