Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Calamity Jane: The Life and the Legend

From her youth, Calamity Jane projected both rough and civilized images.
South Dakota Historical Society
From her youth, Calamity Jane projected both rough and civilized images.

Calamity Jane: The Life and the Legend
James D. McLaird
South Dakota History, volume 24 number 1 (1994)

South Dakota History is the quarterly journal published by the South Dakota State Historical Society. Membership in the South Dakota State Historical Society includes a subscription to the journal. Members support the Society's important mission of interpreting, preserving and transmitting the unique heritage of South Dakota. Learn more here: Download PDFs of articles from the first 43 years and obtain recent issues of South Dakota History at

In December 1902, an inebriated and highly offended Calamity Jane, recently released from a Billings, Montana, jail, declared Billings a "tenderfoot town" and announced that she was returning to Deadwood. Undoubtedly envisioning a repeat of the celebrity welcome she had received on an 1895 visit to the Black Hills, she proclaimed that Deadwood would appreciate her "at her real worth."' Thanks to dime novels featuring fictional exploits against evil-doers in the Black Hills, Martha ("Calamity Jane") Canary had enjoyed local and national fame for nearly a quarter century. Her presence in and around memorable events of the gold-rush era had provided plenty of raw material for her own and the public s imagination to expand upon until her character achieved epic proportions.' In reality, however. Calamity Jane's 1902 brush with the law was far more typical of her behavior than the heroic exploits of the dime novel, and the last year of her life provides a window through which to view the real woman versus the myth. Events surrounding her death in August 1903 also offer insights into how her contemporaries dealt with the contradictions between the dime-novel image and the dissolute individual they encountered on the streets of Deadwood.

Considered one of the most famous women of her generation. Calamity Jane was paired with Deadwood Dick in novels and associated with the popular mind with James Butler {"Wild Bill") Hickok, with whom she had ridden dramatically into Deadwood during the 1876 Black Hills gold rush. Calamity herself capitalized on the publicity that her erratic and colorful behavior attracted, claiming to have been a scout for General George Grook, a pony express rider, and the person who saved the Cheyenne-to-Deadwood stage. Her own account of these largely imaginary exploits. Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane, By Herself, was published in conjunction with her 1896 tour with Kohl & Middleton, an amusement firm that operated dime museums. She had never been a scout, however, nor a pony express rider, nor a law officer.

Months, before she served her last jail sentence in Billings, the local Daily Gazette, had condemned Galamity's wild behavior. Ignoring the editor's warning that the "freedom and ease of manners chat prevailed in those 'good old days' [of the gold-rush era] are gone and conformity to accepted customs is now expected from everybody," Jane continued her flagrant violations of accepted behavior, drinking and carousing on the public streets.'' In November, exasperated Billings law officers arrested her on charges more serious than mere drunkenness. "Without any apparent reason," the Gazette reported, "save that suggested by a mind more or less disordered by too free indulgence in her favorite tipple, Jane armed herself with a hatchet and invaded Yegen Bros.' store and attempted to put an end to the existence of one of the young ladies employed in the drygoods department. ' While the reporter speculated that the incident "may have been only one of Jane s practical jokes," the intended victim "failed to appreciate it." Surprisingly, the injured party made no formal complaint, and Calamity was not arrested until she committed a similar act in a store on the south side of Billings.

The newspaper predicted that Calamity Jane would receive a sentence in the county jail "of such length that she will have plenty of time in which to get the liquor out of her system." Indeed, upon hearing her guilty plea, the judge sentenced her to sixty days.' When at one point during her imprisonment she complained of feeling badly, a doctor ordered her removal to Saint Vincent's Hospital in Billings, where for a time she lay almost helpless, "prostrated with rheumatism." A few weeks later, she was on the streets again, announcing her intention to leave Montana forever.

Calamity Jane's wandering lifestyle was a long-established habit. For more than two decades, she had haunted the boisterous young railroad towns of the Northern Great Plains, becoming notorious for her bouts with the bottle. Sometimes dressed in a buckskin outfit, carrying guns and knives, she commanded attention in an age when women could be arrested for wearing "male attire." Her meandering ways stemmed from her childhood. Born to parents who had journeyed in 1864 from Missouri to the Montana gold fields, young Martha Canary and her brothers and sisters spent their early years in rough mining camps. After the deaths of her parents, Martha Canary made her way alone among the construction camps of the Union Pacific Railroad. She also frequented military posts, often following the movements of the paymasters, where easy money was to be found. Thus, her famous 1876 arrival in Deadwood at the height of the Black Hills gold rush was no accident but instead part of an established pattern.

