Deadwood was never a show that cared too much about being historically accurate. Though based on the Old West town in South Dakota, and featuring many characters based on the real people that occupied the town during the time, there were several embellishments made as well. This included the timing of certain events, the inclusion of additional fictional characters, and even the language spoken (it's doubtful that the characters were that foulmouthed).
When Deadwood: The Movie picked up, we knew it would be a follow-up to the show itself, and likewise, would most likely align with the characters established there. Yet, we felt it would be fun to see how accurate the film ended up being in accordance with history. So here are 5 points in the movie that did turn out to be historically accurate, and 5 that came instead right from writer David Milch. Warning: there will be spoilers ahead.
10 Accurate: South Dakota's Statehood
The major event that brings our characters together at the start of Deadwood: The Movie is the ascension of South Dakota as a state, and likewise, the integration of the Deadwood camp into the state. This is noted as having taken place in the year 1889. In looking back at history, it's seen that South Dakota was indeed officially established as a state on November 2, 1889.
Likewise, many of the characters that inhabit Deadwood were, in fact, present at the time, including Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Mayor E.B. Farnum, and more. Though, unsurprisingly, where the film proceeds from this initial event is what causes it to veer even farther away from history.
9 Reimagined: Charlie Utter's Fate
After reintroducing us to the characters of the town, the major story thread of Deadwood: The Movie is presented; Charlie Utter's land claim and George Hearst's attempt to seize it from him. Though he at first makes an offer, Charlie refuses, resulting in Hearst having to seize it by other means. This then leads to the conflict of the film wherein Hearst has Charlie killed in the hopes that his land would be put up for auction.
In reality, Charlie Utter lived in Deadwood until around 1880 before moving on to other towns that had their own gold rushes. His story from there then has some discrepancies; he either moved to New Mexico and opened a saloon or moved to Panama City and opened a drug store. Either way, it's clear that Charlie's fate in Deadwood: The Movie was orchestrated in order to set the film's events in motion.
8 Accurate: Seth Bullock's Status
If there is one character that the Deadwood show and movie seemed to get most accurate, it was the character of Seth Bullock. When we first see him in the show, he was a sheriff in Montana, and subsequently moved on from there to Deadwood, where he and Sol Star opened up a hardware store. After a time, when it was realized that the camp needed a sheriff, Bullock seemed to be the best pick for the job. When we see Bullock in Deadwood: The Movie, he had ascended to a U.S. Marshal and had also expanded his family with his wife Martha Bullock.
The real-life Seth Bullock followed many of these story threads as well, including the status of Bullock in the town, upgraded from Sheriff to U.S. Marshal. He also had additional children with his wife and had even opened up his own hotel as well, which we see in the show. For those who have visited the town of Deadwood in the present day, the Bullock Hotel still operates today, over 125 years later. It's clear that Bullock's legacy has lived on, both in real life and through the Deadwood character, played by Timothy Olyphant.
7 Reimagined: George Hearst
In the third season of Deadwood, George Hearst becomes the central villain of the show. Ruthless and cunning, he seizes power over the town and is not afraid to leave bodies in his wake. All of the major characters of the show, including Al Swearengen, had been affected by him. When we see him in Deadwood: The Movie, he is much the same, returning to the town with even more power as a Senator of California and now seeking to exploit the town further by purchasing Charlie Utter's land.
In reality, Hearst was indeed a wealthy businessman, and his activities in the town in acquiring additional gold claims are sketchy, to say the least. In fact, one of Hearst's employees was convicted of killing someone who refused to sell his gold claim. Hearst feared for his life while in the town but ultimately left a success. Where the movie differs is that he likely was not in Deadwood during the ascension of South Dakota, as at that point he was Senator of California. Therefore, his comeuppance, as seen in the movie, unfortunately didn't happen. If you asked us, though, we prefer the film version.
6 Accurate: Sol Star's Predicted Fate
Sol Star was often defined by his close partnership with Seth Bullock. The two moved to the town together, owning and operating a hardware store. When we now see him in Deadwood: The Movie, their partnership had broken somewhat, but the two were still close friends. Towards the end of Deadwood: The Movie, Sol Star is told, by none other than Al Swearengen himself, that he should consider running for office.
