Good Girls Rarely Make History

Calamity JaneFor a woman, breaking the glass ceiling in 21st century corporate America is nothing compared to fighting for a right to self expression in the 1800s. It didn’t come easy. And most “polite society” wasn’t polite about the breaking of social taboos.

Martha Canary (1852-1903) was an American frontierswoman and professional scout known for her goodness and kind compassion. The world knew her as Calamity Jane.

She was the eldest of six children. In 1865, her parents moved by wagon train from Missouri to Montana. Her mother died along the way; the father lived long enough to establish 40 acres of farmstead in Salt Lake City, UT. After he died, Martha moved the children to Wyoming.

In Wyoming, Martha took whatever jobs she could to provide for her large family…cook, waitress, nurse, ox-team driver, prostitute. She wasn’t far from Deadwood, South Dakota and moved there by wagon-train in 1876.

Looking back, most of her life is a colorful weave of fact and fiction…of stagecoach rescues and Indian skirmishes, of scouting and shooting shots of whiskey. She was said to have attacked Wild Bill Hickok’s murderer with a meat cleaver and to have nursed the sick in a smallpox epidemic.

Her acts of kindness were as legendary as her wild and wooly exploits. She lived large and there are several stories as to how she came by her nickname.

While participating in a military campaign, her Captain was shot by enemy fire while riding horseback. She pulled him from his horse onto hers and took him back to camp. He survived and called her “Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains”. Another version tells tale that she was uninterested in marriage and that to court her was to “court calamity”. Yet another version mentions that prostitutes were referred to as “janes”, their patrons as “johns”.

For most of her life, she wore men’s clothing and lived a man’s life; at the end, she was also a raging alcoholic.

Upon her death, the newspapers referred to her as “notorious”, “dissolute” and “devilish”.

Another kinder soul commented, “Her vices were the wide-open sins of a wide-open  country – the sort that never carried a hurt” (as quoted by Deadwood Magazine, 2001).

No matter what anyone says…the lady lived an authentic life…her very own. She had the courage to be her own person at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what she saw in Deadwood; to keep one so spirited, it must be one heck of a town.

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