Although she has sometimes been described as amoral. Calamity Jane knew right from wrong. She periodically expressed regret for her way of life and pledged to correct her behavior, but every effort to end her drinking resulted in failure. Her desire to be considered socially acceptable is also indicated in her use of the word "husband" to describe her male companions. She seems never to have been legally married, and her common-law marriages regularly ended in disaster (at least one husband was severely abusive). On at least three occasions, newspaper reports indicated that she had children, and in 1903 she traveled for a time with one daughter.

Calamity Jane's trip to the Black Hills at the end of 1902 typified her long-established pattern of traveling between old haunts, sometimes stopping along the way for a spontaneous drinking spree or settling down for a spell. Only a few days after she departed from Billings, the Daily Gazette reported that Calamity had made it just over the Montana-Wyoming herder to Sheridan, where she went on a whiskey binge. Dick J. Nelson, a conductor, remembered her trip on the Burlington Railroad. A friend had paid her way from Billings to Deadwood, he recalled, and she boarded the train with all her belongings packed in a small suitcase. She rode in the smoking car with the men, where she remained "boozed up" but peaceful throughout the trip. One passenger took up a collection and paid for her meals in the diner.

"Calamity Jane Returns," proclaimed a headline in the Deadwood Evening Independent shortly after she stepped from the train, wearing a brown Derby, in mid-December. The accompanying article recalled her legendary days in gold-rush Deadwood, noting that "many a helpless old timer owes [her] gratitude," for they were "never turned from her door hungry as long as she had food." Remarking on her appearance, the reporter wrote, "Jane bears the marks of the strenuous life which in former days made her the leading western scout, . . . [but] with the exception of wrinkles and the former robust physique having changed to a noticeable slender figure, she is the same Jane as of old." A writer for the Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times was less kind, claiming that "age is telling on her, and her hair is becoming streaked with gray, and she is not the same vivacious Jane of years agone." In her typical fashion. Calamity remained in Deadwood for only a few days before boarding the train again.'

 A¡t¡iiiii¡i¡i ../'(• ojifn attempted to settle doivn.
Calamity Jane never completely reformed. Here, she
enjoys a cigar whUe cooking breakfast.
South Dakota Historical Society
Although she often attempted to settle down, Calamity Jane never completely reformed. Here, she enjoys a cigar while cooking breakfast.

By mid-January, apparently determined to turn over a new leaf, Calamity Jane had located in Belle Fourche, along with her daughter. Tired of traveling, she planned to "lead a quiet life, earn her living in an honorable manner and spend the balance of her days in peace," reported the Belle Fourche Bee. The newspaper advertised her need for a job and endorsed her skills as a nurse, repeating the ott-told story of her ministrations to sick prospectors during a smallpox epidemic in 1878." Belle Fourche, a cattle-shipping point situated just north of the Black Hills, was filled with cowboys who reminded Calamity Jane of old times, according to Dora DuFran, the brothel madam who hired her as a cook. DuFran recalled that Calamity managed to remain sober for six weeks before "the old urge overcame her good resolutions." The day after payday, when her cook bought a few calico aprons and other necessary items to supplement her two calico dresses and some underwear, DuFran and her associates assumed she had truly reformed. The next morning, however, no breakfast appeared on the table, and "from the distance came wild howls." Calamity was again on a spree, wearing the buckskin suit that she kept for such occasions. After celebrating for five days, she returned to ask for her old job. DuFran considered her an excellent cook, and Calamity Jane was back in the kitchen immediately.'

The attempt to keep a steady job did not last long, for Calamity Jane left Belle Fourche in early March 1903, reportedly to spend the spring working on a ranch.''' By the middle of the month, she had been spotted "visiting friends" at Hot Springs in the southern Black Hills.' Her riotous behavior during a visit there in 1895 may have made her unwelcome in the town, for she was in Rapid City hy 20 March. The newspaper termed her visit there particularly fortunate. "As one of the most widely celebrated characters in the west, ' it reported, Calamity Jane would enhance the carnival and stockman's association meeting planned for April. She became ill and required medical attention, but upon recovering, she departed for Deadwood, planning to return to Rapid City for the carnival and stockman's meeting.

