Who / What Was Calamity Jane?
Labeled as a folk hero, Martha Jane Cannary was known for being a heavy drinker and sharp-shooting skills (not simultaneously of course). She was also a professional scout and was known to fight Native Americans.
When Did Calamity Jane Live?
Calamity Jane lived through May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903. She ended up dying from pneumonia.
Where Was Calamity Jane Located?
Calamity Jane was born in Missouri, but later in life she traveled to South Dakota (where it is rumored that she met Wild Bill Hickok).
Why is Calamity Jane Important?
She was a notorious American frontier woman.
The American Tall Tale of Calamity Jane and Her Horse
Of all the crazy horse races that ever happened in the Wild West, Calamity Jane rode some of the wildest. She was that kind of gal! One of the wildest happened in Deadwood one summer afternoon, but I'm getting ahead of the story.
Calamity Jane wasn't born with that name. She was born a regular girl, Martha Jane Cannary, in Princeton, Mo. Of course, by the time she died, the citizens of Deadwood, S.D., had renamed her the White Devil of Yellowstone, but back when she was Martha Jane, she moved with her family to Virginia City, Mont.
Before she turned 20 years old, she had landed a job as a scout, and from that day on her life was one long adventure. She wasn't afraid of anything or anyone. One year a fella named Capt. Egan watched her perform courageous acts during a battle in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it was he who named her Calamity Jane after she saved dozens of stagecoach passengers, and after she plunged with her horse right into the swelling rivers, unafraid to cross anything. Nothing was too deep or too wide or too tough for Calamity Jane.
When she worked as a Pony Express rider, carrying mail between Deadwood and Custer, 50 tough miles over rough terrain, she was unstoppable. And when she drove oxen, the other drivers stood in awe of her, for they said she could knock a fly off an ox's ear with a whiplash 16 feet long.
So after all these many adventures, Calamity Jane was sitting on her horse one summer day. This was in Deadwood, and the horse was Jim, Calamity's favorite horse of all. A stranger happened to ride into town that day, and when he heard tales of Calamity Jane, he decided he'd like to meet her.
When he saw her sitting on her horse, he rode right up and said, "Hello, there, ma'am. I've heard you're a mighty racer. I was wondering ... Care to race horses with me?"
Like most strangers, he was certain any of his horses could outrun Jim in any condition at all, and he was certain any man could always beat any woman at anything. So he offered Calamity Jane a deal.
"We'll race for money or marbles or anything you like," he said.
Calamity's eyes twinkled, or so the people who were standing nearby say. You see, Calamity Jane loved a challenge, and she was just as certain as this fella was that nobody could outrace her.
"Happy to take you up on that deal," she said, bowing her head. The sun gleamed on her bright red hair, and the stranger smiled at the sight of this woman. She was big and tall, and she wore a coat and trousers and boots, and she looked almost like a fella. In fact a lot of people thought she was a fella, since she could outtalk and outride and outwork and out-cuss most of them.
"You name the distance," the stranger said. After all, she was a woman, and he was trying to be polite.
But Calamity shook her head. "No, you do that."
"What conditions?" asked the stranger.
"You name those, too," Jane said, and she grinned and patted her Jim.
"OK, then," said the stranger. "We'll each bet $100, winner take all."
"Sounds just fine," Calamity said. So they called upon the local notary to write down the terms of the race. Then they called upon another fella to hold the stakes, all $200.
Well, $200 was enough money to get Jane to thinking that she might like to call the shots after all. ... So she stood on the steps of that saloon, and everyone gathered around. "Here's the terms," she said, and everyone fell quiet to listen.
"Twenty feet back from this here platform where our horses stand," she said, pointing at the two horses. "That's where we'll start."
The stranger grinned.
"Then we'll jump the horses up onto that platform, and we'll ride into the next saloon. We'll give our horses a drink and ride out through the back door."
"That sounds good to me!" the stranger said.
"Then we'll ride on to the next saloon, ride in, give our horses a drink, and ride out the back. And we'll ride on and on, all the way down the street, into each saloon and dance hall."
There were 11 saloons and dance halls on that road, and the stranger was thinking this sounded a little crazy, and maybe he ought to back out, but just then Calamity hollered, "Whoopee, first horse into the last bar gets the money," and the crowd began to cheer, and the stranger knew the race was on.
They mounted their horses, and off they galloped.
This is what the stranger didn't know.
Calamity Jane had been training her Jim to do this trick for years, and that horse was so agile and so fast and so devoted to Calamity Jane, he could take a bottle in his mouth, open it with his teeth and drink it down, just as if he were a man. That Jim would do whatever Calamity Jane asked him to do. Most folks and most animals would.
Calamity Jane won that race by three saloons. People say no strangers ever challenged her again. Nobody could beat Calamity Jane, not even the wildest men of the wild, Wild West.