Historic 1888 Jail – Hot Springs, South Dakota - Atlas Obscura

Historic 1888 Jail

The oldest extant wooden jail in South Dakota and possibly the United States.  


The oldest wooden jailhouse in South Dakota may have been an overnight accommodation for Calamity Jane. 

In 1982, while demolishing the old Lambert house in Hot Springs, South Dakota, William “Bud” Soper made a unique discovery. Within the house was a considerably older wooden building with unusual construction features. The building measured approximately 16 feet square and was constructed entirely from solid pine 2x4 boards laid horizontally and nailed together. Between the boards were rows of “No. 9-gauge” wire. Metal bars covered the three small windows and single door.

Soper discovered Hot Springs’ old wooden jail, believed to have been built between 1885 and 1888. Recognizing the building’s historical significance, he donated it to the City of Hot Springs and moved it to its present location on N. River Street in April 1983. Historical markers on the site indicate that the building is the oldest extant wooden jail in South Dakota and possibly the United States. 

More than 500 2’x4’s were used to construct the building’s walls, ceiling, and floor. The heavy-gauge wire was added to prevent jailbreakers from sawing through the walls. When Anna Lambert purchased the building in 1910, she removed the cell partitions and remodeled it into a home, effectively encasing the jail inside a wooden-framed house.

Although old jail records are lost, newspaper reports from 1895 indicate that Martha Jane Cannary, a.k.a. Calamity Jane, may have spent a night in the jail. According to the Hot Springs Star, Jane was in town from November 10 through 13, 1895. She came to meet old friends and sell photographs. As was her wont, she made a drunken nuisance of herself at several locations in town. Jane spent the evening of November 12 drinking at the Bodega Saloon and becoming increasingly inebriated and belligerent. So much so that the Mayor of Hot Springs sent the Chief of Police to keep an eye on her.

When the saloon closed, Jane attempted to “borrow” a horse for a ride. At the instruction of the Mayor, the Police Chief offered her a night’s stay at the jail so she could sleep it off. She did, and to their relief, Jane left town the next morning. However, it is not certain that Jane spent the night in the old wooden jail. When the Hot Springs Town Hall was constructed in 1893, it included jail cells, and Jane may have been accommodated there instead. Nonetheless, the Historic 1888 Jail is still credited with “Calamity Jane slept here.”

Know Before You Go

The Jail is located on the 600 block of N. River Street, next to the Hot Springs Visitors Center.

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January 17, 2022

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