Whether Calamity attended the events is uncertain, for she disappeared from area newspapers for the next two months. In mid-June, however, she surfaced in Sundance, Wyoming. Her trip there from Aladdin, colorfully related in the Deadwood newspaper, was probably typical of her other travels. Riding in a hack. Calamity Jane accosted every man along the trail with demands for whiskey or cigarettes. She surprised two young men playing cards near their herd of horses, shouting. "High, low Jack and the game. . . .Got a bottle?" When they replied in the negative, she demanded a smoke, only to receive another refusal. Finally, when she asked for chewing tobacco, "one of them produced a plug of Climax and she took a chew that would make a Kentuckian ashamed of himself."

Years later, Sundance residents remembered her stay in town. William R. Fox, a storekeeper interviewed in the 1930s, recalled Calamity Jane as a nondescript woman who looked nearer to eighty years of age than her actual forty-seven.''' With "stringy gray hair twisted into a careless knot at the nape of her neck; her skin wrinkled and sallow, she was indeed an object of pity," Fox said. Content to live on handouts, apparently believing that she was entitled to them because of her own past generosity, she "had no scruples about asking for anything she wanted." Someone gave her a room in the vacant American House hotel, and Fox supplied her with furniture from his store. Others provided a stove, groceries, and spending money. The seven saloons in Sundance also kept her supplied with whiskey. Not surprisingly. Fox remembered Calamity Jane as "groggy with liquor most of the time" and reported that his furniture store became her "loafing place." In general, he ignored her "fabulous stories of the early days," which differed little from the tall tales he had heard many times before. He did recall hearing Calamity claim to be visiting Sundance in order to look for her husband, who was supposed to be living there. This story he discounted, too, because "she had claimed so many different men as her husbands."

Barbara Henderson Fox, a youngster at the time of Calamity's visit, vividly remembered seeing her as she strode down the street with a "five-pound lard pail full of foaming beer." Calamity Jane aroused the curiosity of Fox and her friends, who admired the "certain careless grace" of the tall, gaunt woman who so bravely ignored the town gossip. "The fact that she would have nothing to do with the women of the town added to her attractiveness," Barbara Fox recalled. She also remembered an incident in which Calamity Jane lived up to her reputation of kindheartedness by attending an old freighter at his deathbed and then sitting beside his body "while she drank quantities of beer and wept copiously." Without giving notice. Calamity departed several weeks later and again drifted through the Black Hills communities of Belle Fourche, Spearfish, and Lead." According to the Lead Daily Call, the police in Lead invited her to "take a hike," and "she compromised by taking the first train she could catch that was headed for Deadwood.

Calamity Jane had chosen an auspicious time to return. The National Editorial Association had selected Deadwood as a point of interest on its annual excursion, and the town leaders wanted to make a positive impression. The editor of the Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times devoted nearly two columns of space in the 12 July 1903 issue to a long list of the town's attributes. Including its schools, churches, and industries. He took particular pains to admonish citizens to downplay Deadwood's "Old West" image. The visitors, many of whom "have never been so far west. . . will expect to find the Deadwood of romance of twenty-five years ago," he wrote. Instead, they should discover that "Wild Bill sleeps peacefully in Mount Moriah cemetery," and because bad men no longer shoot up the town, "the county jail and city calaboose are. . . largely ornamental now." By coincidence. Calamity Jane rode through Deadwood three days later aboard the same train that brought the visiting editors and their wives. When word circulated that she was seated in the men's smoking car, many of the visitors filed through to see her. Observing the journalists' fascination with the celebrity, the Pioneer-Times editor quickly changed his tune, praising Calamity Jane as a reminder of his city's romantic past and calling her "one of the truly unique characters of the West.

John B. Mayo (left) helped to forge a romantic link between Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok by photographing her at the lawman's grave site in 1903.
South Dakota Historical Society
John B. Mayo (left) helped to forge a romantic link between Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok by photographing her at the lawman's grave site in 1903.

Calamity Jane next appeared in Rapid City, which had apparently been her destination, where she attracted similar attention. The Daily Journal reported, "There is hardly enough rubber now in people's necks it seems to allow them to stretch it far enough to get a good look at Jane."''' The celebrity returned to Deadwood a few days later for what would be her last visit. There, John B. Mayo, an amateur photographer, took the well-known photograph of Calamity Jane holding a rose and cocking her hat next to the grave of Wild Bill Hickok, further mingling the two romantic figures in the popular imagination. Locating Calamity Jane at a Chinese laundry behind the Mansion Hotel, Mayo suggested the photograph idea to her, proposing that he hire a back and drive it to the cemetery. Calamity, however, insisted on walking. At the grave site, be replaced her sunbonnet with a white hat in order to better see her face." "While I was setting up the camera she said if I was too good to have a picture with her, I could go to the Hot Place. I then stood by the fence and my companion pressed the bulb. A second picture was taken "about 10 days before he died" with Calamity Jane alone at the fence surrounding Wild Bill's grave.

