Western Life

Calamity Jane

You may have heard stories about the famous Calamity Jane but did you ever find yourself wondering why she was called Calamity? Of all the beautiful names in the world that she could have been known for why ‘calamity’? Who gave her this name first or how it all began for her to get stuck with an image like hers.

Let’s find out more about her; even things you may have never heard before.

Early Life

Real name, Martha Canary, born on the 1st of May 1852, and died at the age of 51 on 1st August, 1903. She was the eldest of six children of Robert Canary who had a gambling problem and Charlotte Canary, who before her marriage was a prostitute.

Editorial credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

In the year 1865, the family moved from their home in Missouri to Virginia City, Montana. During that journey on a wagon train, Calamity’s mother died of pneumonia. A year later, her father who had travelled to Salt Lake, Utah and had begun to farm forty acres of land, passed away. By that time Martha, who was just fifteen, took charge of her five younger siblings. Another year passed and she shifted to Fort Bridger, Wyoming with them. There she settled at Piedmont; there from dishwasher, cook, and waitress to dance-hall girl and sporadic prostitute at Fort Laramie at Three-Mile Hog Ranch, she took whatever job she could find to feed her family. However by 1874, Martha found work as a scout at Russell Fort where she was part of many military campaigns during the Indian War. It is said that it was during one of these military campaigns where Martha gained the status of Calamity Jane.

A New Chapter

This is when things began to change for Martha, after she joined the scouts. In one of the missions against the Indians, her detachment was attacked and her command in post Captain was shot. Martha safely caught him from falling off his horse and returned him to the Fort. That is apparently where the captain named her ‘Calamity Jane – heroine of the Plains’. But another story was that it came from her repeated warnings to men that ‘to offended her was to court calamity’.

In 1876, Martha joined a wagon train that headed to Deadwood, South Dakota. Upon her arrival, the Black Hills Pioneer announced her arrival with, ‘Calamity Jane has Arrived’. There, Martha met Wild Bill and fell in love but when he got shot by one of his poker buddies, Martha went red with vengeance and led a lynch mob against the killer who fled. It was this time when she was most noted for alcohol abuse and occasionally returning to prostitution. Despite her depression she took part in volunteer nursing during the smallpox epidemics in 1878, and heroically helped rescue passengers from an Indian attack.

Editorial credit: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

Later by 1881, the brave Calamity Jane, bought a ranch in west Miles City, Montana where she kept an inn. By the age of 35, she married a Texan, Clinton Burke, had a daughter with him who was later adopted by foster parents. With all the adventures Martha had in her life by the year 1893, she started appearing as a storyteller in Buffalo Bills’ Wild West Show and also in Pan American Exposition in 1901. After some time, she returned to the Black Hills and was employed to do laundry and cooking for the Dora DuFran brothel. She traveled again towards South Dakota but her heavy drinking got her ill and later died of inflammation of the bowels and pneumonia. Her funeral was overflowing with mourners and she is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, buried next to her beloved, Wild Bill Hickok.

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