Brow Beat

Reading Deadwood’s Newspaper

Here’s how the Black Hills Pioneer reported on major events in the HBO series.

Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson), and Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) read a copy of the Black Hills Weekly Pioneer in a still from Deadwood.
Read all about it. HBO

As Deadwood: The Movie gives audiences a chance to reconnect with David Milch’s memorable portrait of an illegal settlement gentrifying its way into legitimacy, it’s a good weekend to revisit an earlier portrait of the Black Hills Gold Rush: The Black Hills Pioneer, Deadwood’s first newspaper. (It’s still around.) The newspaper, like all of Deadwood’s civilizing institutions, has a major role in Milch’s version of the town, and publisher A.W. Merrick, played by Jeffrey Jones, is one of the show’s recurring characters. But the best way to get to know a newspaper is to read it, and in this case, that’s easy enough to do: the Pioneer’s archives are available through, starting with its very first issue, from June 8, 1876. It’s an amazing read. On the show, Merrick is something of a fussbudget, which comports very well with the first article his newspaper ever ran, a complaint about the difficulties of running a newspaper in Deadwood:

We issue to-day only a HALF SHEET. Our regular issue will be just double the size of the present copy. But owing to the fact that we are working almost out of doors, with the elements apparently conspiring against us, it is impossible to fill the bill as we anticipated. Our material has been in Deadwood less than a week; our house is not up; it has rained two days during the time, and we think everyone who knows anything about the mechanical work of a printing office will appreciate our condition and bear for the present with the very best it is possible to do. Everybody wants a paper. We propose to give you one, and a good one too, but it takes a little time under the most favorable circumstances to unpack an office and do the work.

Merrick launched the paper in partnership with A.W. Laughlin; after Laughlin left town, he found another partner, who retired in turn after striking gold, but the editorial voice of the paper stayed constant. It reads more like a blog than a modern newspaper: There’s no faux-disinterested “view from above”; the Pioneer is clearly the product of specific people with a specific point of view. Some of those points of view are familiar to a modern reader—anyone living west of the Mississippi will recognize Merrick’s constant grumbling about Eastern newspapers getting the details wrong—but some of them are abhorrent: The paper’s editorial line on the Native Americans whose land Deadwood’s residents were occupying was cheerfully genocidal. The conclusion to an editorial on July 8, 1876 is one of the less offensive examples, as the young nation’s centennial inspired more soaring language than usual:

But alas! for the old chief, the Crow and the Sioux country are now “in exactly the right place” for the white man. That last link is being welded in the chain of continuous industries which is to connect ocean with ocean, and the swelling tide will carry the savage tribes on to a higher plane, or sweep them out of existence altogether. Humanitarian protestations are in vain—this is manifest destiny.

To read the early issues of the Black Hills Pioneer is to make Deadwood’s subtext text: Merrick’s paper is a one-man propaganda operation arguing that the Black Hills should become part of the United States as soon as possible, treaties be damned. It’s filled with city boosterism, strong opinions about the Sioux Wars, and, of course, more whining from Merrick about the newspaper business: people who hadn’t paid for their subscriptions, businesses who had failed to advertise with him, and, on one memorable occasion, an overeager would-be freelancer:

DECLINED.—We are compelled to decline the article headlined “Custer’s Last Charge,” as its extreme length unfits it for our columns, were it unobjectionable in other respects. In our opinion the writer has scarcely soared to the height the noble theme should carry him. The owner may obtain the manuscript by calling at this office.

Meanwhile, events that are a major part of Milch’s show appear only briefly in the margins: E.B. Farnum’s political career, for example, can be traced through the ever higher positions he holds each time his name appears in the paper, from the treasurer of a citizen’s committee formed to look into the possibility of building a school, all the way to mayor. George Hearst, a major antagonist on the show, doesn’t appear by name in the paper until an 1880 article urging him to run for the Senate in California. Al Swearengen’s name is variously rendered “Swearenger,” “Swearinger,” and “Swearingen,” and he seems to have barely made an impression on Merrick, although this classified ad from an “E.A. Swearinger” has a touch of Ian McShane’s version of the character about it:


All persons are warned against trusting anybody on my account, as I will pay no debts except on my written order.

E.A. Swearinger.

Reading the Pioneer provides a funhouse mirror view of the people and events depicted in Milch’s show, and a useful reminder that the same underlying facts can take on a considerably different color, depending who’s assembling them into a story and why. Here are some selections from its reporting.

