"Welcome to fucking Deadwood!"
- Al Swearengen
Al Swearengen is the proprietor of the Gem Saloon.
The Gem Saloon, which offers games of chance, alcohol, and prostitution, also acts as Swearengen’s base of operations.
In several visceral and illuminating monologues Albert Swearengen (Al) reveals that he was brought up from a fairly young age in a Chicago orphanage. Mrs. Anderson - the Matron of the orphanage, as it turned out, was also the Madame of an adjoining brothel. It is unclear, but it is hinted at, from his phrasing when talking about this time in his life, that he may have been prostituted himself as a boy. He was certainly beaten often, and credits this for showing him how the world really worked. He also indicated, during the sickness of Reverend Smith, that he had a brother that was given to fits of a similar nature (seizures). However, this was not his real brother, Swearengen revealed that he was taken in by the family, and that he would be beaten when his adopted father was sad about the condition of his adopted brother. A particularly harsh beating occurred after this brother's funeral early on in life, he was brutally smacked around and had a headache for three weeks on account of it. Swearengen further ruminates that he would've been better off at the orphanage had it not turned out that the Matron was a pimp, implying further that he suffered through his own sexual abuse as a child. Shortly before leaving Chicago for Deadwood, Al stabbed a man in self-defense. After an initial period in Deadwood, the US Cavalry rousted all settlers from the the Dakota area, as the land was still technically the property of the Sioux. Al Swearengen soon returned and built the Gem Saloon.
Ellis Albert "Al" Swearengen (1845 – 1904) was a pimp and entrepreneur in Deadwood, South Dakota, running the Gem Theater, a notorious brothel, for 22 years. Unlike so many of Deadwood's residents who left home at a young age to make their fortunes on the wild frontier, Swearengen remained at home well into his adult years, arriving in Deadwood in May, 1876 with his wife, Nettie Swearengen. Nettie would later divorce him on the grounds of spousal abuse, and Swearengen would marry two more times, both marriages ending as the first. Swearengen was one of the first Deadwood residents not to be a prospector or miner; he represented the beginning of a second wave of residents, attracted there by the promise of riches to be stripped not from the earth, but from the prospectors and miners. He built a small saloon called the Cricket Saloon, which featured "prize fights", although no prizes were actually awarded. Within a year, Swearengen had accumulated enough money to build the much larger and more opulent Gem Variety Theater, which opened on April 7, 1877, featuring the now traditional "prize fights" in addition to stage shows, and, mainly, prostitution. Swearengen lured desperate young women from far away to Deadwood, then forced them into prostitution through a combination of bullying and physical brutality, by himself and his henchmen. The results were highly lucrative. When it burned down along with much of the town on September 26, 1879, Swearengen rebuilt it larger and more opulent than ever, to great public acclaim. Swearengen's talent for canny alliances and financial payoffs kept him insulated from the general drive to clean up the town, including the otherwise successful work of Seth Bullock, until the Gem burned down once again in 1899. He was remarried the same year to Odelia Turgeon. It appears that the Methodist church in Deadwood - which also took a moralist crusade to clean up the town - specifically targeted the Gem Theate