Will The Real Calamity Jane Please Stand Up?

By | January 28, 2019

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Portrait of Calamity Jane (May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903) sitting on her horse. She was a frontierswoman who supposedly scouted for General Custer, and later traveled with Wild Bill Hickok. Source: (CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Martha Jane Cannary

Calamity Jane was born in 1852 in Missouri. She was the oldest of six children. Even as a child she liked being outdoors rather than helping with housework. In 1865, her family joined a wagon train, headed west. Her mother passed away while going to Virginia City, Montana. Her father then moved the family to Salt Lake City, Utah. Unfortunately, her father passed away shortly after arriving. Martha was left to care for her siblings. She did not want to stay in Utah so she moved them all to Wyoming. She took any job she could to make ends meet. She claimed she worked in restaurants, as a saloon girl, and ox team driver. There are reports she even worked as a prostitute in Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

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Martha Canary, shown here on a visit to Deadwood in 1895. Source: patrickmurfin.blogspot.com

Did Calamity Jane Really Fight With Custer?

This question has a complicated answer. Calamity Jane was known for exaggerating her tales, however, others have corroborated that she did work as a scout for the United States Army. This was quite an adventurous life for a woman of those times. She claims to have been given the name ‘Calamity Jane’ during a fight against the Native Americans. According to Calamity Jane, she saved the life of the captain of the unit and he gave her the name to describe her heroism. As far as serving with and fighting alongside Custer, she made this claim after his death. There is one opportunity that she could have met General Custer. She was attached to the “Nursey Pursey Indian Outbreak” campaign which involved General Custer as well as others, but it has never been confirmed that Calamity Jane ever spoke to him.