The Death of Wild Bill Hickok

The Pioneer had only been around for a couple of months when Jack McCall shot Bill Hickok in the back of the head in August of 1876, but it had settled into a consistent layout for its weekly issues: national news and dispatches from other newspapers were on the front page, while the “Local News” section was in the back. That meant that the single most newsworthy thing that ever happened in Deadwood was reported in the fourth column of the last page of the August 5, 1876 issue. (A1 went to a poem entitled “Custer’s Death” by “Captain Jack” Crawford, the “Poet Scout.”) Here’s their account of Wild Bill’s death and the (first) trial of Jack McCall:


He is Shot Through the Head by John McCall while Unconscious of Danger—Arrest, Trial, and Discharge of the Assassin, Who Claims to Have Avenged a Brother’s Death in Killing Wild Bill

On Wednesday about three o’clock the report was started that J.B. Hickok (Wild Bill) was killed. On repairing to the hall of Nuttall & Mann it was ascertained that the report was too true. We found the remains of Wild Bill lying on the floor. The murderer, Jack McCall, was captured after a lively chase by many of our citizens, and taken to a building at the lower end of the city and a guard placed over him. As soon as this was accomplished a coroner’s jury was summoned, with C.H. Sheldon as foreman, who after hearing all the evidence, which was to the effect that Wild Bill and others were seated at a table playing cards, Jack McCall walked in and around directly in back of his victim, and when within three feet of him raised his revolver and exclaiming, “Damn you, take that,” fired, the ball entering at the back of the head and coming out at the centre of the right cheek, causing instant death, rendered a verdict in accordance with the above facts. Preparations for a trial were then made by calling a meeting of citizens at the theatre building. Immediately after the theatre was over the meeting was called to order, Judge W.L. Kuykendall presiding. After a statement by the president of the object of the meeting, the gentlemen present numbering 100, elected Judge Kuykendall to preside at the meeting as judge in the trial of the cause. Isaac Brown was elected sheriff, and one deputy and twelve guards were appointed. It was then decided to adjourn to meet at 9 o’clock A.M. Thursday, Aug. 3d, in order that the gentlemen appointed for the purpose might have time to announce the meeting and its object to the minders of Whitewood and Deadwood mining districts. At nine o’clock Thursday the meeting was called pursuant to adjournment, when the action of the previous meeting was submitted for adoption or rejection, and after some remarks were adopted. Col. May was chosen prosecuting attorney, and A.B. Chapline was selected by the prisoner, but owing to sickness Mr. Chapline was unable to attend, and Judge Miller was chosen in his place. A committee of three was then appointed by the chair, one from each district, whose duty it was to select the names of 33 residents from each of their respective districts, and from these persons so chosen the jury was afterward obtained. Mr. Reid, of Gayville, James Harrington, of this city, and Mr. Coin, of Montana City, were the gentlemen appointed for this purpose. At this time the meeting adjourned. At two o’clock the trial was commenced, and lasted until six. The evidence in the case was the same as that before the coroner’s jury, so far as the prosecution was concerned. The defence was that the deceased, at some place in Kansas, killed the prisoner’s brother, for which he killed deceased. The jury, after being out an hour and thirty minutes, returned the following verdict:

DEADWOOD CITY, August 3, 1876.

We the jury find Mr. John McCall not guilty.

(Signed) CHARLES WHITEHEAD, Foreman,

J.J. BUMP,                 L.D. BOOKAW,


J.F. COOPER,            ALEX TRAVIS,

K.F. TOWLE               J.E. THOMPSON,

L.A. JUDD,                  ED. BURKE,


Thus ended the scenes of the day that settled a matter of life and death with one living, whose life was in the hands of twelve fellow-men, whose duty it was to decide upon the guilt or innocence of the accused, charged with the murder of Wild Bill, who, while the trial was in progress, was being laid in the cold, cold ground; in the Valley of Whitewood, by kind hands that were ever ready to administer to his sufferings while living, and ready to perform the painful duty of laying him in his last resting place.

