Historian Presents 'Real Calamity Jane'

Historian Glenda Bell has been researching Calamity Jane since 1987. (Photo by Hannah Stepenoff)
Historian Glenda Bell has been researching Calamity Jane since 1987. (Photo by Hannah Stepenoff)

Administrators at the Johnson County Public Library in Buffalo hosted a presentation on Calamity Jane. Hannah Stepenoff has the story.


It was clear that Historian Glenda Bell, who has been researching Calamity Jane since 1987, knew her stuff during her presentation at the Johnson County Library. She has collected thousands of primary and secondary sources on Jane, whose birth name was Martha Jane Canary, and one thing she said she has found is that there is just as much misinformation about the woman who represented a very non-Victorian way of living during the Victorian era.

Often compared to Annie Oakley, Bell said the two women couldn't be more different and they probably knew of each other but would not have associated with each other.

Jane has been an outlaw, a frontierswoman, a scout, a woman who loves her liquor, an “angel of mercy”,a milkmaid, a prostitute, and a woman who dared wear men's clothes, Bell said.

There were many things she was not as well, Bell explained, and one misrepresentation that she finds the most troublesome is the idea that “calamity” came from her causing trouble wherever she went. But according to Bell, Calamity Jane developed her moniker for showing up just in the nick of time to help those involved in “calamity.”

History records that Jane helped nurse many people with small pox. According to Bell, when Jane was a child, it was a common practice for the eldest to take the milking duties, and those daughters were exposed to cow pox, which caused the immunity.

Other innacuracies that swirl around Jane's life, are her husbands and children. Bell had a stack of note cards with variations of names of her actual husbands, as well as men who claimed matrimony with the outlaw. According to records, Jane had been married three times, though all short lived. This didn't include “Wild Bill” Hickock, whom according to Bell's research she only knew for 67 days before he met his fateful end in Deadwood.

A woman named Jean Hickock McCormick came out and claimed to have a diary that proved she was the offspring of Wild Bill and Jane, which was strange because to all historic accounts Jane couldn't read or write.

What made Jane so famous and infamous, Bell said, were the dime novels that depicted her as the outlaw that could hang with men like Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill and the like. Jane, was a real rough and tumble woman with a heart of gold, Bell said.

The event was funded by the Wyoming Humanities Council and the Friends of the Johnson County Public Library.

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