A dissipated looking Calamity Jane posed for Charles Haas in Whitewood shortly before she died
South Dakota Historical Society
A dissipated looking Calamity Jane posed for Charles Haas in Whitewood shortly before she died

Charles Haas photographed Calamity Jane that same summer, although under entirely different circumstances. As he walked down a Whitewood street to a family gathering, he met Calamity, who noticed his camera and asked him to take her picture. When Haas gladly obliged, she insisted on having a drink with him at Jackson and (kistinc's Saloon, an establishment she patronized regularly. His photograph depicts an aging, quite ordinary-looking woman, a stark contrast to the romanticized image. Like many other area residents, Haas had kind words for Calamity in her willingness to help the needy. Unfortunately, he noted, she also went "to these bawdy houses and dance halls and it was whoopee and soon she was drunk and then, well, things just sort of went haywire with old Calamity."

From Deadwood, Calamity boarded the train for nearby Terry. Shortly thereafter, the newspaper reported that "the heroine of many a lurid tale of the Black Hills, and whose name is interwoven with the early history of this region as a daring government scout and bull-whacker," was seriously ill." A friend had placed her in a doctor's care, even though she "rebelled against his physic." Apparently aware of her serious condition, she reported]y acknowledged to friends that it was time to "cash in."

 Undertaker Henry Robinson (above, lefi) and his son  C. H. Roíñnson ßank the casket of their most famous client before her hurial at Mount Moriah Cemetery (helow).
South Dakota Historical Society
Undertaker Henry Robinson (above, left) and his son C. H. Robinson flank the casket of their most famous client before her burial at Mount Moriah Cemetery (below).
South Dakota Historical Society

Despite the doctor's efforts. Calamity Jane died at five o'clock on the afternoon of 1 August 1903 of "inflammation of the bowels." Undoubtedly, her years of heavy liquor consumption contributed to her death. She had requested W. R. Monkman, editor and publisher of the Terry News-Record to send her trunk to Lottie Stacy, purportedly the daughter of a Deadwood pioneer, at Belle Fourche. Monkman may also have been the source of much of the information in Calamity Jane's obituary, including the claim that she had a daughter and son-in-law in North Dakota from whom she was estranged. The Pioneer-Times reported that Calamity Jane had requested her funeral to be held under the auspices of the Society of Black Hills Pioneers, which had assisted with the funerals of early settlers for several years. F. X. Smith, a member of the group, traveled to Terry to transport the remains to Deadwood, where they were to be buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery beside those of Wild Bill Hickok.

The members of the Society of Black Hills Pioneers were not Calamity Jane's usual associates and drinking companions. Smith, Jack Gray, and J. W. Allen, for example, were highly respected citizens. They planned an elaborate funeral "in keeping with the generous life this woman led on the western frontier." Indeed, Calamity Jane's funeral in Deadwood on 4 August was packed with spectators and mourners, many of them old settlers who remembered "her acts of kindness when there was no other woman in the gulch." While in life Calamity "had evaded the clergy whenever possible," her funeral took place at the Deadwood Methodist Church. Reverend Charles B. Clark handled the difficult task carefully, emphasizing her acts of charity during Deadwood's early years and avoiding mention of her worldly ways. Echoing the popular sentiment, he asked, "How often amid the snows of winter did this woman find her way to the lonely cabin of the miner," to help those "suffering from the diseases incident to those times?" After several hundred persons viewed the body, the band led a large funeral procession to Mount Moriah, where Calamity Jane was interred next to Wild Bill Hickok.'

In the days following the funeral, rumors abounded that Calamity's husband had attended, weeping copiously. A man named Saunders claimed to have been married to Calamity Jane more than two decades earlier. He had just been released after twenty years in the Michigan State Penitentiary and had, he said, come back to the Black Hills to get her, unaware that she had died. None of the Deadwood old-timers could remember the man and the newspaper unsympathetically pronounced him an impostor.'

The fake husband was not the only charlatan attempting to take advantage of Calamity's fame. After her burial, the local "Hindoo seer" claimed that he had prophesied the time of Calamity's death "to within a week." She had visited him to have her fortune read, he said, and received his forecast complacently. "I think you're right," he reported her as saying, "because I've felt since coming to the Black Hills this time that I probably wouldn't get away." The seer had been predicting mining ventures for investors, and Calamity Jane's death provided him with new advertising possibilities.