For Deadwood fans, the most interesting thing in that issue of the Pioneer is another local news item. In the episode of the show in which Bill dies, a man rides into Deadwood brandishing the severed head of a Native American. It’s filmed in slow-motion and presented in a such a way that he might as well be waving around a sign reading “As Bill Hickok’s shocking murder indicates, this outpost is in danger of falling into lawlessness, violence, and savagery.” It feels like an invented symbol, but it wasn’t:

THE head of the Indian killed near Crook City was brought into town, and after being viewed by a number of citizens, it was turned over to Dr. Schultz, who on removing the brain found it to weigh 64 ounces. When we remember that Webster’s brain weighted just 54 ounces we can rest assured that the Indian killed the past week was one of no mean intellect. Certainly brain enough, if developed. He was a young brave, about 26 years of age.

Also of interest is this brief item, announcing the arrival of Deadwood’s protagonists:

Sol. Star and Seth Bullock, of Helena, Montana, arrived yesterday with a train loaded with merchandise. These gentlemen have purchased the two-story building corner of Main and Wall streets, and will open their stock in a few days. They will have an auction, commission, and storage house.


A smallpox outbreak in Deadwood is a significant part of the first season, as the emerging town’s emerging luminaries take action to prevent an epidemic. On the show, Al Swearengen memorably helps Merrick write an editorial urging citizens not to panic, after organizing a collection for a quarantine tent and dispatching riders to get a vaccine. In the actual event, Merrick was urging the town’s citizenry to put together an organized response to begin with, not reassuring them that steps had already been taken. Here’s the Pioneer of Aug. 12, 1876:

Small-pox has broken out in our town, several persons now having the disease, and cases being reported every day. The physicians say that it is a mild and not confluent form, yet as contagious as though of the confluent form. This disease breaking out as it does when we are unprepared to protect ourselves from it in the manner usually adopted in well regulated cities, makes it a serious matter indeed. The citizens should take this matter in hand at once, and if possible, erect a suitable building in some out-of-the-way place, engage competent nurses, and have every patient removed to the quarters prepared. This is a necessary step and should be taken at once. We are well aware that there are many who, if taken with this disease, will suffer unless such a place as recommended is furnished. This is a movement in which all should join. No one can tell when their turn will come, so let all make it a common cause, and make the necessary arrangements for a hospital, that we may have a place to keep those who are so unfortunate as to be afflicted with contagious disease. 

The episode evinces a familiarity with Merrick’s writing, as Swearingen balks at his use of French words like gratis. This was a recurring stylistic flourish in the pages of the Pioneer, as in this Oct. 28, 1876 account of the opening of Morton’s Club House:

We do not wonder that Mr. Morton’s face beams in satisfaction when he contemplates the result of his labors to make his new “club house” the bijou of the town. As his advertisement announces in another column, his bar is stocked with the choicest ales, wines, and liquors, whilst his cigars are sans pariel

Incidentally, Merrick did use the phrase “free-gratis,” Swearengen’s suggested replacement for gratis, at least once, in an editorial about evangelist Dwight L. Moody. In the actual event, the redundancy was part of the point he was making. Merrick wasn’t a fan of “free” revivals with collection plates:

It is the same old story—everything free-gratis—for nothing—without any charge, except a small collection taken up at the door to defray the expenses.

An Evening at the Bella Union

One thing that becomes very clear while reading the Pioneer is how fast and loose Deadwood plays with chronology. The show sets up a rivalry between rival barkeepers—Al Swearengen, proprietor of the Gem Theatre, and Cy Tolliver, proprietor of the Bella Union—and both places actually existed, although Tolliver did not; the Bella Union was run by a man named Tom Miller. But neither institution was around the summer Wild Bill was murdered. The Bella Union opened in September; Swearengen was running a bar called the Cricket and didn’t open the Gem until April of 1877. And the Bella Union, as it appears in the Pioneer, seems to have been more in the nature of a vaudeville theater than the high-class saloon, brothel, and gambling establishment depicted on Deadwood. (Morton’s Club House, whose ads boasted “ALL BANKING GAMES dealt by polite and attentive gentlemen, who will endeavor to entertain our customers” seems a more likely spiritual ancestor for Deadwood’s Bella Union, where Ricky Jay played one of the dealers.) But the idea that Swearengen’s place was hopelessly outclassed seems to be suggested by their advertisements in the Pioneer. Here’s Swearengen’s ad from April 14, 1877, as he prepared to open the Gem:

An ad for the Gem Saloon, reading "Gem Variety Theatre. Main St. - Deadwood. Al Swearingen, Proprietor."
The Black Hills Weekly Pioneer

And here is the Bella Union’s ad, which ran as wide as Swearengen’s. Miller bought out the entirety of the column directly underneath Swearengen’s ad to sing the Bella Union’s praises at extraordinary length:

A very long column ad about the Bella Union.
The Black Hills Weekly Pioneer

That is the kind of thing that seems like it would piss Ian McShane’s Swearengen off. The Pioneer was a fan of the Bella Union’s entertainment, as they reported on Sep. 23, 1876, shortly after it opened.

