Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Real Calamity

This is a companion blog that goes with a prior blog, “A Woman’s Touch”. I am currently working on a website that will incorporate my love of History, our home, gardening, cooking, and whatever else suits my fancy. Cheers!

The movie, “Calamity Jane” is a travesty to any historian and my degree is in History. I overlook the travesty because well…Doris Day and Howard Keel. It was made in the 1950’s, historical accuracy in film was not a priority. It was entertainment. So, let’s talk about Calamity Jane, the real Calamity, not the Hollywood version.

Calamity Jane’s real name was Martha Canary. She was born in Missouri in 1852.  She was orphaned at the age of 14 and had to help raise her four younger siblings. The majority of what we know about Calamity comes from her own “autobiography”. It is a tale told by an aging woman creating a mythos around herself, as she traveled around the West with a dime museum. She writes of her adventures as a scout with the Army, yet no records exist of her working for the Army. It is more likely that Calamity worked as a camp follower and she did establish herself at a brothel near Fort Laramie in Wyoming. Calamity Jane knew Wild Bill Hickok but they did not marry. She married a man from Texas, named Clinton Burk. She claimed that they had a daughter together but even this is up for speculation. She might have had a daughter, she showed up in Deadwood with a young girl in 1895, but this little girl might have been Burk’s daughter from a former relationship.  The last years of her life were spent wandering through Montana and Wyoming. The newspapers printed news of her many arrests and bad behavior, usually due to her alcoholism. This was the real Calamity Jane. She died in 1903 and was buried in Deadwood, SD near Bill Hickok.

     The Calamity Jane that grew into a character of mythological proportions was due to the fascination with the Wild West, the frontier, and by Edward Wheeler, an author that wrote dime novels featuring Calamity Jane, while she was still living. Here was a woman that could ride and shoot as well as any man, a true citizen of the Old West. Yet, she was a flawed woman that became a literary character and she could not live up to the woman that had been created.

  So, go watch the 1953 movie, “Calamity Jane” and remember, sometimes it only takes a woman’s touch but we are not literary nor film characters and we are going to get dirty and sometimes hit our thumbs with hammers while we are cleanin’ and fixin’.


Cross, Merrit, and MERRIT CROSS. “BURK, Martha Cannary (May 1, 1852?-Aug. 1, 1903).” In Notable American Women: 1607-1950, edited by Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer. Harvard University Press, 1971.