Birthday: May 1, 1852
Died At Age: 51
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Calamity Jane
Born in: Princeton, Missouri
Famous as: American scout
father: Robert W.
mother: Charlotte Cannary
Died on: August 1, 1903
place of death: Terry, South Dakota
U.S. State: Missouri
Calamity Jane, the famous frontierswoman who claimed to have worked with the famous gunfighter and stagecoach driver, Wild Bill Hickok, was born as Martha Jane Canary. She was a very brave and courageous woman who had been fighting hardships from a young age to become the legendary gunslinger that she was. She was born in Missouri in the mid 19th century and very few hard facts about her life are known. Orphaned at a young age, the responsibility of caring for her five younger siblings fell on her tender shoulders at the age of 12. She took up whatever odd jobs she could pick up in order to support her large family — she had worked as a nurse, dishwasher, cook, wagon driver and even a prostitute. Finally she found employment as a scout at Fort Russell. In spite of being a pretty young woman with dark eyes, she was no delicate beauty. She led a rough life, dressed and behaved like men. Martha Jane acquired the nickname Calamity Jane as she used to warn men that they were courting calamity if they ever offended her. She was also known to be a kind and generous character which added to her appeal. She was a heavy drinker and ultimately succumbed to alcohol related illness.
Childhood & Early Life
She was the eldest daughter of Robert and Charlotte Canary. She had five younger siblings - two brothers and three sisters.
Her father moved the family from Missouri to Montana; her mother died enroute of pneumonia in 1866. Her father too died the very next year. The responsibility of raising her younger siblings now fell on Martha Jane who herself was just 12 years old.
She shifted her family to Wyoming where she took up whatever jobs she could find to support her siblings. During this time she had worked as a waitress, cook, dishwasher, and a nurse. She also worked as a prostitute. It was only in 1874 that she finally found some meaningful work—as a scout at Fort Russell.
As a young girl she was pretty with dark eyes. Due to her hard life she preferred wearing men’s clothing and was much stronger than the average delicate woman. She did not receive any formal education.
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With time she lost her beauty and became a tough woman with leathery skin. She started dressing and behaving like men. A fiercely independent woman, she loved adventure and roamed around mining towns and railroad camps and did hard menial work that normally only men used to do.
It is also believed that occasionally she may have disguised herself as a man to accompany soldiers on expeditions. She had actively participated in several campaigns in the military conflicts with Native American Indians, including the 1875 expedition of Gen. George Crook against the Sioux.
In 1875 she also accompanied the Newton-Jenney Party along with California Joe and Valentine McGillycuddy into the Black Hills. By this time her lifestyle had become entirely like men and she took a fondness to alcohol, often drinking to the excess.
She settled in the Black Hills in South Dakota in 1876 where she befriended the area’s leading madam Dora DuFran. During this time she also became acquainted with Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter.
She was very strong, muscular and unfeminine. She had a reputation for being very loud too. She used to warn men that to offend her was to court ‘Calamity’, thus earning the nickname, Calamity Jane.
During the gold rush in 1876, she settled in Deadwood, which was a new site of gold rush. Her friendship with the legendary gunfighter and stagecoach driver, Wild Bill Hickok grew during this time. She greatly admired him to the extent of obsession and traveled with him a lot.
Hickok was murdered in August 1876 and she continued living in the Deadwood area for some more time. She was a helpful woman who saved several passengers in an overland stagecoach who were being chased by Plain Indians. The driver of the coach had been killed and Jane took over the reins and drove the coach to its next destination.
She bought a ranch in Montana in 1881 where she kept an inn. She married during this time and moved to Boulder where she again opened an inn.
She became a storyteller and started to appear in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1893. Most of what is known about her life today is what she had herself claimed. She was known to exaggerate the facts and fabricate stories to create a very impressionable image of herself.
She returned to Black Hills during the early 1900s and worked as a cook and laundress for Dora’s brothel girls. She remained there till her death.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was obsessed with Wild Bill Hickok and claimed to have married him. She also asserted that she had a child by him. There are no documentary proofs to establish this claim.
She married Clinton Burke in 1885 and had a daughter with him. The little girl was given to foster parents.
She was a heavy drinker and died of alcohol related illness in 1903. She was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok.
The actress Jean Arthur portrayed this famous female adventurer in the 1936 film, ‘The Plainsman’.
She was famous frontierswoman who achieved legendary fame for her shooting and riding skills. It is believed that many stories of her achievements were either fabrications or exaggerations though it cannot be denied that she was an extraordinarily brave woman with a kind heart.