Tom. Miller’s Bella Union seems to be drawing a liberal share of patronage this past week. Of course the show is of a Vaudeville type, and in addition a little naughty, but Pete Reed and others sing a few songs nightly that is worth the price of admission, and as for Tom. himself, what with his bone solo and his comic songs, he is a host in himself. 

But the most interesting stage show given at the Bella Union took place on Nov. 16, 1876, when a disgruntled audience member named Edward Shaughnessy threw an ax at the stage and was promptly shot to death by one of the performers, Dick Brown, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Banjoists.” The Pioneer of Nov. 18, 1876 has the story:




About nine o’clock on Thursday evening, the audiences at the Bella Union Varieties was startled by a sudden exit of the performers and the sight of an axe thrown from the auditorium to the stage. A man was seen attempting to mount the stage, and almost simultaneously with this movement “Dick” Brown, one of the performers, came from behind the wings and fired four shots from a revolver, saying, “He has followed me long enough.” The man who had thrown the axe fell. An examination was made as to the extent of his injuries; two bullet holes were found upon his person, one of the projectiles having entered the right arm—the other penetrated the right side just above the hip. The wounded man, who was identified as Edward Shaughnessy, was taken to the drug store of McKinney & Philips, where he was attended by Dr. Bevins. Subsequently he was removed to Wagner’s hotel, where restoratives were administered by the attending physician. Shaughnessy lingered until about five o’clock yesterday morning, when death put an end to his sufferings.

Up to the time of our going to press there had been very little testimony adduced before the court of investigation, but from what we have been able to learn, Shaughnessy, some time ago, became acquainted with an actress known as Fanny Garretson, who was at that time playing at McDaniel’s theatre in Cheyenne. Shaughnessy was employed at the time by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and up to the time of his meeting Garretson was known to have been a very fine and exemplary young man. The fire which destroyed McDaniel’s Theatre on the 4th day of July, 1875, closed the theatrical season for the time being, and Garretson went to Laramie City to fulfil an engagement at that place; she and Shaughnessy were legally married. After living together some months a rupture occurred between the twain and Miss Garretson went to the Pacific coast. She afterward returned, however, made up the quarrel, and for a short time again lived with Shaughnessy; she afterward left him and started for the Black Hills. She arrived in this city about three weeks ago in company with Dick Brown, the two having been engaged by Tom Miller to play at the Bella Union Varieties. Shortly after their arrival here they were married by Mayor Farnum and have since lived together. It appears that Shaughnessy, crazed by the desertion of his wife, followed her to this place and when he discovered her liason with Brown, threatened vengeance upon the heads of both. As he had been drinking deeply his friends thought such threats as only the wild ravings of a brain under the influence of liquor, and heeded them not until the sad results which we have chronicled had occurred. 

The determination that Brown had acted in self-defense was made by one “Justice Farnum.”

An Evening With Al Swearengen

Al Swearengen’s Gem Theatre opened in the spring of 1877, and as this review of the entertainment from April 21, 1877, makes clear, one thing the version of the Gem on Deadwood is missing is blackface, and plenty of it:

Al. Swearengen is doing a driving business at his new Variety Theatre, the Gem. Crowded and delighted audiences assemble here nightly and are highly pleased with the minstrelsy, ballad singing, banjo playing, bone rattling, tambo whacking, comic acts, numerous scenes, sketches, refrains, droll doings, and diversions that go to make up a first class variety performance. The two M’s Martin and Murphy have an inexhaustible amount of humor and make as much fun as any two end men in the country. Go and enjoy a hearty laugh. 

