By: Paloma MediaPublished: August 1, 2022

Calamity Jane

A recent in-swimming-pool convo between two Palomaniacs included how history is almost never written by the most interesting people who make it, how events are sentimentalized for reasons good and ill.

"You know what show seemed to do a good job of presenting how it might have been?" asked one, scooping a dragonfly from the water. "Deadwood."

"Completely," said the other, adding that among the best characters was Calamity Jane, frontierswoman, sharpshooter, friend of Wild Bill Hickok, and, in the HBO series, played by Robin Weigert with tenderness and ferocity.

Born in 1852, Martha Jane Canary had a rough upbringing. Her father had a gambling problem and, while moving the family by wagon train to Salt Lake City, lost his wife to pneumonia. He died the following year, leaving Jane, 15, to care for her five younger siblings.

Jane supported the family by working as a cook, waitress, dance hall girl, nurse, and ox team driver before finding work as a scout. She fought in several Indian campaigns in the 1870s, during which, according to the autobiography she dictated in 1896, one Capt. Egan said: "'I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.' I have borne that name up to the present time."

There's dispute as to the authenticity of some of Jane's claims, including that she and Hickok were hitched in 1873. It can be confirmed that she dressed in men's clothing, that she was a prodigious drinker, and that she did call Deadwood home during 1870s and later. According to Wikipedia:

"Calamity Jane does seem to have had two daughters, although the father's identity is unknown. In the late 1880s, Jane returned to Deadwood with a child who she said was her daughter. At Jane's request, a benefit was held in one of the theaters to raise money for her daughter's education in St. Martin's Academy at Sturgis, South Dakota, a nearby Catholic boarding school. The benefit raised a large sum; Jane got drunk and spent a considerable portion of the money that same night and left with the child the next day."

On this date in 1903, Calamity Jane died at age 51, as her mother had, of pneumonia.


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