|Calamity Jane - 1848-1903|
|We have been taught to
that women aren't supposed to either smoke or drink, much less use vile
language and chew tobacco, and the Lord didn't make them to skin mules
or work hard at pick and shovel labor. He did not make women to go
carrying .45 Colts either, nor to shoot fancy chandeliers out of
and mirrors out of saloons as one bellied up to the bar. All the same,
Martha Jane Canarray did just such things, better known as "Calamity
some 80 years ago or so.
What did she look like? Look at her portrait on the opposite page! Calamity looked like a man but was very much a woman as can be borne out by the army colonel who was shocked to see her in bathing with his men in a stream.
Calamity hailed from Princeton, Missouri, about 1848. The family came west in a big Conestoga wagon and settled in the mining town of Virginia City, Mon tana. Here Calamity looked in under the saloon doors with the ease of a little girl, then grew up to look over them with greater ease, and went right inside when she had on her pa's pants as any cattle driver was entitled to do.
She joined up with General Crook in 1875 as a scout in the Black Hills country, and a legend grew up about her that she was in love with gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok. This is not very likely, however, since Wild Bill only spent three days in Deadwood, slept in a tent, too, and couldn't have possibly remained any longer since Jack McCall took a notion to kill him, and did.
It takes disaster to bring the woman out in a female, even Calamity, who went around like a saint when the smallpox plague struck Deadwood. She nursed back people close to the door of death and didn't ask for so much as a thank you. Even old Doc Babcock had to admit there was a little angel of some sort in this hard boiled woman, yes, even a little bit of heaven itself when she tended children. "Oh, she'd swear to beat hell at 'em," said the Doc, "but it was a tender kind of cussin'."
Charles E. Chaplin of the Montana Historical Society tells how Calamity came to see him when he was play ing with the Lard Players at the East Lynne Opera House. Sitting alongside Calamity was her rough and ready gunslinger friend, Arkansas Tom. Jane became enraged at the denouement in the play and stood up and let fly a long stream of tobacco juice which hit the star square in the eye and dribbled down her dress. jane's gunslinger boy friend let out a whoop at this and started to shoot out the lamps. The crowd went wild with delight. Calamity took fier gunslinging friend by the arm and they marched up the aisle together to the cheers of the crowd. Tom, unfortunately, did not see Calamity again because he was cut down in a bank stick-up the following day.
Calamity continued to drift about the western towns, made a few dollars, and in the process got married a couple of times, then started to age so rapidly by 1889 that few of her old friends recognized her on sight. She earned other money by selling her tiny autobiography for a quarter and referred to herself as the "White Devil of the Yellowstone". When she entered a saloon everybody would yell "here comes Calamity Jane!" She was well known in almost every state and territory in the Union.
She toured Minneapolis, then Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, bringing to the stage the rip-roarin' west as she had lived it. She always managed to get drunk and get fired without ceremony.
A little later on she showed up with a little girl of some seven years of age and she claimed it was her daughter and whose father was Wild Bill Hickok. This proved to be untrue as she was fathered by a Lt. Sum mers who ran around with Calamity for some time.
In 1900 Calamity Jane was found in a bawdy house and was nursed back to health. She was hired by the Pan American Exposition at a good job with fine pay. But again she got liquored up, shot out the bar glass, made Irish policemen dance the jig to her roaring guns, and then stumbled down the street cursing the whole town. She was run out.
In 1903, Calamity Jane was dying ina frowsy little room in the Calloway Hotel in Terry, near Deadwood, South Dakota. Her last request was to give her the date - August 2, 1903 - and then requested that she be buried next to the great American gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok, on Mt. Motiah overlooking the town of Deadwood.
Her wish was granted. The funeral was the largest to be held in Deadwood for a woman, and Calamity's coffin was closed by a man who, as a boy, she had nursed back to health when the smallpox epidemic took so many lives in Deadwood.