Of course, almost any vaudeville theater in 1877 would have included minstrelsy, a topic that would require its own prestige drama to adequately address, so it’s not too surprising it didn’t make Deadwood. (Merrick doesn’t tell the whole story either: the Pioneer, in its ongoing campaign to convince eastern capitalists that civilization had arrived in the Black Hills, was unlikely to report on any of the awful things Swearengen got up to in his sideline as a brothel operator.) But this 1876 account of a prizefight at Swearengen’s first bar, the Cricket, gives a detailed account of the sort of entertainment on offer before the Gem. It’s also one of the funniest things the Pioneer ever published, a bone-dry, stupefyingly thorough account of an amateur boxing match between two men known as “the Belfast Chicken” and “Cook, the kid,” that went for 52 rounds before the combatants agreed to continue the fight a few weeks later. The Pioneer noted that the boxers were starting to look “a little groggy” by the thirtieth round.



Deadwood was taken by surprise by the hasty announcement of a prize fight which occurred at the Cricket Saloon on last Monday afternoon. It seems to have been an impromptu affair, the parties having undergone no system of training, but a resolve on both sides for a “passage at arms,” and a desire prevailing to test the merits of two good men, the fight was quickly agreed upon and brought about, with the express desire on both sides to see the “best man win.” The contending parties were Johnny Marr, known as the “Belfast Chicken,” and George Latimer, familiarly called “Cook, the Kid.” Johnny Marr stands five feet six inches, and turns the scale at 160 pounds. “The Cook” looms up about an inch and a half higher than Johnny, but averages about the same avoirdupois when placed upon the balance. Jack Williams officiated as second for Johnny Marr, and Tim Brady did the honors for “the cook.” That prince of sportsmen, Billy Nuttall, was chosen as referee. A better choice could not be made, as Billy is conversant with all matters connected with the ring, and the eager manner in which he watched the fight, the anxiety visibly expressed in the short duration between rounds, and the promptitude with which he called “time” proved him to be the right man in the right place, and though anxious to see the “mill,” he was nevertheless determined to see fair play. Of course the dimensions of the building in which the fight occurred prevented many from witnessing the contest that were eager to do so, but all the available room was occupied and crowded so densely as to deprive many of a fair sight. The ring, or what was so denominated, was a portion of one end of the hall, about twenty-five feet square, divided from the audience by benches placed across the room. “The cook” was first to shy his castor in the ring, and was quickly followed by “the Belfast chicken.” The parties were not attired in usual fighting costumes, but appeared in stocking-feet with trousers and shirt—the latter article of wardrobe not being doffed until the fortieth round. A belt around the waist concluded the make-up, and at two o’clock, time being called, both parties stepped to the scratch, and after the usual shaking of hands, stood up for


Round 1—Both men came up smiling. First blood and first knock-down for Marr.

R. 2—Both men sparred around the ring; finally clinched, Marr winning the fall.

R. 3—“The cook” got in his work and won the fall.

R. 4—Sparring, and knock-down for Marr.

R. 5—Both men intent on business. Marr wins the round by planting a square hit on “the cook’s” fly trap.

R. 6—“The cook” serves up a warmer dish for “the chicken,” and wins the round by a fair knock-down.

R. 7—Fall for Marr.

R. 8—Draw.

R. 9—“The cook” succeeded in getting Marr’s head in chancery, administering several soothing poultices, till Marr fell. Round for “the cook.”

R. 10—Sparring and wrestling, until both fell, “the cook” on top. Round for “the cook.”

R. 11—Marr felt of “the cook’s” bugle, knocking him down. Round for Marr.

R. 12—Both men toed the scratch quickly at the call of time, and “the cook” revenged the injury to his nasal organ by knocking Marr clean off his pins.

R. 13—Marr showing symptoms of fatigue; “the cook” looking fresher. Both men clinched and fell together. Draw.

R. 14—“The cook” occupied some time in sparring, but succeeded in knocking Marr against the wall, and clean off his feet.

R. 15—Marr’s head again in chancery. Both men fell together. Draw.

R. 16—Both men quickly on time. Good work was done in this round, ending by Marr planting a telling hit under “the cook’s” left peeper. Both down, “the cook” on top.

R. 17—Marr showing signs of weakness. Some time occupied in sparring. Marr fell to avoid punishment. Round for “the cook.”

R. 18—Marr advances in better shape, and although “the cook” met him with a stunner, it did not down him. Both clinched, Marr falling under, and showing signs of much exhaustion. Round for “the cook.”