Notice of Calamity Jane's death became front-page news In papers throughout the region. Many reprinted the Deadwood articles or summarized them, adding biographical details from local sources or from her own Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane. William F. ("Buffalo Bill") Cody became another source for newspapers desiring a fuller account of her life. Even though he only provided a garbled account of the material in Calamity's autobiography, his name attracted readers, and his "facts" became a source for a number of books and articles written over the next ninety years. In an article from the 8 August 1903 edition of the Livingston Post, for example, Cody admitted that he knew little about Jane's early life and immediately went on to report mistakenly that she had first traveled west with her parents to Virginia City, Nevada, rather than Virginia City, Montana. He proceeded to invent a tale about Calamity becoming separated from her father and brothers during an Indian attack and being forced from the age of ten to live on her own. Cody, too, took personal advantage of the surge of interest in Calamity Jane's life, stating, "Before she was 20 Ceneral Cook [sic] appointed her a scout under me," after which "her life was pretty lively all the time." Exhibiting another touch of chauvinism, he added, "Though she did not do a man's share of the heavy work, she has gone in places where old frontiersmen were unwilling to trust themselves, and her courage and good fellowship made her popular with every man in the command." He probably made the last comment tongue-in-cheek, for Cody certainly realized that Calamity Jane had been a camp follower on the frontier.

Cody also confused a number of other biographical details, mistakenly relating that Calamity Jane saved the Deadwood stage when its driver. Jack McCall, had been wounded during an Indian attack. According to Cody, Calamity Jane took over the reins and brought the stage safely to its destination, saving the lives of the six passengers and McCall, who went on to murder her best friend. Wild Bill Hickok. Calamity, continued Cody, then led a lynching party, used a butcher's cleaver to subdue McCall, and soon had his body "swinging from the limb of a cottonwood tree." Cody had obviously stretched the truth in the interest of producing a lively tale. Calamity Jane, of course, had not saved that stage or any other; nor was McCall the stage driver. The real Jack McCall stood trial for killing Wild Bill Hickok and was hanged lawfully rather than lynched.

Buffalo Bill was not the only person to romanticize the character of Calamity Jane. Just days after her funeral, a poem written by George W. Hale and dedicated to her memory appeared in the Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times:

No more wild oaths, no pistol crack.
No games of death with mountain men;
The broncho and the dear old shack,
I have no further use for them.
My checks are in, the bank is closed,
I've trailed the rugged mountainside,
The draw did end as I supposed;
Shake, Pard, across the big divide.

"Epitaph," written by E. P. Corbin, soon followed Hale's piece. His idealized version of the relationship between Wild Bill and Calamity Jane gave their love a spiritual dimension:

Step lightly here. "Calamity Jane"
Has gone to meet "Wild Bill" again!
Bestride no steed with dash and shout
No male attire with a round-about
But just a coffin black and cold
Holds the form once fair and bold.
In spirit land they have met and kissed,
Billing and cooing over all they missed.
Closed for aye, this earthen door,
Man must never open more.
Alas and alack, such love as thine
Wild, unchaste, in constancy almost Divine.

Eventually, the extravagant claims and romantic notions proved too much for even the Daily Pioneer-Times to print, and on 23 August an editorial headline pleaded, "Let them Rest." The editor commented that the passing of neither Wild Bill nor Calamity Jane, with their checkered pasts, was worth the great indulgence in maudlin sentiment. Nor was there any excuse for exploiting their undesirable traits and holding them up as models of heroism. Peeved because the first request of visitors to Deadwood was information on the pair, the editor called for citizens to emphasize the more positive features of the town. He exhorted readers to let Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok "rest in their graves," concluding, "They are dead now, and there was nothing in the lives of either with which to make a hero or point a moral."

Even as contemporary observers objected to the glamorizing of Calamity Jane, tall tales like the story of her subduing a Jaguar in the Black Hills circulated in magazines. This illustration appeared in Wide World Magazine in September 1903, Just a month after her death.
South Dakota Historical Society
Even as contemporary observers objected to the glamorizing of Calamity Jane, tall tales like the story of her subduing a Jaguar in the Black Hills circulated in magazines. This illustration appeared in Wide World Magazine in September 1903, Just a month after her death.

