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DEADWOOD | Romantics would have us believe that Calamity Martha Jane Canary, who rode into Deadwood in the summer of 1876 with Wild Bill Hickok and Colorado Charlie Utter, was a fragrant, mild-mannered frontier scout and sharpshooter welcomed into the fledgling, woman-starved mining camp.

Actress Doris Day, renowned for her portrayal of virtuous women, even portrayed her as such in the 1953 comedic-musical-romance movie, “Calamity Jane,” a real buckskin-clad woman forced to rescue her love interest from Native Americans.

Calamity could be everything her moniker implied: a one-woman cyclone, sometime Army scout and occasional prostitute who in her alcohol-fueled forays would howl at the moon and claim she could out-shoot, out-swear and out-spit any man. Wild Bill, whom she adored and is buried beside in Deadwood’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery, reportedly once paid her the then-princely sum of $20 just to take a bath.

Despite the well-earned reputation, fostered over 51 whiskey-swilling, cross-dressing years before her eventual death in 1903, and promoted by dozens of dime-store novels, there is ample evidence she indeed did have a sweeter side, a Martha side she could summon when she wanted to.

“Calamity Jane is a complicated, multifaceted woman, whose true character is hard to pin down,” said Carolyn Weber, executive director of Deadwood History Inc., the nonprofit overseeing all of the town’s museums. “Was she the foul-mouthed, alcoholic, gambling, prostitute we hear so much about? Was she the Florence Nightingale of Deadwood? Was she a pioneer of women’s independence? To some degree, she was all of those things.

“Most often we read and hear about Calamity Jane’s rough and rugged side,” Weber said. “But, she also had a softer, gentler side.”

As evidence, Weber and her in-house historians and archivists point to numerous stories, some fact and some fiction, telling of her alter-ego Martha caring for people in the most dire of circumstances, everyone from the upright to the lowlifes…  Read More at

February 13th, 2016

Posted In: Deadwood Characters


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