DEADWOOD - Deadwood historic preservation officials hailed a bronze replica Friday of the original stone "Wild Bill" Hickok grave marker at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.
David Young, a retired high school art teacher, created the Hickok bronze, a replica of the 1891 statue placed at the grave. Young was unable to attend the unveiling ceremony because he remains hospitalized from a July 19 traffic accident in Deadwood.
Young's wife, Helen, told the crowd of 150 people that her husband is improving after brain, leg and jaw surgeries at
Rapid City Regional Hospital. "He wants to get out of bed and get going," she said.
Young earned a master's degree in sculpture from the University of Iowa and taught art in Grand Island, Neb., for 33 years. Various organizations have commissioned sculptures - dancers, athletes, wildlife among them - from Young since 1995. In addition to the cemetery artwork, he has a larger-than-life terra-cotta bust of Hickok and a bronze bust of Seth Bullock in Deadwood casinos.
The Youngs have operated out of a Wild West Winners Casino studio for about three years. He won the $26,000 Hickok project last summer.
It is the third statue dedicated to Hickok at Deadwood's historic cemetery. Persistent vandals and souvenir hunters defaced the others. A granite plaque marked the grave until the bronze bust was placed.
The bronze replica will hold up better against vandalism, according to Deadwood Historic Preservation Director Jim Wilson.
In 1893, cemetery officials erected a cast-iron fence around Hickok's grave, but vandals continued to raid the site, breaking off fragments of stone from the mustache, hair, shoulders and nose of the bust. In 1901, vandals ruined the sculpture when the head was broken from the pedestal.
Hickok was killed Aug. 2, 1876, when Jack McCall shot him in the back in a saloon in Deadwood. The New Riders of the Deadwood Stage troupe performed a historic re-enactment at Friday's dedication ceremony, in which Hickok was remembered as a frontier scout and peace officer on the Great Plains.
Helen Young said the bronze sculpture was a "labor of love" and detail for her husband.
"He used a toothbrush on the entire pedestal to give it the resemblance of sandstone. I wanted to have a capital 'a' in August, but he wanted to have a small 'a' to keep it historically accurate," she said.
J.H. Riordan carved the original 1891 sculpture from native red sandstone. The Hickok bust rests atop a 4-foot tree-trunk-style pedestal. "Wild Bill" is inscribed in large letters on a scroll on the base. The epitaph reads: "J.B. Hickok, Died aug. 2, 1876; Aged 37 years, Custer was Lonely without him, Erected by J.H. Riordan of N.Y. 1891"
The Sons of the American Revolution also honored Hickok at Friday's ceremony. The SAR placed a plaque commemorating his posthumous honorary membership. According to Dennis Lorensen of Lead, Hickok's uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather were soldiers in the War of Independence. Lorensen said his research also revealed that Hickok is a distant relative of presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The new Hickok bronze is part of a three-year, $3.5 million restoration project at the historic cemetery.
When finished in 2003, walls and terraces on the steep hillside cemetery will be rebuilt, cemetery monuments refurbished, decorative ironwork and masonry restored and cemetery roads repaired.
Wilson said the restoration work is important to preserving the cemetery. In addition to its significance for families with members buried there, Mount Moriah is one of Deadwood's most popular historic sites.
The cemetery, established in 1877 or 1878, is the burial grounds for such other notable Black Hills pioneers as Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny, Preacher Henry Weston Smith and Seth Bullock.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 people visit the cemetery each year, many taking summer shuttle-bus rides from downtown.
Records exist for 3,627 burials at the cemetery, managed by the city since 1938 after the Deadwood Cemetery Association failed financially.
Although individuals and families have burial plots reserved, the city no longer sells gravesites at Mount Moriah.