The Deadwood paper also printed a critical account by M. L. Fox, who had interviewed Calamity in Deadwood in 1895. Attributing the dead woman's notoriety entirely to "eccentric habits and 'penny dreadful' story writers," rather than to any truly heroic deeds, he even attacked the familiar story about how she gained her nickname. In her autobiographical Life and Adventures, Calamity Jane claimed to have earned the sobriquet when she rescued Captain James Egan from certain calamity during a fight with Indians in Wyoming. Fox denounced the claim, citing a published letter by Egan's wife in which she stated that the incident had never occurred. While Fox allowed that Calamity was kindhearted, "ready to nurse the sick or give her last penny to anyone who needed it," her claims of heroism were greatly exaggerated, and she did not deserve the fame she had enjoyed.

Similarly appalled was John W. ("Captain Jack") Crawford, a Black Hills pioneer-turned-entertainer who spoke out against the detrimental influence of dime novels and "yellow" journalism on American youth. Crawford substantiated Fox's story, stating that he was serving with Captain Egan at the time of the alleged Indian fight and that no such incident had happened. As assistant marshal of Custer City in 1876, he had once arrested Calamity Jane for intoxication and disorderly conduct, an event that left her forever, in his eyes, unworthy of the title "heroine.' Attacking the frivolous claims surrounding her character in the print media, he added, she was "never employed as a scout by General Crook, who gave her no recognition whatever, öccept to order her out of camp when he discovered she was a camp follower."

In an editorial entitled "The Cup and its Dregs," the Black Hills Union of Rapid City even more virulently attacked those who would elevate a woman whose "glittering career" had been one of "wanton waywardness and debauchery." The editor had no sympathy with those who excused Calamity Jane's behavior as an effect of her social environment. Her early life, he wrote, was no worse than that of thousands of other young women who managed to lead honorable lives. Calamity, the editor continued, was simply a coward who avoided the truly "brave acts" of working, getting an education, and leading a virtuous life. Even her reputation for charity and goodness of heart was grossly exaggerated, he wrote, for "thousands of virtuous girls go forth to the battlefields and hospitals and fight dread diseases that are just as contagious as the small pox, which we are told 'Calamity Jane' exposed herself to, to aid sick miners." Worst of al!, the Union editor ranted. Calamity was held up for contemporary youth to imitate. Instead of leading the carefree existence of frontier legend, characters like Calamity Jane in fact lived in "the most horrid and debased condition" imaginable. "Their only moments of enjoyment are when the wine cup or the opiate makes them forget the life they lead," he concluded.

The editor gave those who promoted the romanticized view of Calamity Jane a harsh tongue-lashing. "The worst sample of the silly slush being published just now," he wrote, "is from the pen of some water-brained ninny by the name of George Walter Hale, of Central." Objecting to Hale's poem as "hero worship," he chided readers to "ask the honest pioneer what Jane was famous for and he will tell you she was noted for the amount of bad whiskey she could get away with and for being so low and debased that she was fit company only for dogs." Her "noble escort. Wild Bill," he claimed, was a "good for nothing lout whose handsome person and cleverness at murdering innocent people gained him some dime novel notoriety." The editor concluded with a shrill tirade against "the sort of scum that are held up to our girls and boys as being noble-hearted and heroic men and women whom unavoidable circumstances compelled to adopt the lives they lived. What rank falsehood! What puerile and nauseating stuff!"

No matter how formidable, such attacks on the legend of Calamity Jane could not stem the tide of romantic sentiment her death inspired. Within a year, William A. Allen had published his Adventures with Indians and Game, which contained little more than a summary of Buffalo Bill's error-ridden narrative of Calamity Jane's career. The publisher of Allen's book included it in another publication. Progressive Men of Wyoming., and the Calamity Jane of legend became further ensconced in that state's history. Within a decade, a new bit of fiction added glamour to the romantic legends: Calamity's death date had been moved forward three years and one day to 2 August 1906, so that she managed to expire exactly thirty years, to the hour, after Wild Bill had been murdered.

Those who knew Calamity Jane best had never mixed fantasy and reality. She was, they believed, a kind woman, and, except for her eccentric habits, a common woman. Bewildered at the notoriety she continued to achieve even after her death, one of her contemporaries commented, "Now who in the world would think that Calamity Jane would get to be such a famous person?"

South Dakota History is the quarterly journal published by the South Dakota State Historical Society. Membership in the South Dakota State Historical Society includes a subscription to the journal. Members support the Society's important mission of interpreting, preserving and transmitting the unique heritage of South Dakota. Learn more here: Download PDFs of articles from the first 43 years and obtain recent issues of South Dakota History at