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Meet Calamity Jane

Yes, there really was a woman named Calamity Jane. She was born on May 1, 1852, close to Princeton, Missouri.

Calamity Jane had so many stories told about her that no one is really sure of the actual truth. Apparently, she had many different jobs such as a scout for General Custer. There are those who say her parents both died when she was just eight and due to this, she got the nickname “Calamity”. Unfortunately, no one knows for sure.

What is known is the when she was born her name was Martha Jane Canary and for the first 31 years of life, she lived in rural Missouri. During the gold rush, her family moved to Virginia City, Montana. As she grew she preferred to wear men’s clothing and to spend more time in the company of men. Being a frontier woman she learned how to shoot and ride.

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Unfortunately, at that time women could not work at jobs that were meant just for men. As they said there was “women’s work” and “men’s work”. Jane got a job as a laundress and it helped her get along when she joined a scientific expedition that journeyed into the Black Hills of South Dakota. At camp, she helped with the laundry. When the gold rush boom came to this region she settled down in the boomtown Deadwood, South Dakota. Don’t you just love that name? It must have been an exciting place.

Jane started attracting attention with stunts like riding a bull down the Main Street of Rapid City. By the 1890s Wild West days were coming to an end so women like Jane fascinated others. Therefore she became a performer letting people see how the Wild West once really was. Unfortunately for Jane alcoholism as well as hard living was taking its toll. She did agree to appear on stage in Minneapolis as Calamity Jane and went on to perform at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901.

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What has long fascinated historians are the legends that at one time she was married to famous gunslinger and lawman Wild Bill Hickok. The photo is one of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. She might have even had a child but nothing definite has ever been discovered. Calamity Jane continued to perform but soon grew tired of this. She was found sick and drunk in an African-American bordello in Horr, Montana. She died on August 1, 1903, in Terry, South Dakota at the young age of 51. She was buried in a cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota.

I find the legend of Calamity Jane interesting since no one really knows the truth a movie about her, her saloon and romance with Wild Bill Hickok came out in 1953 with Doris Day in the title role. Here is the movie trailer.

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