"I do not know much about her early life. I guess nobody else does but herself," were the words Buffalo Bill Cody used once to describe Martha Jane Canary, better known as Calamity Jane.
What we do know is that she was one of the most infamous women of the Wild West. Her bawdy language, excessive drinking, and tobacco chewing didn't make her the poster child for what a lady should be, but she was quite handy with a gun, and that's what earns you respect in the Wild West. The story goes that the name Calamity Jane stuck to her because she used to tell men not to offend her, or they'd be courting calamity.
Apart from trying her hand and other body parts at being a cook, a nurse, a prostitute, a miner, and an ox-team driver, believe it or not, Calamity also had one other occupation uncommon for women of that era. In the 1870's, she was a military scout in the Dakota territories, although some have disputed this calling it Jane's own embellishment of her life story. Some accounts say that she saved the life of a captain in a fierce battle with Indians near Goose Creek Camp, while others claim that she never saw a single battle. It has been said that she once saved lives of six passengers on a stagecoach traveling from Deadwood to Wild Birch, yet others believe that to be an urban legend. Oh, wait! It should have been a prairie legend - Dakota territory had no urban areas back in the 1800's.
This original cross-dresser was notorious for being loud and obnoxious. She cursed and drank most men under the table, but she was also known for being kind and compassionate, especially toward the sick and the needy. Residents of Deadwood, South Dakota still praise her for nursing the sick through a smallpox outbreak.
During her rough life, Calamity Jane traveled from her native Missouri to the Dakota territories, becoming somewhat of a celebrity in the same league with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok. Matter of fact, Calamity greatly admired Wild Bill, even to the point of infatuation. Although she claimed that she and Bill were married in 1873 and had a daughter together, historians say there are too many discrepancies in Jane's life story for this one to be true. However, when she died, the men who buried her decided to play a posthumous joke on her and Bill, burying her in a grave next to his, just because he "had absolutely no use" for her while he was alive.
Calamity Jane found her eternal rest - if such is granted to outlaws - at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota, where her notoriety turned into kind of a romantic admiration as time went by. These days, if you travel through the Black Hills of South Dakota, you can drink a local wine named after her, drive down streets named after her, and even stay in a lodge named after her. Whatever you do, just make sure you don't go courting calamity.
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the mind and hands behind hART Sense Design. I am a designer and hand-maker of one-of-a-kind and limited edition jewelry and accessories for artistic, chic cowgirls, boho babes, and lovers of all things western.
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