Thursday, June 25, 2009

CALAMITY JANE




CALAMITY JANE
By
Roberta C.M. DeCaprio


I thought, since I featured Annie Oakley in my May blog post, I’d shed some light Calamity Jane’s way.


Born Martha Jane Cannary on May 1st, 1852 in Princeton, Missouri to Robert W. and Charlotte Cannery, Calamity Jane was the oldest of six children, having two brothers and three sisters.


In 1865, Robert packed his family and moved by wagon train from Missouri to Virginia City, Montana. Charlotte died along the way in Black Foot, Montana in 1866 of "washtub pneumonia". After arriving in Virginia City in the spring of 1866, Robert took his six children on to Salt Lake City, Utah. They arrived in the summer, and Robert supposedly started farming on 40 acres of land. They were there only a year before he died in 1867.

Martha Jane took over as head of the family, loaded up the wagon once more, and took her siblings to Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory. They arrived in May 1868. From there they traveled on the Union Pacific Railroad to Piedmont, Wyoming. In Piedmont, Martha Jane took whatever jobs she could to provide for her large family. She worked as a dishwasher, a cook, a waitress, a dance-hall girl, a nurse, and an ox team driver. Finally, in 1874, she found work as a scout at Fort Russell.
From her autobiography of 1896, Martha Jane writes of this time:
"In 1865 we emigrated from our homes in Missouri by the overland route to Virginia City, Montana, taking five months to make the journey. While on the way, the greater portion of my time was spent in hunting along with the men and hunters of the party; in fact, I was at all times with the men when there was excitement and adventures to be had. By the time we reached Virginia City, I was considered a remarkable good shot and a fearless rider for a girl of my age. I remember many occurrences on the journey from Missouri to Montana. Many times in crossing the mountains, the conditions of the trail were so bad that we frequently had to lower the wagons over ledges by hand with ropes, for they were so rough and rugged that horses were of no use. We also had many exciting times fording streams, for many of the streams in our way were noted for quicksands and boggy places, where, unless we were very careful, we would have lost horses and all. Then we had many dangers to encounter in the way of streams swelling on account of heavy rains. On occasions of that kind, the men would usually select the best places to cross the streams; myself, on more than one occasion, have mounted my pony and swam across the stream several times merely to amuse myself, and have had many narrow escapes from having both myself and pony washed away to certain death, but, as the pioneers of those days had plenty of courage, we overcame all obstacles and reached Virginia City in safety. Mother died at Black Foot, Montana, 1866, where we buried her. I left Montana in Spring of 1866, for Utah, arriving at Salt Lake City during the summer.”

Accounts from this period described Martha Jane as being "extremely attractive" and a "pretty, dark-eyed girl." Martha Jane received little to no formal education but was literate. She moved on to a rougher, mostly outdoor adventurous life on the Great Plains and was involved in several campaigns in the long-running military conflicts with Native Americans.

The following is her account of how she acquired her nick-name of Calamity Jane:
"It was during this campaign that I was christened Calamity Jane. It was on Goose Creek, Wyoming where the town of Sheridan is now located. Capt Egan was in command of the Post. We were ordered out to quell an uprising of the Indians, and were out for several days, had numerous skirmishes during which six of the soldiers were killed and several severely wounded. When on returning to the Post we were ambushed about a mile and a half from our destination. When fired upon Capt Egan was shot. I was riding in advance and on hearing the firing turned in my saddle and saw the Captain reeling in his saddle as though about to fall. I turned my horse and galloped back with all haste to his side and got there in time to catch him as he was falling. I lifted him onto my horse in front of me and succeeded in getting him safely to the Fort. Capt Egan on recovering, laughingly said: 'I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.' I have borne that name up to the present time."

