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"Calamity Jane" And The Wild West

Updated on September 15, 2015

Martha Jane Cannary

Martha Jane Cannary, better known as “Calamity Jane”, was born May 1, 1852in Princeton, MO. She was famous as a frontierswoman and professional scout. But she gained fame mostly by her claims of being a close acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok and an Indian fighter.

According to people who knew her she was kind and compassionate but also no stranger to wild exaggerations. She was also well-known for her habit of dressing in men's clothing.

Martha Jane was the eldest of six children, having two brothers and three sisters. Her parents were listed in the 1860 census as Robert W. and Charlotte Cannary. In 1865, the family moved by wagon train to Virginia City, Montana. Martha Jane’s mother died along the way in Black Foot, Montana, in 1866. Her father died about a year later.

Martha Jane was left to care for her siblings. So, she, loaded up the wagon once more, and took her family into Wyoming territory. From there they traveled on the Union Pacific Railroad arriving at Piedmont in May of 1868.

There, Martha Jane took whatever jobs she could find since she had to care for her for her large family. She washed dishes, cooked and worked as a waitress. She also found work as a dance-hall girl, a nurse and an ox team driver. Finally, in 1874, she began working as a scout at Fort Russell. And also at that time, began working off and on as a prostitute at the Fort Laramie Three Mile Hog Ranch.

"Calamity Jane"

Martha Jane was said to be involved in several military conflicts with Native American Indians. She claimed It was during one of these campaigns she was christened" Calamity Jane".

The story tells it was bestowed upon her at Goose Creek, Wyoming where the town of Sheridan is now located. A Captain Egan was in command of the post which was ordered out to quell an Indian uprising. Upon returning to the Post they were ambushed about a mile from their destination and Capt. Egan was shot. The account continues to say she was responsible for safely getting the Captain safely back to the Fort. Capt. Egan on recovering, laughingly said "I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains."

However, the story was never confirmed and some just regarded the account as a complete fabrication. A popular belief is she actually got the moniker by warning men that to offend her was to "court calamity".

Calamity Jane settled around Deadwood, South Dakota in the Black Hills around 1876. This is where she supposedly became friendly with Wild Bill Hickok,having travelled with them to Deadwood on a wagon train. Jane became infatuated and obsessed with Hickok. After Hickok was killed during a poker game on August 2, 1876, Calamity Jane said she had been married to Hickok and he was the father of her child (Jane). Her daughter, she claimed, had been born on September 25, 1873, and later put up for adoption. However, no records have been found to document this. So this story might also have been a fabrication. During the time her supposed child was born, she was working as a scout for the army. And at the time of Hickok’s death he had just married Agnes Lake Thatcher.

In her later years, Calamity Jane appeared in Wild West shows, including the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, exhibiting her riding and shooting skills. But she was fired because of her chronic drunkenness and fighting. In 1901 she retired to Deadwood, where she died of pneumonia in 1903 at the age of 51.

Calamity Jane was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok as a cruel prank by four men who planned her funeral. They later stated since Hickok had “absolutely no use” for Jane while he was alive, they decided to play a joke on Wild Bill by giving Calamity an eternal resting place by his side.

"Calamity Jane", claimed to have lived an exciting life with questionable associations and friendships with famous American old west personalities, almost always after their passing. For example, after the death of George Armstrong Custer she claimed that she served under him during her initial enlistment at Fort Russell. However, no records exist showing she was ever assigned to Fort Russell.


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    • tnderhrt23 profile image

      tnderhrt23 7 years ago

      Very interesting, well written piece. She was a pretty wild, gutsy gal...