Martha Jane Canary or Cannary (May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903), better known as Calamity Jane, was an Americanfrontierswoman and professional scout, known for her claim of being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok and for fightingIndians. She is said to have also exhibited kindness and compassion, especially to the sick and needy. This contrast helped to make her a famous frontier figure.’
Acquiring the nickname
Martha Jane was involved in several campaigns in the long-running military conflicts with Native American Indians. Her unconfirmed claim was that:
“It was during this campaign [in 1872–1873] that I was christened Calamity Jane. It was on Goose Creek, Wyoming where the town of Sheridan is now located. Capt. Egan was in command of the Post. We were ordered out to quell an uprising of the Indians, and were out for several days, had numerous skirmishes during which six of the soldiers were killed and several severely wounded. When on returning to the Post we were ambushed about a mile and a half from our destination. When fired upon Capt. Egan was shot. I was riding in advance and on hearing the firing turned in my saddle and saw the Captain reeling in his saddle as though about to fall. I turned my horse and galloped back with all haste to his side and got there in time to catch him as he was falling. I lifted him onto my horse in front of me and succeeded in getting him safely to the Fort. Capt. Egan on recovering, laughingly said: ‘I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.’ I have borne that name up to the present time.”
As reported in the Anaconda Standard (Montana, Apr. 19, 1904): Captain Jack Crawford, who served under both Generals Wesley Merritt and George Crook, stated, Calamity Jane “…never saw service in any capacity under either General Crook or General Miles. She never saw a lynching and never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular.”
It may be that she exaggerated or completely fabricated this story. Even back then not everyone accepted her version as true. A popular belief is that she instead acquired it as a result of her warnings to men that to offend her was to “court calamity”. It appears possible that Jane was not part of her name until the nickname was coined for her.
She certainly was known by that nickname by 1876, because the arrival of the Hickok wagon train was reported in the Deadwood newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer, on July 15, 1876, with the headline, “Calamity Jane has arrived!”
Another unverified story in her autobiographical pamphlet is that in 1875 her detachment was ordered to the Big Horn River, under General Crook. Bearing important dispatches, she swam the Platte River and traveled 90 miles (145 km) at top speed while wet and cold to deliver them. Afterwards, she became ill. Calamity said that after recuperating for a few weeks, she rode to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and later, in July 1876, she joined a wagon train headed north. The second part of her story is true. She was at Fort Laramie in July 1876 and did join a wagon train that included Wild Bill Hickok. That is where she first met Wild Bill Hickok, contrary to her later claims, and it is how she happened to come to Deadwood.
Deadwood and Wild Bill Hickok: 1876–1881
Calamity Jane accompanied the Newton-Jenney Party into the Black Hills in 1875, along with California Joe and Valentine McGillycuddy. By this time (or shortly thereafter) her youthful good looks were gone; her skin was leathery and tanned from sun and wind, she was muscular and masculine, and her hair was stringy and seldom washed.
In 1876, Calamity Jane settled in the area of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Black Hills. There, she became friends with, and was occasionally employed by, Dora DuFran, the Black Hills’ leading madam. She became friendly with Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter, having traveled with them to Deadwood in Utter’s wagon train. Jane greatly admired Hickok (much later, others alleged to the point of infatuation and claimed she was obsessed with his personality and his life).
The McCormick claim
On September 6, 1941, the U.S. Department of Public Welfare granted old age assistance to a Jean Hickok Burkhardt McCormick (third married), who claimed to be the legal offspring of Martha Jane Cannary and James Butler Hickok, after being presented with evidence that Calamity Jane and Wild Bill had married at Benson’s Landing, Montana Territory, on September 25, 1873. The documentation was written in a Bible and presumably signed by two ministers and numerous witnesses. However, McCormick’s claim has been vigorously challenged because of a variety of discrepancies.
McCormick later published a book with letters purported to be from Calamity Jane to her daughter. In them, Calamity Jane says she had been married to Hickok and that Hickok was the father of McCormick, who was born September 25, 1873 and given up for adoption to a Captain Jim O’Neil and his wife. No records are known to exist which confirm the birth of a child or establish the existence of Captain O’Neil. During the period when the alleged child was born, Calamity Jane was working as a scout for the army, and at the time of Hickock’s death, he was newly married to Agnes Lake Thatcher.
Although the father’s identity is unknown, Calamity does seem to have had two daughters. In the late 1880s Calamity Jane returned to Deadwood with a child she claimed was her daughter. At her request, a benefit was held in one of the theaters to raise money for the daughter’s education in St. Martin’s Academy at Sturgis, a nearby Catholic boarding school. The benefit raised a large sum. Calamity got drunk and spent a considerable portion (but not all) of it that same night and left with the child the next day. Estelline Bennett, who was living in Deadwood at the time and had spoken briefly with Calamity a few days before the benefit, thought Calamity honestly wanted to educate her daughter, and that the drunken binge was just an example of Calamity’s inability (which Bennett saw as typical of Calamity’s class) to curb her impulses and carry through long-range plans. Bennett heard later that Calamity’s daughter did in fact “get an education, and grew up and married well.”
After the death of Wild Bill Hickok
Jane also claimed that following Hickok’s death, she went after Jack McCall, his murderer, with a meat cleaver, having left her guns at her residence in the excitement of the moment. However, she never actually confronted McCall. Following McCall’s later execution for the capital crime, Jane continued living in the Deadwood area for some time, and at one point she helped save numerous passengers in an overland stagecoach by diverting several Plains Indians who were in pursuit of the vehicle. The stagecoach driver, John Slaughter, was killed during the pursuit, and Jane took over the reins and drove the stage on to its destination at Deadwood. In late 1876 or 1878, Jane nursed the victims of a smallpox epidemic in the Deadwood area.
Text from Wikipedia
- Calamity Jane rolls into town (iomtoday.co.im)
- American Heroes~James Butler Hickok (1837 – 1876)~by rldubour (ourpoetrycorner.wordpress.com)