Indeed, the real Sol Star followed many of these same paths, including his partnership with Seth Bullock and operation of a hardware store. What is hinted at towards the end of the film is what ultimately happens to Star, as he does become the mayor of the town after E.B. Farnum. From here, he moves on to the South Dakota House of Representatives and to a position in the South Dakota Senate. So, though we don't actually see it, it's clear that Sol Star in Deadwood: The Movie would move on to great things.
5 Reimagined: Alma Ellsworth's Land Ownership
This is one that couldn't possibly be accurate, as Alma Ellsworth was never a real person in the town of Deadwood. Invented for the show, she has a significant part of the town's history, including her interactions with other characters and her gold claim in particular. Though, at the end of Deadwood the show, she had ultimately lost much of what she had gained over its course, including her gold claim to George Hearst.
Towards the end of Deadwood: The Movie, Alma had won in a bidding war the land left by Charlie Utter and significantly beat George Hearst to it. This was the show's way of giving her back the power that Hearst had taken, yet, as we know, since Alma didn't really exist, this was just a story thread that had continued from the show itself. But what a triumphant moment all the same.
4 Accurate: Calamity Jane
The show Deadwood portrayed the Old West legend as a well-intentioned woman who, due to her own inhibitions, often lapsed into heavy drinking. She had also begun a romantic relationship with Joanie Stubbs. When we first see her in Deadwood: The Movie, she returns to the town to witness its ascension into the state of South Dakota and goes by the name that we now know her as: Calamity Jane.
In reality, Jane did return to the town around the late 1880s. Still an alcoholic, she does make a reacquaintance with the major madam of the town, Dora Dufran, who the character of Joanie Stubbs is based on. From here, the real Jane would move on to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show as a storyteller. We'd like to believe that Jane from Deadwood: The Movie would go on to do the same.
3 Reimagined: Samuel Fields' Fate
The character of Samuel Fields, known often by a different nickname, was always a fun one to witness in the show of Deadwood. An alleged general of the Civil War, he weaved tall tales and made his presence known around town, though his race often led to him getting into more trouble than he had been prepared for. This extends to Deadwood: The Movie, where Fields is blamed for the murder of Charlie Utter.
Samuel Fields is based on a real historical figure during the time. Infamous in the camp of Deadwood, he often was in fact blamed for crimes that he may or may not have been involved in, often considered to be a result of being a minority in a majority-white town. His eventual fate, though, is different than it was in the Deadwood: The Movie. By 1889, the real Fields had moved on to Omaha, Nebraska, and so wasn't in the town of Deadwood during the time. Therefore, his beating by the hand of Charlie Utter's killers would never have happened.
2 Accurate: Deadwood's Upgrade
Deadwood began its run as a shanty town during the gold rush of 1877. When we first see it in the show, and even towards the end of the final season, it is much the same, with tents lining the streets and an overall sense of unruliness. By the time we see it again in Deadwood: The Movie, though, we can see more proper establishments operating, and indeed, from a long distance it more closely resembles a full-sized town.
The real Deadwood was much the same. Begun as a small camp after gold was found there, it eventually upgraded once people started to resort to deep mining from gold panning, and its fortune was mostly found through this method. The town was much the same once it was acceded as part of South Dakota, as we see in the show. We even see, in the show, the more high-end establishments that people now frequent, showing that the town had indeed received an upgrade.
1 Reimagined: Al Swearengen's Fate
Al Swearengen, played by Ian McShane, was easily the show's standout character. Controlling much of Deadwood through his ties and ruthless business sense, he continued to do so throughout the show's run, though he does receive some setbacks in season three. When we see him in Deadwood: The Movie, he is much the same, though now much more wearied, being afflicted by cirrhosis due to his extensive drinking. By the conclusion of the movie, he had died as a result of it.
In reality, Al Swearengen, who was actually even more brutal in person, did not die in 1889, and he went on from Deadwood after his Gem Saloon burned down in 1899. He subsequently died in 1904, with some historical accounts claiming that he was murdered. Perhaps, as had happened in the show, some part of his past had caught up with him. Either way, it's clear that his death in Deadwood: The Movie, and his final lines, in particular, were one of the film's highlights.