– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
Fact or fiction? How much of the life about Martha Jane Cannary was true? How much was exaggerated? You be the judge as you read along about the rowdy and adventurous woman better known as Calamity Jane.
• Martha Cannary (often spelled Canary) hailed from Missouri, born there in 1852. When she was 13, the family, which included her parents and five younger siblings, began a five-month long wagon train trip to a new home in Virginia City, Montana. Along the route, Martha became a good shot as she spent her days hunting with the men and gained a reputation of being somewhat of a daredevil astride a horse.
• Martha’s mother succumbed to pneumonia almost immediately upon arrival in Montana. Her father packed up the family and headed to Utah, where he found work as a farmer. But the following year, he was dead as well, and 14-year-old Martha was now in charge of her siblings. Within months, she had resettled the family in Piedmont, Wyoming
• Responsible for a family of six, Martha took on numerous jobs, including dishwasher, cook, waitress, ox team driver, nurse, and dance hall girl, and occasionally, jobs of less-than-reputable reputation. In 1870, she was awarded a job as a scout with General George Armstrong Custer, which was the beginning of her habit of masculine clothing.
• After a brief stint as a Pony Express rider, she was ordered to the Black Hills in 1876 to help protect settlers and miners from hostile Natives, and on the journey to Deadwood, Martha met Wild Bill Hickock, who was traveling in the same wagon train.
• Both Jane and Hickock were heavy drinkers and confirmed exaggerators, and struck up a friendship. But the friendship was short-lived as Hickock was shot in the head by Jack McCall in August of that year, as he sat at a gambling table. With a pair of eights and a pair of aces in his hand, his cards would be known forever as the “dead man’s hand.”
• Calamity Jane married a Texan in 1885 and gave birth to a daughter two years later. Details are sketchy as to whether there was a second daughter.
• Her horse-riding abilities and sharpshooting skills landed her a job with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1895, and she gained fame traveling the Midwest; however, her frequent drunkenness led to termination.
• Jane penned an autobiography in 1896, filled with embellished and perhaps completely fabricated stories of her adventures. A fellow Wild West Show performer said that Calamity Jane “never saw a lynching and never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular.” She did indeed have a reputation of being kind and charitable, including nursing many back to health during a smallpox plague in Deadwood.
• Seven years after her publication, Jane’s final job was doing the laundry in a South Dakota house of ill repute. Dead broke and ravaged by alcoholism, the hard-drinking, tobacco-spitting, cussing Calamity Jane died in a shabby hotel room near Deadwood. Her last request was honored – to be buried next to gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock in the Deadwood Cemetery.