Today In Western History: Martha Jane Cannary Is Born

May 1 —

On this day in 1852, Martha Jane Canary is born near Princeton, Missouri.  She wasn’t a pretty girl, and she was raised in very hard times.  When she was 13, her family migrated all the way up to Montana.  Four years later in 1869, at the age of 17, she moved to Wyoming, where it is believed she went to work for the railroad doing manual labor.  She worked as a dishwasher, cook, waitress, dance-hall girl, nurse, and ox team driver, and she delivered mail for the pony express.  Finally, in 1874, she found work as a scout at Fort Russell. During that time, Jane also began her on-and-off employment as a prostitute at the Fort Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch. In 1875, dressed as a man, she joined a geological expedition into the Black Hills.  A year later, she claimed she was scouting for General George Crook.

General George Crook, Civil War soldier and Indian fighter
General George Crook, Civil War soldier and Indian fighter

In 1885, she married Charles Burke and had a daughter.  In 1893 she joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, and she finally died in 1903 in Terry, South Dakota, which is close to Deadwood.  She was rough, hard, and fearless.  And she has been played by many leading ladies in the movies, none so realistic as by Robin Weigert, in the HBO tv series Deadwood. During her lifetime, she was a scout, a teamster, a bullwhacker, and nurse to an entire mining camp (Deadwood), Wild West performer and prostitute.  According to her own biography, which is highly suspect, on 1869 she met the love of her life, James Butler Hickok,

James Butler "WIld Bill" Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler
James Butler “WIld Bill” Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler

known forever as Wild Bill, where she claimed she married him and has his child.  There is no proof of any of this claim, other than she met him, and he never mentioned it to anyone.


Who is this frontier woman and legend?  None other than the famous (or, infamous) Calamity Jane.


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