For the last 17 years, Keehn has relayed the tales of Deadwood’s haunted past to the scores of visitors who trek up to the historic town during the warmer parts of the year. She spent eight years doing so at Boot Hill Bus Tours and eight more at the Historic Bullock Hotel. This year, though, Keehn went independent and on May 14 began guiding tours for her own business: Haunted History Walking Ghost Tours.
During the hour-long tours, Keehn takes her groups from the Old Style Saloon No. 10 up Main Street and over to Sherman Street thrice a day during busy season, telling the stories of the figures who’ve resurfaced as spirits along the cobblestone street.
“There seems to be a theme in frontier towns where there was unrequited love,” said Keehn, whose stories coincidentally all involve murdered women. “Whether it’s Deadwood or Colorado, they killed the person and committed suicide.”
“THE IDEA JUST POPPED INTO
MY HEAD: YOU’VE DONE TOURS
FOR EIGHT YEARS, WHY NOT
DO YOUR OWN?”
The stories are educational just as much as they are entertaining. Keehn, a self-proclaimed “history freak,” dug through years of newspaper clippings in search of reports of hauntings in Deadwood,
first on microfilm, and then, to her relief, digitally.
Keehn herself hadn’t encountered the supernatural until her time at the Bullock. One winter night, she and her co-worker at the front desk—the only two in the building—were chatting when an aroma of cigar smoke seeped into the lobby. The phone rang as her co-worker tried to investigate, so instead Keehn went. Outside, only silence. As she walked back to the desk, the scent was so thick “it was like burning in your eyes.”
She described the memory with a reserved tone— like you would a city council meeting or a trip to the grocery store. She’s a storyteller, not a fanatic. Her interest in the supernatural doesn’t bleed into the dramatic ghost-hunting TV shows that air after dark, which she calls “embellished and stupid.”
“I love the history and I love sharing it,” said Keehn. “I think it’s a great job for me because I like talking about history and I actually have an audience that’s not running away from me. You get people that are totally off the wall, and then you get people who are neurosurgeons and they’re telling me their stories, and you’re like, ‘This is really cool. These things happen’.”
Kitty LeRoy and Sam Curley
By the time she was 10 years old in the 1860s, Kitty LeRoy was a jig dancer in Michigan. She married at 15 and had a child, but left to travel the country and seek a fortune. In 1876, LeRoy arrived in Deadwood after hearing of the Gold Rush; it’s believed she traveled on the same wagon train as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, along with another man she fancied. A year later, she married a faro card dealer named Sam Curley—her fifth husband. That winter, Curley was called to leave town and LeRoy returned to the man with whom she arrived in town. Upon catching word, Curley returned to Deadwood in a rage and marched to LeRoy’s room at the Lone Star Saloon, where he shot LeRoy, then 27 years old, and himself. Their double funeral was held at the Saloon just six months after their wedding.
In 1877, tenants at the Saloon reported sightings of apparitions and unexplained noises to the newspaper: “Always the woman come le if not beautiful, and always behind her the form of the man who was the cause of their double death. In the stillness of the night, they still tread the stairs where they once lived and held each other in loving embrace, and then they fade away into the night.”
The Flood of 1883 washed away the Saloon, and today Keehn wonders if the spirits were taken downstream with the floodwaters or if they’ve found home in the buildings next door.
HAUNTED HISTORY WALKING TOURS
WHERE: Old Style Saloon No. 10, Deadwood
WHEN: Fall Hours // Tuesday – Saturday // 5:45 p.m.
PRICE: $10 Per Adult
Keehn’s had no shortage of listeners in the first few months of her walks—her soles have already worn through on a pair of shoes. But as the calendar moves deeper into autumn and tourist season slows, Keehn will drop from three to one tour a day.
Given it’s her inaugural year as a solo guide, she hasn’t cemented an end date: only the weather can stop her. If a sunny day in January thaws Deadwood’s sidewalks and she gets a call inquiring about a tour, she’s happy to walk the block, she said.
Through the fall, she’ll continue to narrate her tours with the knowledge of a researcher and the tongue of a raconteur.
“I pretend how I’d want to hear a tour. If I were a tourist and I was going to go on a tour, I wouldn’t want to listen to someone who goes ‘bleh bleh bleh,’” she said. “I just try to have a beginner’s mind: this person hasn’t been to Deadwood before, they don’t know the story.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT HAUNTEDHISTORYWALKINGGHOSTTOUR.COM.