Women Of the Wild West

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Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane is showcased by Kathy Heibert

Calamity Jane was an American frontiers woman, scout and known companion of Wild Bill Hickok.  Born May 1, 1852 as Martha Jane Canary in Princeton, Missouri, her father Robert Wilson Canary had a gambling problem and her mother Charlotte M. Canary had spent time working as a prostitute. Jane was the eldest of six children, having two brothers and three sisters. In 1865, her father moved the family to Montana where her mother died of pneumonia, then he moved them onto Salt Lake City Utah in 1866.  He died a year later. At age 14, Calamity took charge of her five younger siblings, loaded up their wagon once more, and took the family to Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory, where they arrived in May 1868. From there, they traveled on the Union Pacific Railroad to Piedmont, Wyoming.

She worked a variety of jobs in Piedmont to provide for her large family but was always drawn to the darker and rougher side of life.  Known as a raven-haired beauty to many of the local men, she would refute the advances and soon become a part of the many campaigns and conflicts with American Natives. 

During one such campaign she was christened Calamity Jane. She saved Capt. Egan during an ambush by galloping back into danger after Egan was shot.  She loaded him onto her horse and they rode to the safety of the Fort Capt. Egan on recovering, laughingly said: "I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains." She kept the name.

Despite claims by Generals such as General Mills, Wesley Merrit and George Crook to the contrary, Calamity would later join Wild Bill Hickok and his famous revue, in Deadwood where she regaled audiences with the somewhat incredible stories of her adventures.  It is thought that this is when the love affair between Bill and Jane began.  Calamity also claimed that following he death of Wild Bill she took after his murderer with a meat cleaver because she had left her guns at home.  She claimed that it was the excitement and emotion of the moment that caused her violent reaction not love.   Although unknown if the 2 married, Calamity did have daughters neither are confirmed to be Bill’s

Calamity Jane returned to the Blackhills where she earned her keep cooking and doing laundry for a local brothel.  It was on a train trip to Terry, North Dakota that Calamity took ill and despite doctors being summoned to her hotel she died on Aug 1, 1903.