R. 19—“The cook” in this round pressed the fighting and accomplished some heavy hitting. Marr broke and [illegible] around the ring, followed by “the cook,” who clinched his opponent and fell on top. Round for “the cook.”

R. 20—Cook, appearing fresh, did some good work, but in the fall Marr got on top. Round for Marr.

R. 21—Clinch and fall, Marr under. Round for “the cook.”

Rounds 22 and 23—“The cook” won the fall.

R. 24—Marr in this round displayed evident signs of gaining strength and wind, getting his work well in on “the cook,” hitting him several times, and winning the fall.

R. 25—Marr fell to avoid punishment. “The cook’s” round.

R. 26—This proved so far the gamiest round in the fight, give and take being the order of the day, but Marr finally proved himself high cock-a-lorum, and won the round.

R. 27—Lively sparring on both sides, “the cook” doing a little work and falling on top.

R. 28—Marr hit very hard, and fell to avoid punishment. Round for “the cook.”

R. 29—Give and take, and hard fighting on both sides. Fall, with “the cook” on top.

R. 30—Both men toe the scratch a little groggy and looking as if something unpleasant had happened. Hard hitting, Marr administering some tearful doses to his antagonist. Clinch and fall, “the cook” on top.

R. 31—“The cook” attempting to hit Marr, the latter dropped on one knee, and threw “the cook” clean over his shoulder. Immense applause followed this round, which was given to Marr.

R. 32—Marr administers much punishment to his adversary. Clinch and fall for Marr.

R. 33—“The cook” begins to show evident signs of weakness. Marr refreshed and very tricky, forces the fighting like a game cock. Round for Marr.

R. 34—In this round “the cook” received some severe punishment, Marr planting a reminder on his bugle that caused the claret to flow all over the floor. In a clinch Marr threw his adversary clean over the table. Round for Marr.

R. 35—Give and take, both men falling apart.

R. 36—Draw, each man falling.

R. 37—Good fighting on both sides. Clinch, “the cook” falling on top, near Marr’s corner.

R. 38—Marr clenched and struggled for some time, but “the cook” fell on top.

R. 39—Marr got in some telling blows, marking “the cook’s” face and closing his left eye. They clinched and fell together. Declared a draw.

R. 40—Good sparring, but Marr fought down. Round for “the cook.”

R. 41—At this stage of the game the men doffed their shirts, exhibiting their shape for the first time. Marr succeeded in punishing his antagonist severely on the ribs. “The cook,” hitting in every direction, won the knock down.

R. 42—Both men appeared groggy and weak. Marr fell, giving the round to his opponent.

R. 43—Good fighting on both sides. Round for Marr.

R. 44—Marr, quick to the call of time, administered a sock-dollager on “the cook’s” bugle, but fell to avoid receiving his change. “The cook’s” round.

R. 45—Marr fought down after good fighting and sparring.

R. 46—Give and take. Clinch and fall, Marr on top.

R. 47—Heavy fighting on both sides. “The cook” won the round, though his eyes were nearly closed.

R. 48—Give and take, “the cook” on top.

R. 49—Give and take. Declared a draw.

R. 50—Clinched, and both fell, side by side.

R. 51—Give and take. Clinch and fall for Marr.

R. 52—“The cook” showing signs of being nearly gone, Marr finally dropped to avoid punishment. “The cook’s” round.

At this time, by consent of the referee, the fight was postponed until the 28th of January, when it will be renewed for a purse of $250 and the gate money.

Although no satisfactory termination was gained by this encounter, all decided it was as game a fight and as fair a contest as could be desired, both men displaying an amount of verve equal to all such occasions, and enough sand to convince each other that should they again stand up for a passage at arms the winner will have enough to do to earn his laurels. The fight lasted one hour and forty minutes, and was allowed to proceed without annoyance or disturbance.

Now that’s the kind of show the Al Swearengen of Deadwood would put on: a bloody, farcical boxing match that ends, MCU-style, with a teaser for another boxing match.

Reading contemporaneous accounts of historical figures you first met as fictional characters can be disorienting, as the inconvenient facts and incompatible chronologies that were bulldozed for the sake of narrative and thematic clarity reassert themselves. But occasionally fact and fiction line up, and you can catch a quick glimpse of the person David Milch and A.W. Merrick were both grasping for, more than a century apart. It may or may not be true that journalism is the rough draft of history—but it’s definitely the rough draft of prestige television.