However, it may be that she exaggerated or completely fabricated this story. Even back then not everyone accepted her version as true. A popular belief is that she instead acquired it as a result of her warnings to men that to offend her was to "court calamity". One verified story about "Calamity Jane" is that in 1875 her detachment was ordered to the Big Horn River, under General Crook. Bearing important dispatches, she swam the Platte River and traveled 90 miles at top speed while wet and cold to deliver them. Afterwards, she became ill. After recuperating for a few weeks, she rode to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and later, in July 1876, she joined a wagon train headed north, which is where she first met Bill Hickok, contrary to her later claims.
In 1876, Calamity Jane settled in the area of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Black Hills. There, she became friends with, and was occasionally employed by, Dora DuFran, the Black Hills' leading madam. She became friendly with Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter, having travelled with them to Deadwood in Utter's wagon train. Jane greatly admired Hickok (to the point of infatuation), and she was obsessed with his personality and life.
After Hickok was killed during a poker game on August 2, 1876, Calamity Jane claimed to have been married to Hickok and that Hickok was the father of her child (Jane), whom she said was born on September 25, 1873, and whom she later put up for adoption by Jim O'Neil and his wife. No records are known to exist which prove the birth of a child, and the romantic slant to the relationship might have been a fabrication. During the period that the alleged child was born, she was working as a scout for the Army. At the time of his death, Hickok was newly married to Agnes Lake Thatcher, formerly of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
However, on September 6, 1941, the U.S. Department of Public Welfare did grant old age assistance to a Jean Hickok Burkhardt McCormick (name of her 3rd husband), who claimed to be the legal offspring of Martha Jane Cannary and James Butler Hickok, after being presented with evidence that Calamity Jane and Wild Bill had married at Benson's Landing, Montana Territory, on September 25, 1873, documentation being written in a Bible and presumably signed by two reverends and numerous witnesses. The claim of Jean Hickok McCormick was later proved to be spurious by the Hickok family.
Jane also claimed that following Hickok's death, she went after Jack McCall, his murderer, with a meat cleaver, having left her guns at her residence in the excitement of the moment. However, she never confronted McCall. Following McCall's eventual hanging for the offense, Jane continued living in the Deadwood area for some time, and at one point she did help save several passengers of an overland stagecoach by diverting several Plains Indians who were in pursuit of the stage. The stagecoach driver, John Slaughter, was killed during the pursuit, and Jane took over the reins and drove the stage on to its destination at Deadwood. Also in late 1876, Jane nursed the victims of a smallpox epidemic in the Deadwood area.
In 1881, she bought a ranch west of Miles City, MT, along the Yellowstone River, where she kept an inn. After marrying the Texan, Clinton Burke, and moving to Boulder, she again tried her luck in this business. In 1887, she had a daughter, Jane, who was given to foster parents.
In 1893, Calamity Jane started to appear in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a horse rider and a trick shooter. She also participated in the Pan-American Exposition. At that time, she was depressed and an alcoholic.
By the turn of the century, Madame Dora DuFran was still going strong when Jane returned to the Black Hills in 1903. For the next few months, Jane earned her keep by cooking and doing the laundry for Dora’s brothel girls in Belle Fourche. In July, she travelled to Terry, South Dakota. While staying in the Calloway Hotel on August 1, 1903, she developed pneumonia and died at the age of 51. It was reported that she was on board a train where she had been drinking heavily, and became very ill. The train's conductor carried her off the train and to a cabin where she died soon after. He said that she was dressed in buckskins and smelled badly, and was wearing no underwear. In her belongings, a bundle of letters to her daughter were found, which she had never sent. Some of these letters were set to music in an art song cycle by 20th century composer Libby Larsen called Songs From Letters. There is no significant evidence to prove she was the actual author of these letters. She was buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery (South Dakota), next to Wild Bill Hickock.
Pictures: Top right - Calamity Jane in 1865.
Bottom right - Calamity Jane smoking a cigar while making breakfast.
Top Left - Calamity Jane at the age of 45.

5 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Wow, now it's hard to know what is truth and what the woman fabricated! She was definitely an interesting character in her time and even now.

Linda LaRoque said...

What a character! Sounds like her early life experiences never allowed her to settle down and live a quiet life.

Linda
www.lindalaroque.com
http://lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot.com

Caroline Clemmons said...

This weas a great article! I live next door (though it's a rural area and that means across the pasture)to a terrific woman who played in a recreation of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the stockyards of Fort Worth. When her bull nudged her and dislocated her shoulder a couple of hours before she had to leave for the show, she carried on. She also played Cynthia Ann Parker in a one-act play presented at the White House. She is a Brangus cattle rancher and a restauirant/special show singer, but her appearance reminds me of a woman of the Old West. Her name is Trudy Fair and her voice is like an angel's. I know this is a long post, but your article reminded me of Trudy.

Tanya Hanson said...

Some legendary stuff here. I fear I lead a very boring life after reading things liek this. Thank you for the great post.

~Tanya
www.tanyahanson.com

Celia Yeary said...

I love Martha Jane's personal accounts. She lived quite a life, didn't she? I've read before that she had more than one account of how she Wild Bill. Let's hope she found some happiness, because in the end,she seemed like a sad and lonely case. Celia